The dystopia craze of the early 2010s brought forth an incredible wave of roughly the same plot line: an average white girl (often with brown hair, which she tends to tie back) finds she’s not so average after all, and then must contend with two love interests in a paper-thin world that just doesn’t understand her problems. Hunger Games was a good book series, but the vast majority that followed were not. Many felt like cash grabs towards the current hot genre.
Relic, by Heather Terrell, feels entirely constructed. Somehow I refuse to believe she put any soul into it, ever labored on the manuscript in dreams of one day publishing this dear pet project. To be frank, it is a disaster of a YA novel, so cliché it feels like clever satire. Described as Game of Thrones meets The Hunger Games, this book is neither of them.
The story follows Eva, a girl from an important family in her icy post-apocalyptic city. When her twin brother unexpectedly dies, she takes his place in an important, multi-stage competition- and notably is the first girl to ever do so. She’ll be competing against her arranged-marriage fiancé, while relying on help from a secretive outcast. Her goal? Travel across the ice wastes, unearth some ancient artifact from the olden days, and write a darn good essay about it.
Most of the first-person novel is the competition itself, which features trekking through arctic wastelands usually alone, and unable to speak. The initial conflicts- dead brother, first girl- are quickly forgotten beyond the first third of set up.
I really don’t want to let that first third slide unacknowledged: It’s a joke sometimes, how dystopias use silly fake words and Unnecessarily Capitalize Things. This book is a textbook example. Girls are ‘Maiden’s, boys are ‘Gallant’s, and of course she is participating in the Test to find a Relic for the Aerie… A Relic from before the Lex’s fabled Healing, of course. Many of the new terms are never explained, making the beginning tedious. I would estimate the first chapter alone introduces about thirty new capitalized terms.
Now, I did read the ARC of this. I own the arc, in fact- it was left alone in my local bookshop. (They have a shelf of ‘free ARC if you buy a book’, and I took it (and several others!) home with me.) On the back cover is a list of the marketing/promotional scheme for this-
$100,000. That’s how much money was invested into this. Have you ever heard of it? I’m assuring you, it’s not worth the read, but have you ever heard of it? Even as a bad book, it had not only managed to flop but break the bottom of the swimming pool as it did so.
Most of the digs I can take at Relic are about how ridiculously cliché it is, but it’s worth noting the actual writing and plotting are poor too. Exposition is overpowering at first, but fails to explain about half of what’s going on, and the narrative style is slow. The highlight is the action in the middle, where Eva is on her own and fighting to survive. This section, at the very least, reads like a middle grade survival novel.
The biggest grip I’m left with after reading Relic is the lack of stakes. As mentioned, both immediate plot difficulties (dead brother, social outcast) are quickly left behind, and then later left for the sequel. While Eva does traverse through blizzards and hunt for her own survival, not once does she starve, get injured, or suffer. When she’s hungry, an ox happens to rest near her campsite. When she’s in danger, a charming boy appears to save her.
Eva knows exactly what she needs to know, whenever she needs to know it. There’s no crisis to be had about anything- not even her brother’s murder (seriously, the opening plot point is left unresolved). Eva may have her doubts, but there is never a moment where her actions seem to properly matter. Instead, she is a on a straight track to the end of the book.
The would-be climax has Eva unearthing a Relic (what is obviously a tablet computer, somehow still functional after 100 years in the ice). While we get to read about several days of her extracting and learning about this ancient machine, there is little else to the last third of the book. She finds it, she writes an essay (sorry- piece of fiction. It’s very scandalous) about it, and when she returns home she is declared winner of The Test- and in fact made leader of her city (the people turned out to be pretty pleased with her revolutionary act of, uh, fiction writing). Not once does Eva face any trial, nor does she emerge from her experience changed in any way, though she does have a little monologue where she reflects about her journey as if she had.
I find myself most comfortable to hope the author was paid quite a lot on commission to write this- not that she sweat and bled for something of this low quality.
(should you read this? No, actually not. I thought it’d be a fun bad book (please read the back cover blurb for a laugh), but it’s pretty tedious in the end. Not much fun.)