B O O K T R A I L E R:
R E V I E W:
RELIC is unlike any fantasy novel I've read before. For one thing, it takes place in the Wild West. I've never read any fantasy novel from this time period before. The use of relics composed of the bones of extinct fantastic beasts is also innovative and new, at least to me. The book is just the right length, too. I prefer my fantasy novels longer, because I lose something when they're too short. Characters, setting, world-building...something is always underdeveloped. RELIC clocks in at 400 pages, but it reads so fast that I could easily believe I read half that in the time it took me to devour this book. When it came to the end, I wanted more. Despite a full-circle ending, there's enough room for a sequel should Renee Collins choose to write one, and I already want it if she does!
Collins chooses to throw readers straight into the action from page one. Maggie has been left at home in charge of her two younger siblings while her parents went to a political meeting. The only problem? They never come home. Maggie sees fire on the horizon and riders with torches heading her way. She rounds up her brother and sister, and together they flee to their safe place. Even that is no longer safe, though, and right when they're about to be devoured by fire, a young Apache warrior,Yahn, swoops in to save the day. Maggie loses so much that fateful night, but is determined to live and survive. She goes to Burning Mesa, a local town, looking for work in a relic refinery, only to be propositioned by a shady man looking for a new girl for The Desert Rose, his seedy saloon. She refuses to degrade herself in such a place, and manages to get a job on the wait staff instead. Her visit at the relic refinery doesn't go unnoticed, however, and more eyes are watching her than she can imagine. Maggie has a way with relics, a way that people will go to great lengths to control. She finds herself in a dangerous game of survival as towns continue to burn and the truth behind her abilities begins to come out.
I love the use of relics in Collins' debut novel. Relics are created from the bones of deceased mystical creatures such as dragons, unicorns, mermaids, vampires, etc. Different shards give unique properties and abilities to their human users, and are often contained in pieces of jewelry. They are hard to come by and extremely expensive. Relic bones can also be liquified or turned into powder. There's a even a scene where it is mentioned that champagne has been shipped from France paced with yeti relic ice. There's a beautiful scene about halfway through the book where Maggie is dusted in sky magic, or fairy relic powder, which enables her and other guests to float in the air for a stunning, imaginative relic waltz. Only the very rich can afford to be so impractical and laissez-faire with relics. How can I better describe relics and what they can do, since they're such a foreign concept?
Here's a quick excerpt of one of Maggie's first brushes with relics and their nature:
“It’s fitting that we be exposed to all the types of magic that exist in our world. There must be balance, as there always has been.” Moon John pulled a small globe-like device from the ground and set it on the table. A dark metal orb, about the size of a fist, hung suspended between the ends of an inverted metal arc. The surface was punctured with what looked like hundreds of tiny holes, and I could just make out the glint of something glittering inside.
“Tell me, Maggie. You are sixteen?”
“That’s right,” I said, still staring at the odd globe.
“Then you were born in the year of the unicorn. How fitting.”
“What do you mean?”
He drew a thin orange vial from his pocket. “I will show you,” he said, and he tipped the liquid into his mouth.
Closing his eyes, he pointed to the three lanterns hanging in the vault. The flames were snuffed out, leaving us in utter darkness. I tensed, but just as quickly, he set his hand on the globe, and it was illuminated. Pinpricks of light burst out, filling the room with infinite glowing specks.
“The stars,” Moon John said.
I exhaled with awe, turning slowly to take in the twinkling sight. It was as if Moon John had snatched the night sky and set it right there in the vault.
"This is Zang Tu, the unicorn. The first bringer of earth magic. Those born under her sign are often gifted with earth relics."
Maybe it was my imagination, but if I looked hard enough, I could see the majestic white creature galloping across the sky, her horn gleaming like a spike of light. It was thrilling to learn the old legends of Moon John’s people. I didn’t know if they were true or just ancient stories passed down through generations, but it didn’t matter much. I relished every morsel. I’d have given anything to hear such stories as a girl. But with Mama so opposed to relics, all discussions remained limited to absolute necessity.
"Here is Lóng, the dragon," Moon John went on, sliding his finger along the glittering clusters of light. "Here, the sign of the mermaid. And here, Fenghuang, the great bird, bringer of sky magic.”
“They’re beautiful,” I said softly.
“Indeed. In many ways, the stars are relics unto themselves. They teach us our history, our present, and our future, if we only care to learn.”
I wanted him to go on, but he set his hand back on the globe, and the stars vanished. With a snap, the lanterns relit. I blinked the brightness from my eyes, still seeing the constellations behind my closed lids.
“I suppose I should test you, as Castilla wishes,” Moon John said. “Though I think your birth in the year of the unicorn explains everything.”
Moon John gave me a wry smile. “As you wish.” He motioned to the relics. “Shall we begin with the dragon bone?” My fingers itched to snap the piece up, but I controlled myself. “Go on, Maggie,” Moon John said. “See if you can produce a small flame here on this table.” I plucked the smooth piece of opaque amber, about the size and shape of a walnut, into my palm. Instantly, a current of warmth spread up my arm and into my core. The heat flickered out across my chest, swarming like ornery bees. The sensation made my breath catch in my throat, and I staggered back a little.
“Fire relics have an agitating effect on the nerves,” Moon John said. “The feeling will subside.”
“I’ve never used one before,” I said, holding up the bright piece with trembling hands.
Moon John motioned to the table. “Try. Most can create at least a spark their first time.”
I curled my fingers around the relic. That darn antsy feeling made it hard to focus, but as I did, a faint growl, like a whispered roar, pierced the dull hum. The sound sent chills up my neck. I squeezed my eyes shut.
And the next thing I knew, an exploding burst filled the room. I ripped my eyes open in time to see a flash of orange light— flames spraying across the little table. In an instant, every inch of it was ablaze.
pgs. 201~203, US e-book edition
I've never seen a spin quite like this in fantasy before, where relics work in this fashion. I'm also a big fan of the unique setting. Who would think to weld fantasy to the Wild West? It took me a while to figure out the setting since I'd forgotten much of the book's summary going into it, and I like going into books blind. The book had a very "old" feel to it, but mentioned US cities, so I wasn't sure what time period we were in until I encountered saloons and cowboys and sheriffs. I loved the way all these historical components welded together and created a unique story. There was also a bit of a Spanish flavor mixed in, which reminds me of Rae Carson's stellar Girl of Fire and Thorns Trilogy, of which the final book, THE BITTER KINGDOM, actually shares a book birthday with RELIC this week. There's also the inclusion of the Apache, or the Natives, and what could have quickly become a racist inclusion was handled well and delicately in a way that gives character to this intriguing group. I hope to see a lot more of the Apache in the future, especially if those scenes include the intriguing Yahn! Yahn is a prospective romantic possibility for Maggie, as is the cowboy Landon. Romance doesn't play a huge role in RELIC, since the focus is on fantasy and the relics, which is a nice change of pace from other YA books out there that lose the fantasy in favor of the romance. Maggie has a good head on her shoulders, and I'm glad to see that she doesn't take boys lightly. It will be interesting to watch her grow up and evolve should Collins write more novels!