I love alt-Westerns. David J. West’s COLD SLITHER is an example, a collection of pulp fiction in the vein of Manly Wade Wellman, featuring real-life mountain man and gunfighter Orrin Porter Rockwell. Another favorite is Aaron Michael Ritchey’s Juniper Wars (DANDELION IRON is book one), epic young adult fiction like Louis L’amour would write it. And my own CITY OF THE SAINTS is a western steampunk story.
So I was predisposed to like Renee Collins’s RELIC. This is the story of Maggie Davis, rescued along with her younger sister by an Apache youth named Yahn from a mysterious fire that kills the rest of their family, who finds her way to town and work in a saloon. The setting is the deserts of the American west, but in a world littered with precious bone fragments — relics — of magical creatures (dragons, sirens, yeti, griffins) who died in the Great Flood. These fragments, or “relics,” when activated by a person of talent, have magical effects depending on the species whose bone is used.
In town, Maggie soon learns that she had a strong talent in relic use. This brings her to the attention and employ of the wealthy and perhaps sinister relic magnate Alvar Castilla. As the fires continue, some of them turn out to be started by Yahn and his fellow Apache, defending the relics against Castilla, but Yahn disclaims others, and Maggie finds herself torn one way between Castilla and the Apache, and the other between Yahn and the handsome lizard-wrangler Landon.
RELIC is an engaging YA western fantasy romance, full of breaking hearts and mystery. With its cinematic scope and high action, the hot desert winds that blow through its pages are begging to be made into a movie.