My introduction to Preston and Child was unfortunately lackluster. I found Relic to be solidly okay, the literary equivalent of tuning into a television show just to let it serve as background noise. While the premise was interesting and isn’t something I’ll be forgetting anytime soon, I just couldn’t make myself care. There were two main contributors to this lack of interest: poor characterization and an overabundance of science.
Let me start with the science first. This is very much a personal preference thing. Anytime a book begins getting very scientific in its content, I just start tuning out. It’s why I stay away from hard science fiction. I know that many people love when there is science present to back up a wild claim that is central to the plot, as it helps readers suspend their disbelief in the moment. However, I get completely overwhelmed by scientific explanations and they throw me out of the story. I’m such a humanities person that being faced with math or science just throw me for a loop. Maybe the portion of my brain that comprehends those subject is underdeveloped or something. Whatever the case, I know that this is an element that actually appeals to a lot of people. It just doesn’t work for me.
But I think a basic building block of stellar fiction on which we can all agree is character development. I felt that was very much the weakest part of this book. Every central character with the exception of Pendergast himself fell very flat, and he was seldom present. I felt that even characters as important as Margo and Dr. Frock and D’Agosta and Smithback came across more as cardboard cutouts of people instead of living, breathing characters. The unfortunate side-effect of this was that, when bad things started happening toward the end of the book I couldn’t bring myself to emotionally care. I was so distant from the action that I felt next to nothing during the insane climactic scenes. Reactions felt forced or unrealistic. But I will say that I found Pendergast an interesting enough character to not give up on the series entirely.
I want to take a moment to compare this book to any installment of Nora Roberts’ In Death series under her pen name of J.D. Robb. It’s similar in the fact that it’s a police procedural that often veers into the very weird. However, Nora can make you care for a bit character whose murder is imminent, and she can do so within the span of two or three pages. The team of Preston and Child were unable to evoke the same regard over the course of hundreds of pages. Also, Nora has this innate sense of how to balance the weird with the believable, and she does so without relying too heavily on forced science. I felt that the science involved in Relic was trying way too hard to justify the plot. It was just screaming “See?! This could totally happen! You can believe me because SCIENCE!” And the characters were basically just mouthpieces for this.
The only part of this novel that actually made me mad was the very last chapter. It was like it consumed every villainous evil genius trope ever and vomited them back onto the pages. I rolled my eyes so insanely hard. As I know that Reliquary is a direct sequel and will be picking up where Relic left off, I will definitely not be reading it. I just couldn’t handle it.
However, what I did really enjoy about Relic was the setting. I’m a sucker for any story that revolves around a museum, and they don’t get bigger than the New York Museum of Natural History. I loved getting a backstage tour of such a huge haven of history. I had no idea a museum could be so massive, or that there were so much artifacts left to molder in dark corners because there isn’t enough time or man power to deal with them all.
Overall, this book left me a bit apathetic. It wasn’t bad by any means, but it wasn’t for me. Obviously there is definitely a huge audience for this book, as it provides the foundation for an incredibly high selling series. While I didn’t love Relic, I was intrigued enough by Pendergast as a character to give his story another shot. Here’s hoping that later books in the series are more appealing to me.
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