The Dark City (Relic Master #1) by Catherine Fisher

Catherine Fisher first published her Relic Master series in the UK in 1998. Back then, it was called The Book of the Crow series and the title of the first book was The Relic Master. Thirteen years later, the US can finally meet Fisher’s YA fantasy series, now titled Relic Master, with The Dark City being the first of four volumes in the series.

Collector’s item
The Dark City was released today, on May 17, with the next volumes planned a month apart each, in June, July and August. And let me tell you, they are the most gorgeous books I’ve ever seen. Not only do they feature beautiful, shiny, metallic cover art, each book also comes with a map on the reverse of the jacket; and let me tell you, it is the most awesome fantasy map I’ve ever seen. Every volume will have a different map, and combined, the maps form the world of Relic Master. This novel looks like a collector’s item more than anything.

An epic journey
The Relic Master series is set in the dystopian world of Anara, mysteriously crumbling to devastation. Only Relic Masters still care about the powers of old, but they are hunted by the Watch. In this world, we follow Galen, an old, powerless Relic Master, and his apprentice Raffi on their journey to search for an ancient legend that might save them from the Watch. We also follow Carys, a member of the Watch sent to hunt down Galen and Raffi.

The story of Galen and Raffi is epic in almost every way. It’s a journey to a lost city, where they hope to find a relic to save the world. Along the way, they meet different people and races, have incredible adventures, and try their best to stay one step ahead of their enemies at all times. Moreover, The Dark City is set in an intriguing and well-built world that is only gradually explained as the story develops, featuring a magic system that is both original and interesting, and clouded in an air of mystery.

Realistic characters
The characters, too, are well-written and realistic. The character of Carys, whose story is told both through the narrative and her own diary entries—which, I might add, were very well-written—is especially intriguing and very likable. The conflicts she struggles with are recognizable and introduced in a comprehensible way. While the changes in her character don’t come unexpectedly, they have been set up as well as can be expected from a book as small as The Dark City.

The best YA out there?
However, though character changes do not come unexpectedly, I feel that both these changes and the entire plot are fairly rushed. What makes fantasy’s greatest epics great for me is the build-up. In great books, things don’t just happen but are subtly foreshadowed and worked toward. While The Dark City has all the elements of a great epic, the fact that it is a 384-page book with a big font is a downer to me. Characters develop at a breathtaking tempo and that just isn’t enough for me. The development is understandable, but not sufficient and not nearly subtle enough; in fact, it’s rash and too obvious for my liking.

Of course, I understand that this is a young adult novel and as such, probably fits the genre rather well. After all, it has an amazing story and great pacing, as much as can be expected from a book in its genre. Maybe I expect too much, or maybe I should stick with adult epic fantasy. And, just maybe, this is in fact one of the best young adult novels out there. That doesn’t help shake that feeling that The Dark City has so much more untapped potential waiting to be used.

Why should you read this book?
You should probably ask yourself what you expect from a book. If, like me, you love epic fantasy at its best, perhaps this isn’t the book for you. But if you enjoy YA fantasy and while reading the ending of this review, you thought: “What the heck are you talking about? Who wants subtlety anyway!?” then The Dark City is definitely your kind of book. In fact, even if you do expect more from your fantasy, the book is cheap and small, looks amazing, and makes for a great couple hours of enjoyable entertainment.

Stephan received a review copy courtesy of Penguin Teen.

About Stephan van Velzen

Stephan van Velzen
A 31 year-old Communications student, Stephan loves publicity and design, particularly web design. When he’s not designing websites, he can be found in a comfy chair reading a fantasy book. In The Ranting Dragon, he has found a way to combine these passions and discover a new love for writing to boot. Stephan lives in a small town in The Netherlands with his wife Rebecca, an editor for The Ranting Dragon, and their two cats.

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