Relics of Ruin Review – Secrets Shared and Sharpened

By JoshuaMacDougall on

About JoshuaMacDougall

Joshua (He/Him) is a contributor and writer for the Reading section of Geekly.
He is an enthusiast for fantasy novels, tabletop games, and wrestling.
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Relics of Ruin by Erin M. Evans, the second book in Books of the Usurper series does what every second book in a series should do: expands the world, digs deeper into the characters, introduces new information, and builds on what was set up in the first book while raising the stakes with new conflicts. Quill, Amadea, Ynni, and Richa are back and dealing with the fallout of Empire of Exiles. In addition, Tunuk, the archive specialist with an affinity to bone, is added to the points of view we get in the second book.

With the reveal to the reader and the cast that Redolfo Kirazzi escaped his execution and is somewhere outside the salt wall, presenting an equally compelling mystery with the same amount of political tension was quite a tall task. Luckily, Evans has built an edge of the world where many different people and cultures are squeezed together in one nation, which is ripe for just those things. The Orozhandi, the people of Orozhand with horns and a third eye who worship their sorcerers as saints, were primarily seen through Yinii and her family. In this one, when the bones of one of their saints are discovered unsafe in the Imperial Archives, their political figures, their different families, their culture, and their roles in Redolfo Kirazzi’s coup are explored through the book’s politics and mystery.

By putting the Imperial Archives under political turmoil due to the discovered bones, Evans boldly chooses to have them no longer be the sanctuary it was when Quill ran to it in the Empire of Exiles after his best friend’s death. Likewise, Amadea, dealing with multiple avenues of stress, is no longer able to be the emotional sanctuary for Yinii, Tunuk, and Quill to the point where they are outright disobeying her for her own good. While it puts the characters in greater danger, we also get to see more of the different locations, factions, and people of Semilla.

The pressure on Amadea in Relics of Ruin is even heavier than in the previous book. She served as a pillar to all the other characters despite the secret of her earlier life as the grave-spurned princess used by Redolfo Kirazzi for his coup and all the trauma that went with it. Evans has decided to test how much that pillar can take upon it. She often refers to herself as the problem solver, but her problems in the second book are becoming too large, too out of control, and too much. There is also the lingering question of whether or not she is really Lireana Ulanitti, which Evans does not ignore but reinforces as an internal conflict in her mind while trying to cope with the external conflict around her. Amadea had one of the most robust characterizations in the previous book, so to take who she is (or who she doesn’t know she is) and squeeze her like coal til she turns into a diamond is fun to read.

Like Amadea and Quill in the first book, the overarching conflict of this second book becomes personal for both Tunuk and Richa Langyuan as the story delves into their personal history as much as both want to avoid it. Relics of Ruin recaptures the magic of the first book by adding Tunuk, a bone specialist of the Imperial Archives who lost one of his fathers in the previous events, to the points-of-view and have him go through a similar arc to Quill in Empire of Exiles. Sometimes, side characters who are abrasive don’t translate well to the main characters, but Evans writes the complicated Tunuk with deft skill where others may not accomplish such a task. His past is revealed and directly connected to the mystery of the discovered bones of a saint, but Tunuk could not have more of a different reaction to it than Quill did in book one. He is frustrating in the way a well-written character is that makes you want to keep reading to see their development, change, or realizations rather than wanting to put the book down.

The growing friendship and working relationship between Quill and Tunuk is vital to this. As they spend more time together and the plot unfurls, their role-reciprocal personalities play off each other. Quill, like in the first book, wants to put the pieces of the puzzle together of what is going on but is much less manic than he was about Karimo. Tunuk doesn’t want to face the situation at all. To run away or push away his problems is less painful, even though the truth may not match up with the adverse scenario he has made up in his mind. Quill is still good at both reading people and talking to them, while Tunuk lacks any sort of tact but does tend to get straight to the point. The dialogue is a strong suit of this series so far, often making the exposition feel like an organic part of the conversation, and the duo of Quill and Tunuk showcases this.

The way the interpersonal relationships change by jumping just a couple of months was a good choice because it allows them to change and grow, but it’s not too much time to take away from them growing further. It feels like a real tease after a whole book of a meet-cute in the middle of traumatic events with the promise of coffee at the end to place Yinii and Quill so far apart at the beginning of Relics of Ruin and then make them both so busy they don’t have time to further their relationships.

A lot changed about Yinii in the climax of Empire of Exiles, and she puts change into action in the sequel. She’s more outspoken, takes more responsibility upon herself, and seems to have new control over her ink affinity, her magical ability to control ink. There is only one rather considerable problem: she might be more than a specialist; she might be a sorcerer. Between her Orozhandi culture and the Empire’s rules and laws about sorcerers, Yinii has an internal and external crisis similar to Amadea. She also, more than Quill and Tunuk, can see the cracks in Amadea, thus making some impulsive decisions she never would have made previously. When the three of them, Tunuk, Ynni, and Quill, are together, they make quite the trio of young adults. On top of the mystery of the saint’s bone, they’re trying to figure themselves out and how to navigate their relationships with each other.

Richa Langyuan, a Vigilant from the first book who primarily served in a detective-like role, has a much more personal story in the second. If Tunuk is the Quill of this book, then Richa is the Amadea. Like Tunuk, Richa’s past as a young street thief collides with his present as a vigilant sworn to uphold the law. The author’s use of another vigilant to dig into his past when a peddler gets murdered in the city Richa used to be a street thief is entertaining because a few months ago, he was the one doing too much digging. The frustration, the excellent storytelling kind, with Richa is different from Tunuk’s because Richa is not only suspected of a crime he didn’t do but suspected of being the person he hasn’t been in many years. To change and become a better person, only for someone to accuse you of having never changed at all, is relatably painful.

Ultimately, amongst changelings, affinity magic, salt walls, and sorcerers, what Relics of Ruin by Erin M. Evans comes down to is the characters, their relationships, and the questions they ask themselves. Questions we all ask ourselves: who am I? What is my purpose in life? Who do I confide in? How do I move on? What is the truth? Who do I trust? Can I trust myself? Amadea, Quill, Yinii, Richa, and now Tunuk are all looking for these kinds of answers in the last bastion of civilization, all the while a usurper with a possible army of changelings waits to make his move.

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Joshua was provided an advance copy of the book by Orbit Books.

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