It is set in an alternate re-imagined Western. Now, I have to admit when she said the word "Western" all that came to mind was all the cliche's that come with the genre. And I tend to be anti-cliche anything.....at least in theory if not in execution. BUT it did intrigue me, and I read/watched numerous reviews that said the exact same thing. "I don't like Westerns, but I LOVED this book." And so this time, I join the throng of cliche's.
From the back cover:
After a raging fire consumes her town and kills her parents, Maggie Davis is on her own to protect her younger sister and survive best she can in the Colorado town of Burning Mesa. In Maggie's world, the bones of long-extinct magical creatures such as dragons and sirens are mined and traded for their residual magical elements, and harnessing these relic's powers allows the user to wield fire, turn invisible, or heal even the worst of injuries.
Working in a local saloon, Maggie befriends the spirited showgirl Adelaide and falls for the roughish cowboy Landon. But when she proves to have a particular skill at harnessing the relics' powers, Maggie is whisked away to the glamorous hacienda of Alvar Castilla, the wealthy young relic baron who runs Burning Mesa. Though his intentions aren't always clear, Alvar trains Maggie in the world of relic magic. But when the mysterious fires reappear in their neighboring towns, Maggie must discover who is channeling relic magic for evil before it's too late.
Relic is a thrilling adventure set in a wholly unique world, and a spell-binding story of love, trust, and the power of good.
Collins tried to incorporate all the stereo types of the old West-their are Native Americans, Chinese, Saloon fare, migrant workers, cowboys, the whole shebang, and she does it well. She creates strong emotional bonds so quickly I got teary-eyed in chapter 1.....the last time that happened was when Prim's name was called for the reaping.....(although Renee Collins is not directly related to Suzanne Collins, there's definitely some writing mojo in that surname!).
Maggie goes through a lot as a teenager who is suddenly the sole provider and protector of her younger sister Ella, who is 7. She has to consider what she IS and ISN'T willing to do to provide. One thing I liked a lot is that she never wants to resort to prostitution as a form of income. She was taught by her mother to be as upstanding and proper as possible and she does many things to ensure that she can provide for her sister without compromising her standards. It takes some creativity, but that is the case with all things worth while.
The pace is REALLY fast. Almost too fast for me. It seemed like every chapter ending was a cliff-hanger, which made it a page turner for sure, and I did like that. But it also seemed like the moments of peril were happening so fast it seemed less plausible. We all know bad things happen in 3s. They seem to happen to Maggie in multiples of 3 and I haven't decided yet exactly how I feel about it. In some ways I appreciate the pace-and there really ARE down times when you can delve into Maggie's character when she's NOT experiencing trauma and she can catch her breath. However, the pace also leaned toward the melodramatic-but that DOES fit with the Western genrea. I think what made it seem faster paced than other novels with characters in near-constant peril (Gregor, Percy Jackson) I think was that in several circumstances, each incident was short-lived and isolated from the other events even though they connected. For instance, with Gregor and Percy, the peril was all part of the same quest and it was very obvious. Here you're not always sure how the peril fits together; your puzzle pieces are not all the edges first and then the middle (which is the way I put a puzzle together personally, so maybe the issue here is ME). Many things are wrapped up nicely, but there is going to be a sequel and many things are left hanging. But it's not a horrible way to end a book, like some other series or trilogies where you are completely left hanging. So you can feel satisfied at the end and have things to look forward to. But you're not going to give yourself an aneurism trying to figure out District 13 or wondering who R.A.B. is for a year before the next book is put out. (PLEASE tell me you understand those references....PLEASE and if you don't, lie and say you do).
I really, REALLY enjoyed this book. I enjoyed the perspective of the teenage girl in the old West grappling with her identity, coming of age, unexpected responsibility, and living up to her personal moral standards. I love how she is able to learn from her mistakes quickly so she doesn't repeat them. I love how she is a good role model for young women of today that they don't have to lower themselves in order to provide a living, follow their dreams, or succeed in whatever world they live in. I loved also how it showed that in order to realize the full potential of the Relic, you had to ask "please" or at least that's how Maggie harnesses the power. I loved how she trusted her instinct about things and people. How when she realized her perceptions were wrong, she changed them. There's so much criticism for people who change their minds, being called flip floppers. But aren't we all supposed to make judgements based on our knowledge and then when we learn more we can adjust those judgments? It helped me to further my ability to see the other side and resolve to make fewer snap judgements in my day to day life.
Things I hope will be in the sequel without any spoilers: Further development of Ella, Moon John, and Yahn. Maggie's mother's back story. I would love to see Adelaide be able to stop being a show girl and getting to settle down and have a family-and I wouldn't mind more background history on her as well. I'm a sucker for background stories.