That one line summarizes Echo City, a stand-alone novel by Tim Lebbon. This is a work of very dark but slightly epic fantasy that sometimes borders on the horror genre. It is about a huge city called Echo City, named after its Echoes which are layers of old parts of the city built over by new parts but left intact beneath the surface. From deep down there, down beneath the earliest of Echoes, something is slowly rising. Fortune-tellers are predicting it, while others are feeling it in the waters of the river and creatures that live down in the Echoes are panicking.
When Peer Nadawa, a political exile, stumbles upon a strange man coming from the deserts where no one can survive, she is forced to escape her exile and find her lover Gorham, leader of a band of rebels, to seek the truth behind this stranger’s arrival. Could he be the prophesied savior?
A promising concept
While this story sounds very promising, and the city in which it is set is one of the most intricate I’ve ever read about – with all its forgotten history and layers upon layers through which the story travels – I can’t shake the feeling that Lebbon has bitten off more than he can chew. While reading the book, I found myself contemplating how well this story could do as an epic fantasy series, instead of a stand-alone novel.
Lack of story
The truth is, however, that Echo City doesn’t move anywhere at all. Despite all the potential it has, it simply doesn’t do anything. There are pages upon pages of people walking through the city and its Echoes, seemingly without destination, to come full circle in the end, while nothing really happened to justify the almost 500 pages of story in between. It was the potential that kept me reading, but after finishing this book, all I felt was disappointment.
It must be said, though, that Lebbon has tried to turn Echo City into a very epic novel. There are over a dozen different viewpoints, some of which are quite well-written. Every now and then there is an amazing chapter which offers a stunning view of a city in chaos. Overall, however, this novel didn’t need so many viewpoints, as many of them only contributed to the convoluted feeling of the book.
What also didn’t help Lebbon was the lack of background given. I felt that nothing in this book was properly set up; there were just too many coincidences. For example, there is a point when one of the characters, Nophel, needs to investigate something that happened in the city. He says to his master, “So, I’m going to need that invisibility potion you have lying around.” And *poof!*, just like that, an army of invisible people that will accomplish everything that needs to get done for the story to progress is born.
Complicated and useless
All in all, this simply isn’t a book I liked. It had the potential to be great, but it just wasn’t. At times, it was overly complicated, with many useless story-lines and a weird form of scientific magic that just didn’t get any of the explanation it needed. At other times it was too simple, almost like a children’s story, and didn’t move anywhere at all. The very anti-climactic ending didn’t help either.
Lack of vision
Another thing that bugged me was the city itself. As I said, it’s a magnificent setting for a fantasy novel and I stand by it. Layers upon layers of history built upon each other with characters traveling these through hidden passages kept me up many a night, marveling about such a wonderful setting. But then, one of those nights, it struck me: An entire section of the city is dedicated to farming. The story tells about fields still being present in the Echoes, soil and all. Yet, the city has been surrounded by deadly desert since the time of the first Echo, so where would they possibly find all that soil? Also, there is never any mention about pillars or other form of support for these layers to rest upon. In fact, there are several mentions of huge plains in the Echoes. It strikes me as completely implausible and I can’t help but be bothered by the lack of vision of the author.
Why should you read this book?
I guess you really shouldn’t, though I’m sure some of you might like it. If you’re big on dark fantasy that borders horror, you might be able to appreciate Echo City. I’m afraid, though, that if you share my love for detail, you will not like this read.