Relic and Riven are the first two books in a new trilogy from Bronwyn Eley, following nineteen-year-old Kaylan Rove as she struggles to accept her place in the world, to get along with her family, and to end a potentially cataclysmic war, and I loved every minute of the hours I spent reading them.
I was provided free copies of the Relic and Riven e-books for review. The opinions are my own.
Relic snagged my attention from the first paragraph.
“One thing above all drew people to the Announcements: curiosity. The tension strangling the crowd was palpable, but the fear and the pain were the bait. They were hooked.”
Bronwyn Eley built a world that both fascinates and terrifies me, and I honestly read Relic and the sequel Riven in one day, back to back.
In her world, power is passed down through bloodlines, not because of tradition, but because of the power received from five Relics. The bloodline that controls each Relic is the only bloodline that can wield its power or even stand to be in the same room as it. Everyone else, even people who aren’t actually enemies, are systematically attacked by the Relic’s magic independently of the wishes of the person who currently holds the Relic.
This leads to a unique problem — the people who work for the rulers are constantly under attack, both from physical pain and mental attacks, so how can you keep a castle staffed?
The answer, at least in Relic, is by constantly having a personal aide to the ruler called the Shadow. The Shadow follows the lord, in this case, Lord Rennard, around more often than any other person in his employ. The Shadow brings his meals, cleans his rooms, handles his laundry, and runs errands for him.
This means the Shadow is under constant attack by the Relic, a yellow stone set in an eagle pendant. Shadows break down over months or years of physical and mental stress, and when they die? Another one is chosen.
The old Shadow dies during the Announcements that began Relic. A new Shadow must be chosen, and if you weren’t expecting it to be Kaylan Rove, the nineteen-year-old apprentice blacksmith who’s telling the story… you haven’t read enough books. This announcement happens very early in the story, so at least that isn’t stretched out longer, but honestly… that was one of only two plot lines I actually saw coming well in advance.
The world unfolds as the story is told to us, delivered in offhand, matter-of-fact remarks by Kaylan’s inner monologue.
Children are pulled out of schooling and put to work at ten years old, and their professions are chosen for them.
There’s a state-sanctioned brothel in the upper city where women (and men now, thanks to the new woman in charge of the house) work as Companions, and Kaylan’s childhood best friend Shae works there whenever she can’t sneak out to run around the lower city with Kaylan.
No one wants to be chosen as the Shadow, but Kaylan is.
She moves into the castle and begins serving Lord Rennard. The effects of the Relic begin immediately; she feels ill, she feels weak, she’s barely able to eat and often can’t keep her food down when she does. She has vivid nightmares that blend into her waking hours until she can’t trust her own mind. The Relic hurts her viciously, and it draws on Rennard’s moods if it isn’t influencing them directly.
Although her chores seem like they should take up hours and hours of her time, she frequently finds free time to hang out with the friends she makes around the castle.
She develops a somewhat tumultuous relationship with Jesper, Lord Rennard’s beautiful wife, who is shuttled back and forth between her nearby home and the castle so that the Relic’s magic won’t break her down before she’s able to produce heirs.
Although they frequently bicker over the Relic’s magic and how Lord Rennard treats those around him, I absolutely loved their friendship. Jesper had every reason to not care about Kaylan — it’s clear Kaylan’s job is going to kill her, sooner rather than later, and it’s implied (though it never happens) that Lord Rennard could require Kaylan to serve any of his needs. Jesper could have seen Kaylan as a rival, but she doesn’t. The women love each other.
Kaylan’s other friend is the other subplot I saw coming. Markus is the Master of the Hounds for Lord Rennard, and though they get off to a rocky start — he mistakes Kaylan for Jesper’s handmaiden and flirts with her without knowing her limited time left as the Shadow — they clearly fall in love. Neither of them says it, but he cares so deeply for her that I was rooting for them even though it was an obvious choice for a romantic companion.
