Everyone in Edriast knows the role of Shadow is a death sentence. Tasked with serving the local lord, Rennard, Shadows spend their days in dangerously close proximity to one of five Relics, a powerful object worn by the reigning lord. The longer they spend around it, the weaker they become, until, one day, it takes their life.
Shadows are chosen at random, but blacksmith Kaylan isn’t worried for herself. She’s got enough on her plate, with two young brothers just reaching eligible age for the Shadow draw, a mother trying to keep the family together after the death of her beloved husband, and a middle brother who drinks too much, and mixes with the wrong crowd.
But, on the day of the current Shadow’s death, she returns home to find soldiers in her home, waiting for her. Kaylan is the new Shadow, and there’s only one way this whole thing ends.
Or is there?
Relic is the debut novel from Sydney writer Bronwyn Eley, the second author to be signed to Writer’s Edit fantasy imprint Talem Press. With the publisher’s focus on powerful, female-led fantasy, Eley’s series opener is a welcome addition to the family, fronted as it is by a charming and complex lead, and supported by world-building that truly promises exciting stuff for the remainder of the trilogy.
Kaylan really is the star of Relic. Capable and strong, her focus had always been on her physicality – after all, that’s what will put food on her family’s table. But, her appointment as Shadow leaves her reevaluating everything. She frantically searches books for an answer, makes unlikely friendships and alliances, and sees a side to Rennard she didn’t expect. All the while, her physical strength – one of the very things that defined her as a blacksmith and a provider – ebbs away.
When the story drifts into fairly typical territory for the genre (no prizes for guessing that we’re jumping into a rebellion narrative), Kaylan is its anchor, and Eley handles her beautifully. The pain Kaylan feels from being near the Relic is vividly described, and there’s just as much agony written into her emotional struggles, whether its her torn loyalties, a burgeoning romance she knows can go nowhere, or the moments when she’s ready to give up and just die.
The pacing occasionally feels a little off, and there’s a dryness to the dialogue that doesn’t always sit right, but by the time we hit the exciting finale, there’s suddenly no time to care. Set into motion by an event I genuinely didn’t see coming (at least not this early in the series), the last few chapters ramp Relic up to eleven, with a fast paced dash through Edriast that will leave your head spinning, aching for the next installment.
Built on impressively imagined lore, and led by a well-written main character, it’s so far so good for this Aussie YA trilogy. It’s a strong series opener from Eley, and with edits already underway for book two, we won’t have too long to wait to find out more!
THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Bronwyn Eley’s Relic hits bookstores on September 12th, with a launch party at Sydney’s Better Read Than Dead on September 14th – full event details here.
You can preorder a signed copy right now from the Booktopia website!
Read our recent interview with Bronwyn Eley here!