Review: Echo City / Written by: Tim Lebbon / Published by: Orbit / Release date: Out Now
Echo City is a place built on history. Literally. The last surviving outpost of humanity is surrounded by an endless toxic desert called “The Bonelands”, because of the bleached remains of those who have attempted to cross it over the millennia. It is a closed society, ruled by a brutal religious order who continue to build the city upon the ruins of the past, with the “echo’s” remaining intact beneath the bustling metropolis’s current incarnation.
The city had been this way for more than ten thousand years, until an exiled woman called Peer witnesses a man dressed in strange clothing, approaching the city from the poisonous wasteland beyond. Convinced that he could be the key to the cities future, she enlists the help of her old allies in a desperate race to discover the man’s secrets before the rulers of Echo City become aware of his presence. Time, however, is not on their side. Beneath the oldest echo’s of the city, from within a bottomless chasm, fed by a dead river, something is rising that may doom them all.
In Echo City, Tim Lebbon has created a complex and fascinating world. Some of the descriptions are breathtaking. Others, influenced by the author’s love of horror, are downright disturbing. This is especially true for “The chopped” – modified humans that have been mutated into strange and terrible creatures that are designed for specific tasks. These vary from three legged prostitutes, with an extra set of genitalia so that they can make more money, to “The scopes” which are nothing more than organic telescopes with minimal intelligence and awareness.
The characters are all well conceived, believable and fascinating. Each has their own motivations, strengths and failings, and I genuinely cared about the fate of every one of them. The plot is also well constructed and kept me interested all the way through.
That’s not to say that there are not problems. In fact, there are a couple of fairly significant ones that took the shine off the novel for me.
First and most damning is that the fate of a key character is resolved “off screen”. When the author takes the time to build these characters, and get the reader invested in them, it’s a shame that you hear about what happens to them in a couple of lines of conversation, instead of reading about it first hand. I can see why it was done – so that the focus becomes more refined on the characters involved in the core story, but it still left me feeling frustrated and a little cheated that we were told and not shown.
The other main criticism is that we don’t get to see anywhere near enough of the city or its inhabitants. 500 pages or so just can’t do an adequate job of covering the ten thousand years of back-story that is implied, but never really expanded upon in any great depth. This is also true for the terror that is rising from beneath the city. When the climax approaches, it’s viewed from a distance, where I would personally have liked to have seen it close up a bit more, from the point of view of some of its victims – especially if those victims were deserving (like members of the ruling theocracy, for example).
That said, the fact that the book left me wanting to see more of this world and its characters says a lot. Despite its shortcomings, Echo City is a fascinating and engaging novel that I hope will become the first in a series. At the very least, it’s something very different from the usual sword and sorcery fare that has dominated the Fantasy genre since Lord of the Rings, and is definitely worth your time and money.