At least there wasn’t a love triangle!
Kaylan struggles with accepting her new role because of its effect on her health. She doesn’t seem to mind the menial tasks she’s now responsible for, even though she misses the forge where she used to work, but she just can’t accept the fact that she’s supposed to die… and then countless more Shadows will die after her.
When she stumbles headlong into a plot to kill Lord Rennard’s entire bloodline to end the curse of the Relic to free the people of their land… she embraces it. She chooses to fight back instead of just accepting her fate. She toys with running away but decides she needs to stay to protect her family, and she toys with giving in but her will to live ends up being just a little too strong.
So, she fights back. And in the end, it’s her love for Jesper that propels us through the last of Relic and into Riven.
There are definitely spoilers ahead here. Read carefully, but if you’ve read the blurb for Riven you’ll already know some of what I’m about to say.
Kaylan walks in on Lord Rennard physically attacking Jesper, and she attacks him to save her friend. It’s a choice that almost costs her life, but… it doesn’t. I wasn’t really expecting it, but she kills Rennard and saves her friend.
We love strong female friendships here.
Although the Relic doesn’t immediately pass into Kaylan’s power, it ultimately does. The last of his bloodline dies when Jesper is assassinated for carrying Rennard’s child, and Kaylan finds the Relic.
Its power, and its curse, pass to her.
So she runs.
In Riven, we pick up exactly where we left off. Kaylan is running for her life, she doesn’t know what to do other than find her brother and get as far away from the city as she can.
I usually find the second book of a trilogy lags a bit. It’s the middle of a three-act play — everything is important to the overall story, but the Big Thing we’re fighting for won’t happen until book three, so sometimes it feels like filler.
Riven can be like that at times, just because there’s so much traveling. Kaylan needs to get halfway across the continent from Edrlast to Stynos, which involves weeks of getting from A to B to C. Once she’s in Stynos, she needs to train and do research, and sometimes that makes things feel like they’re going slow too.
Even when things felt like they could be happening faster… I didn’t mind. I still love Kaylan, because she’s always fighting for something, and that’s what I want in my main character. She wants to keep her brother safe, even if he fights back. She wants to keep herself from succumbing to the Relic’s influence, even if the Relic fights back. She wants to keep Shae and Markus, whose reappearance absolutely thrilled me, safe and happy.
She makes mistakes but she’s doing her best, and I love that.
I also love the worldbuilding that happens in the slower moments too. We find out so much more about the state of the world and the history of the Relics in Riven than we did in Relic.
The five cities that the lords rule with their Relics aren’t the only cities in the world. The characters talk about how their ancestors purposefully shut themselves off from the rest of the world when they found the Relics in the first place.
Can you imagine that? If one whole continent was just like “We don’t need you; we have magic now?”
Riven also confirmed some things I suspected about the Relics.
First, they have some sort of sentience, and actively try to influence the people wielding them. Part of why Kaylan needed to get to Stynos is because Lord Styne doesn’t even use his Relic at all, and she wants to know how he manages it.
Second, they’re all part of the same whole. Kaylan and Lord Styne accidentally merge their Relics by following the prompting they’re given… and they end up with one larger stone with the powers of both Relics combined.
Of course, there are three more Relics out there, with other powers we don’t know about. There’s miles and miles of land separating them and an entire rebellion dedicated to either bringing down the Relics or, perhaps, taking their power for their own.
Kaylan’s plan is apparently to combine all the Relics and then hide the result, returning it to the ground where it came from in the first place. I think that’s why the Relics were hidden in the first place — the original Relic was riven and buried in five separate places to keep this very thing from happening again.
But that all sounds like a problem to be solved in the final book of the trilogy.
And I can’t wait to read it.
Relic and (the second book) Riven by Bronwyn Eley, in The Relic Trilogy, are published by the indie publishing house Talem Press and are available in Australia at talempress.com, and internationally at Amazon.
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