Egeland’s story is that of a Norwegian albino assistant professor of archaeology, Bjørn Beltø, who steals an ancient golden reliquary from the clutches of a seemingly sinister group of professors and archaeologists. He has been appointed as the inspector of a dig in Norway, only to find that those doing the excavations plan to smuggle their find out of the country, which is strictly against protocol. Feeling the need to intervene, Bjørn steals the object and hides it until he is given answers as to what secrets it holds.
Captivating at first, this is however, a theme that gets old quite quickly. The plot soon becomes circular and somewhat loses its way as the protagonist and first person narrator, Bjørn, is captured or cornered, fed another set of lies as to what the shrine is, before fleeing again. He is led to believe it is the ancient ‘Q’ manuscript that contains the unedited version the bible, a piece of a spaceship hidden beneath the Egyptian pyramids or a message sent through time from scientists in the future who have harnessed the power of ‘faster than the speed of light’ particles discovered by CERN, making it at times much more ‘Indiana Jones’ than ‘Da Vinci Code’.
That’s not to say that the story is dull or tiresome, and in fact is written (and translated) in a way that is both poetic and engaging, if a little slow to get started. Despite his many flaws, Bjørn is quite a difficult character to dislike, even if he is sometimes too complex to entirely empathise with. His difficulties with mental illness, his father’s premature death and his mother’s alcoholism, aside from his own awareness of his differences as an albino often provide more of an interesting vehicle for Egeland’s literary musings than the plot itself.
When Bjørn is finally fed the truth the end, the reader will sigh with relief as the whole charade is brought to a fairly satisfactory climax, though why after such a struggle this information we are led to believe is finally the truth is given to Bjørn is left ambiguous – it seems his pursuers have gotten as fed up as the reader might have done if another cycle of ‘caught and escaped’ was played out.
With a title like Relic, I was expecting something very much along the lines of Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code or Lost Symbol, and in many ways I wasn’t disappointed. Particularly towards the end, there is plenty of religious conjecture and conspiracy theory to whet the appetite of anyone interested in this genre. Egeland even lists a helpful summary of his research resources at the end for enthusiasts to follow up on. Overall, this was a slightly disappointing read that, though impressive at times, was rather lacking in the wow factor that other novels of this genre have had.