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The tl;dr: Relics of Ruin has a very different vibe from its predecessor, Empire of Exiles. This means that it takes a bit to warm up to the slower paced, thoughtful, and more character-driven stylings of this sequel. However, once you settle into the rhythms of Relics, you are rewarded with a book that is more interested in exploring the characters of this world than a fast-paced, frantic solving of its mysteries. The second half of the book puts things into overdrive as the many pieces start to fall into place. Sometimes the plot and mystery are a bit convoluted, but I love this world and don’t want to see it end in the next book!

Relics of Ruin

 

My full review:

Relics of Ruin was one of my most anticipated books of 2024 after Empires of Exile knocked my socks off and became one of my top reads of 2023. I couldn’t wait to return to this world of shape-shifting changelings, social turmoil, political conflicts, dangerous magic, and clever mystery/fantasy genre mashups. While Relics of Ruin did not quite reach my lofty expectations, it is still an exciting and profoundly satisfying read that only works to confirm that this series should be near the top of your TBR.

Relics of Ruin had a tough job in front of it. As the second book in a trilogy, it has the responsibility of raising the stakes of the over-arching narrative without spinning its own wheels, and it also has to introduce a brand new mystery that somehow matches the mysterious fun of Empire of Exile‘s gruesome murder. It does both of these admirably, if a tad imperfectly.

The main impetus for the conflict in Relics of Ruin is the theft of a sacred wooden replica of the bones of a culturally significant saint. This mystery didn’t grab me as immediately as Empire’s murder, and I think this came down to a couple of things. A theft is not as “hooky” as a murder, and this problem was slightly exacerbated by the fact that the stakes of the theft were not immediately made apparent to the reader. I don’t know if this was a slight worldbuilding issue or just me forgetting things from the first book, but it took a bit too long for Evans to clearly convey what these wooden bones are, who they represented, and why the theft was significant to the plot. This had a bit of the unintended consequence of making the the first half of Relics feel insular; the connection of the theft to the larger over-arching plot was not apparent and the theft for a long section of the book felt a bit like a side-quest. This was all made slightly worse by how complicated and convoluted the mystery actually was, but luckily Evans takes a step back many times in the narrative to “sum up” all of the clues and revelations.

Because the mystery in relics is more complicated than the murder in the first book, the book does move at a much slower pace. It took me a bit to match Evans’ rhythm, but once I did I really enjoyed the slower and more assured pacing of this book. I loved Empires of Exiles because it moved – introducing new characters, magics, mysteries, and more at a runaway pace. I liked Relics because it was able to slow down and sit a bit with the characters. The characters came alive and felt more well-rounded this time around, and their individual motivations, histories, and personalities felt more real and vibrant than ever before. I realized when starting with Relics of Ruin that the mystery and worldbuilding of Empire of Exiles really stuck with me, but that the characters didn’t penetrate my mind. However, after this second outing I was more fully invested with these people, and this time around the characters are what are sticking with me much more than any of the plot. The more character-oriented rhythm ultimately worked for me, but it does mean that Relics of Ruin has quite a different vibe from Empire.

Once you cross approximately the halfway point of the book, it starts to feel a bit more like Empire as well. The larger plot machinations start to take center stage once again, the it becomes clearer how the individual mystery here starts to fit into the larger narrative that Evans is weaving throughout the entire trilogy. In many ways this series is structured like a three season TV series, where each season is relatively self-contained, and you only get glimpses of how everything fits together until you approach the climax, and everything starts to fall into place. While the first half of the book may seem like this is an episodic adventure, there are some MAJOR ramifications for what is coming later!

I will always want to spend more time in this world, and now that we have settled into the magic systems, politics, and more, I am eagerly anticipating the grand conclusion of this series (which I think is scheduled for later this year in November?). As Relics of Ruin ends, it simultaneously feels like we are crashing into the conclusion and that there is so much of this universe and these characters to explore. Evans has a tendency to zag when I think they are going to zig, and so I have no clue what is coming next!

Nathan

Nathan is a PhD Candidate in Anthropology where he specializes in death rituals of the Ice Age in Europe and queer theory. Originally from Ohio, he currently lives in Kansas where he teaches college anthropology, watches too much TV, and attempts to make the perfect macarons in a humid climate. He is also the co-host of The Dragonfire podcast with James Lloyd Dulin. He reads widely in fantasy and sci-fi and is always looking for new favorites!

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