Tim Lebbon’s new novel, Relics, combines crime fiction and urban fantasy with a touch of supernatural horror.
When asked about writing and the lament of “nothing new under the sun,” George Saunders once said, “You realize that there have always been, and will always be, young artistic people in the world who, being relatively new to the world, are freshly amazed by its beauty.” When so inclined, novelists and their readers can find something extraordinary in well-worn genres like dark fantasy or crime drama. When such genres are combined, however, the potential for such amazement is increased.
Such is the case with Tim Lebbon’s new novel, Relics, planned for release in March by Titan Books. We spoke to the author at his home in Goytre, in Monmouthshire, Wales.
Library Journal: You have almost 70 books listed in Goodreads, including quite a few movie-based works in the sci-fi, fantasy, and horror genres. Did you start out with books based on movies and move to horror, or was it the other way around?
Tim Lebbon: I started with my own horror novels, beginning with Mesmer, exactly twenty years ago. Then I did several series of horror and dark fantasy books here and in the States. It was because of the fantasy novels that I started to pick up tie-in books. The first was a 30 Days of Night novelization. I’ve done quite a few, but I’ll admit I prefer to write my own stuff. Actually, most of my tie-in works are not novelizations but original stories set in the movies’ universes.
LJ: You’ve moved a bit outside the horror genre lately. Relics has been described as a mashup of urban fantasy and crime fiction. Would you agree?
TL: I think so, yes. I’ve written a lot of horror, and quite a few fantasy novels—not the ‘sword and sorcery’ variety, but horror stories in a fantasy world. I started writing straight thrillers a couple of year ago. I think Relics is a distillation of all three. It has thriller/crime elements, but also dark fantasy—and a smattering of horror. I was trying to do something that merged all the writing styles I enjoy doing.
LJ: So, let’s talk about the book itself—if we can do it without giving too much away.
TL: It’s inspired by all the trade in rare animals—like rhino horns and tiger pelts. But I thought it would be interesting if there were such a black market in relics of mythological creatures that actually existed in the past. It would be things like a unicorn horn or a cyclops’ head. Of course, this underground trade would involve gangsters and big money and some quite brutal practices at its center of activity in London.
LJ: Why London?
TL: It was the ‘deep history’ of London that decided the setting. There’s something about the mystique of a city that’s truly ancient, with subterranean places that no one has seen for hundreds and hundreds of years.
LJ: I know it’s illicit, but what makes this trade in mythological relics so bad? The creatures themselves are long gone, aren’t they?
TL: One of the gangsters in this trade employs one of my heroes, Vince. Early on, Vince discovers that some of the relics are fresh—not mummified remains of ancient creatures. It turns out that these creatures are alive, in hiding, and in very small numbers. They’re also being hunted.
LJ: So, are you tapping into the environmental, ‘save the endangered species’ movement?
TL: It’s not a black and white story about humans versus creatures. There’s a mix of good and bad characters on both sides. Most of the mythological creatures know their days are past, and want to fade away, so to speak. But there’s an unsavory Satyr character, Ballus, and a fallen angel or Nephilim character, Mallian, who wants his fellow creatures to rise up and destroy the humans. That’s something that will also develop in future books in the trilogy. (Smiles.)
LJ: And what about the humans?
TL: Well, for example, Angela starts out completely unaware of these creatures, while her boyfriend—Vince—is just someone who collects these relics for his boss, a gangster named Meloy. When Vince realizes the creatures still exist and are being hunted, he tries to protect them. There are relationships between the humans and the creatures as well, so it’s not just two camps. There are complex aspects of honor, guilt, and love. It turns out the creatures are quite immersed in our world, even though they’re hidden away.
LJ: It sounds complicated. I take it the human villain—Meloy—is not simply a gangster either.
TL: Well, he’s certainly a reprehensible crime boss, but he has an almost ‘innocent’ side. He’s genuinely fascinated with these creatures when he realizes they’re not just fossilized remains.
LJ: So, the supernatural crime thriller part is pretty clear, but where does horror come in?
TL: Well, the Satyr character is pretty horrific—quite mad, in fact. Without giving too much away, he’s also going after everyone, including his fellow creatures—although for different reasons than the illicit traders. There’s also horror in the fact that these creatures are the last of their kind. They’re not allowed to exist as they wish. One faction is also a potential threat to human existence—which is pretty horrifying if they could succeed.
LJ: Why does the horror genre draw you so much?
TL: Most of what I write ends up as fantastical in some way. I’ve only recently started writing thrillers. It’s difficult to say why dark fantasy seems to permeate what I write. My grandmother used to say, ‘It’s just the way my mum put my hat on.’ Some people are drawn to romance or history; I’m drawn to extrapolating beyond reality and expanding the boundaries of ordinary things.
LJ: Does that sense of the fantastic reflect at all who you are?
TL: I’m quite pragmatic at heart—not a believer in the supernatural as such. But any horror or fantasy novel reflects human interaction. The horror comes from what people can do, more so than from the creatures or situations they face. Most of my characters are experiencing stuff that’s way beyond their ken. I’m interested in how people deal with things like that.