In Reliquary, an urban fantasy romance novel, Sarah Fine presents us with a different interpretation of magic, one that is certainly a lot darker than anything else I have ever read. Magic in Reliquary is real, and it’s a drug.
When I read the synopsis for Reliquary, I will admit that I didn’t realize that magic was an actual drug.
I knew that magic in this novel would be different, but I had no idea that it was that different. I assumed it was a new, more sinister spin on magic in the general sense of the term – spells, enchantments, that sort of thing. I pictured magic as it is in The Magicians trilogy by Lev Grossman, which admittedly, is probably because I have been so focused on it lately. I pictured magic to be gritty and dark; difficult to find, yet powerful and addictive. If I had paid more attention, and been less focused on the other forms of magic that I have read about over the years, I would have realized that magic was extremely different in Reliquary.
Admittedly, I was drawn to this novel by the cover when I was searching through the e-books available on the Kindle in the fantasy genre; there’s something beautiful, yet mysterious about it. It has a certain element of fantasy that I found to be intriguing. After reading the synopsis, I knew that I had to read it. I wanted to know what this new type of magic was. And there’s nothing wrong with a good romance plot, right?
This review contains spoilers
To be completely honest, this novel was difficult to read. I was immediately reminded of Fifty Shades of Grey. That’s not to say that Reliquary doesn’t have good qualities, but a few parts of it were very rough. The writing, at times, is awkward. There are a number of phrases and adjectives that seem overused throughout the novel in terms of description, including my least favorite “strappy.” Most of the time when we are presented with a description of what main character, Mattie Carver, is wearing, the phrase is used in some way.
Furthermore, the sentence structure throughout the novel is a little awkward as well. There are many instances in which we are given Mattie’s thoughts, which include her present thoughts, as well as flashbacks. However, her thoughts often appear as lines of dialogue. Normal, right? The problem being that the structure used to denote thought is not consistent. Sometimes her thoughts appear in quotation marks, which is a little odd and makes it hard to distinguish from actual dialogue, as the two are often present in the same paragraph. Other times, the first sentence is italicized and the rest is implied thought.
Aside from formatting problems that make the novel difficult to read, there are a number of small mistakes in grammar and sentence structure. The writing, at times, was very weak. If you’ve read Fifty Shades and took note of how it’s written, you will understand why I was annoyed and frustrated at times.
Despite this, I couldn’t stop reading it. I was interested in how magic works. I also ended up becoming invested in the characters. Or rather, the relationships between characters. Which, by the way, are wrong on so many levels.
Reliquary is driven by a romance plot between the main character Mattie, and her fiance, Ben. However, there is also another love interest, which just so happens to be Ben’s brother, Asa. It sounds a little weird, so bear with me while I briefly explain the plot of the book.
Magic is a drug that is highly addictive
There are four types of magic (all of them have names, but they are a little hard to follow): pain, pleasure, manipulation and emotion sensing. Magic isn’t practiced or performed; instead, magic is created. There are humans who naturally produce magic. By touching another person, they can either influence them to do or feel certain things (emotion sensing and manipulation), or they can inflict extreme amounts of pleasure or pain. Magic can also be harvested from a person who produces it and infused into an item. That item can then do the same thing as a person who produces magic. In order to transfer magic from a natural producer to an object for artificial use, there are conduits (people who transfer magic) and reliquaries (people who store magic). Furthermore, there are people who possess the power to sense magic. Because items can be infused with magic and used, magic is addictive. Which leads us to the driving force in the plot – Ben’s addition to magic.
Early on, we learn that shortly after their engagement party, Ben is kidnapped. At first, we don’t know why. Mattie, who is convinced that her fiance has done nothing wrong, finds out the truth the hard way. Ben is addicted to magic and he has enormous debts because of it. Furthermore, he’s been using magic to manipulate her. Not only does he use pleasure magic on her to increase the sexual tension between them (what?!), but he also uses manipulation magic in order to make her feel and act certain ways. The sad thing is, Mattie doesn’t even think that this behavior is wrong! I understand loving someone, but when you learn that the person that you intended to marry has been manipulating you the entire time you have been together, something is very wrong. In my opinion, love doesn’t exist in this novel. While Ben supposedly treats her right (in Mattie’s eyes), the novel seems to be more about lust and less about love, which is disappointing, to say the least.
Looking back, Mattie reminds me so much of Anastasia in Fifty Shades that it’s not even funny. Seriously. Mattie is completely clueless and she makes a fool of herself all the time. Despite being in a relationship with someone who has used manipulation magic on her, she does everything that she can, risking her life in the process, to save her fiance, who was kidnapped. Oh, and, when she finally rescues him, she completely forgives him! She refuses to confront him about what he has done, even when he tries to bring it up! WHY?! Deep inside, she knows that what he has done is wrong, but she convinces herself that he is perfect. Honestly, she doesn’t even know him. There were so many times where I had to put this book down because I couldn’t deal with Mattie.
We actually don’t see much of Ben throughout the book, but on her journey to find out what happened to Ben, Mattie runs into his brother, Asa. At first, you are led to believe that Asa is heartless. As you learn more about him, however, your opinion of him changes. In exchange for her services as a reliquary, Asa agrees to help Mattie find Ben. The journey requires the transfer and exchange of dark and dangerous magic, which eventually leads to obtaining an item to release Ben from his debts. Regardless, the more you see Mattie with Asa, the more you realize that the two of them actually belong together. Asa might seem like a tough guy, but he actually cares about Mattie and Ben. Despite some of the more awkward things that Asa and Mattie go through including numerous pleasure rooms (magic dens where the item of choice is a pleasure infused object, or rooms full of people getting off on magic) as well as a sex dungeon, Asa actually protects Mattie. He genuinely cares about her and he’s pretty damn honest with her. While I will admit that it’s a little wrong that Ben is his brother, Mattie and Asa are the better couple. I would honestly read the sequels just to see if the two of them end up together, despite the fact that Mattie chooses Ben at the end of the first novel.
Speaking of awkward scenes, there are so many strange instances of sex in this book that are just off-putting. I’m not against sex scenes by any means. When written well, they can provide so much depth to a romance novel. Many of these scenes are completely random. Instead of sex, they are more like orgasm parties, wherein large groups of people purchase objects infused with pleasure magic and use them in plain sight of everyone else. Just touching them seems to be enough to cause insane amounts of pleasure, unless you are a magic sensor, in which case, being around magic hurts you because it overloads your senses. While the idea of items infused with magic is interesting, pleasure magic is awkward and uncomfortable at best.
Despite all of the problems with Reliquary, it was a very fast read. There were times that I was genuinely interested in the world that Fine creates. While magic was a little confusing at times, I found it to be an interesting spin on a well-known fantasy element. I am hoping that some of the confusion is cleared up in the sequels. I am also hoping that we learn a little more about how it actually works. Although there were many small things about the novel that bothered me, I will definitely be reading the sequels. I need to know if Mattie makes the right choice, whether it be actually confronting Ben and moving away from a passive position within a relationship, or leaving him and starting a relationship with Asa.