Relics by Tim Lebbon
There’s an underground black market for arcane things. Akin to the trade in rhino horns or tigers bones, this group trafficks in mummified satyrs, gryphons claws, and more.
When Angela Gough’s lover Vince goes missing, she sets out to find him whatever the risk. She learns that he was employed by the infamous London crime lord Frederick Meloy, providing bizarre objects beyond imagining. Descending into the city’s underbelly, she uncovers a deadly side to the black market. It might have claimed Vince, and Angela may be next.
Over the last few years, authors like Mark Morris, Mike Shevdon, Tom Pollock and Liz de Jager have produced work that consistently proves that there is plenty of life left in the urban fantasy genre. The latest to add their name to this esteemed list is Tim Lebbon. Relics is the first book in a new trilogy, and I tell you what, it is an absolute corker.
Have you ever been in that situation where you catch a subtle movement in the periphery of your vision? Or perhaps there is an unexpected sound in the darkness of the night. Are there things that have happened to you that just can’t be explained away? These experiences could be completely normal, you could dismiss them as nothing, but what if they’re not? What if there are beings out there in the dark. Strange creatures that are made of terror and joy and everything in between.
Angela Gough leads a normal existence with her partner Vince. He deals in the property market while she work from home, completing her thesis in criminology. Things couldn’t be better. Angela is content and has come to the conclusion that Vince could well be the love of her life. Without any warning, Vince disappears. One day he is there as normal, the next he is gone. Vince’s disappearance effects Angela like a punch in the gut but she steadfastly refuses to give up on him. She wants answers regarding his departure, irrespective of what those answers might be. There is a determination to Angela’s character that shines through. Rather than just accept Vince’s loss, she takes it upon herself to investigate his disappearance. The questions that drives her – How can the one person she thought she knew, and trust, suddenly be absent without any prior warning? Why is Vince suddenly such a mystery? He appears to be leading a strange double life, and who or what are the Kin? Angela has to try to separate the grains of truth from all the rumour. Her investigations lead her into London’s criminal underbelly and a club called The Slaughterhouse. The owner, Fat Frederick Meloy, is a “legitimate business man” with more dodgy contacts and shady businesses than you could shake a stick at. Can he shed any light in Vince’s location? When it comes to Mr Meloy there is only one lesson you need to learn – never, ever call him Fat Freddie. It is only ever Fredrick. Call him Freddie and you’ll regret it.
It almost goes without saying that there is more to Vince than meets the eye. Alternate chapters detail his story and begin to explain why he walked away from his old life, and Angela. Is he moved by noble intentions, and where exactly do his loyalties lie? I like this approach. Alternating the perspectives between the two leads allows the reader to get a far better understanding of the story as a whole. It also allows the author to mess with reader’s expectation which I have to admit is wonderfully evil.
The Kin are made up of all manner of wondrous beings, but I don’t want to dwell on them too much. Trust me it is much more fun discovering about them yourself. There is one character though, called Mallian, who I will mention briefly. He wants nothing more than to restore the Kin to their former status. He wants them all to ascend back into glory. Spotify must have been listening because my musical recommendation for Relics is an album called Ascension by Ninja Tracks. It’s a modern, anthemic soundtrack that it is the perfect companion piece to the novel.
There is a certain something about London that always manages to capture the imagination of genre authors. Our nation’s capital has been around for some considerable time and I think it makes for the perfect location when you are crafting urban fantasy. I’ve done a bit of reading about this. Turns out, recent archaeology has found evidence of bridges that data back to 1500BC and timber structures that go much further back than that. The metropolis has grown up around this history doesn’t it seem entirely possible that some myth could be in the mix somewhere as well? London becomes almost a character in its own right. Especially at night, when the Kin can move more freely around the city.
As an aside, don’t think I didn’t spot your Hictchcockian cameo, Mr Lebbon. I saw you there, hiding in plain sight on the streets of London. A certain police officer had an awfully familiar sounding surname as well, now that I think about it.
I’ve read a couple of standalone books by Tim Lebbon previously, The Silence and Coldbrook (both are excellent and I strongly encourage you to seek them out). Relics is something different though. This is just the first part of a far bigger story. The author has created a modern day fable that I genuinely think has the potential to become a genre classic. Relics is a pitch perfect example of urban fantasy expertly executed. The story hits narrative beats that reminded me of my two favourite novels by Clive Barker – Cabal (filmed as Nightbreed) and Weaveworld. Lebbon explores some of the same ideas as Barker, the suggestion that a secret society can survive in the shadows of a modern city, but approaches from a completely different direction. I love the thought of this, the miraculous existing in parallel with the mundane. Just imagine, if you know where to look, the beasts of legend are living among us.
Relics is published by Titan Books and is available from the 21st March. Two sequels, Borderland and The Lonely are set to follow. Highly recommended.