093 – Echo by Alicia Wright Brewster

Purchase Echo at Amazon.com - TBH I would grab Don't Call Me Angel instead The countdown clock reads ten days until the end of the world. The citizens are organized. Everyone’s been notified and assigned a duty. The problem is…no one knows for sure how it will end.

Energy-hungry Mages are the most likely culprit. They travel toward a single location from every corner of the continent. Fueled by the two suns, each Mage holds the power of an element: air, earth, fire, metal, water, or ether. They harness their powers to draw energy from the most readily available resource: humans.

Ashara has been assigned to the Ethereal task force, made up of human ether manipulators and directed by Loken, a young man with whom she has a complicated past. Loken and Ashara bond over a common goal: to stop the Mages from occupying their home and gaining more energy than they can contain. But soon, they begin to suspect that the future of the world may depend on Ashara’s death.
I was so looking forward to this. I really enjoyed the author’s previous novella, Don’t Call Me Angel, so when the opportunity arose, I grabbed Echo and eagerly dug in.

Yeah, this one did not work for me nearly as well. Not by miles. Kind of hated it.

I mean okay, there are a few things I liked about it, and we should probably start with those. The premise is really cool: it’s the week before the apocalypse and there’s a clock in the sky counting down the moments til the end. Except, it isn’t actually the week before the apocalypse, because every time it gets too close and the End hasn’t been averted, world leaders are able to rewind time, reset the week, and start again, and they will do this as many times as it takes to save the planet. The citizens know this, and so the ones who aren’t needed to save the world stay in their homes and spend time with their families, waiting for their government to give them the all-clear. When first we meet, our heroine is just an ordinary girl in a wonderfully-conceived, terrifying setting, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

It’s an excellent place to start. It’s unique and scary and there are so many interesting places you could go. A+.

Second thing I liked was the general sense of community that the book established. The emphasis here, from the setting and the characters, and especially our heroine, is family. There are great scenes where the characters come together and cook and eat and soak in one another’s company while they can, and it’s the realest thing in the book. It’s my favorite thing, to see a heroine whose life and choices are informed by something other than romantic love or destiny.

Our protagonist, Ashara, is family-motivated from the ground up. Her inability to protect them is her greatest source of guilt and angst, and her desire to prevent her family from suffering another loss is what motivates her to fight and stay alive. I love that. Not only does she have a sense of self-worth and self-preservation, but it’s not because of a boy. cheersgif There is also a merciful absence of alpha bitches, Ashara has strong bonds and relationships with female characters in the story, and holy crap, a future in which the entirety of the population is not white! We have a black female protagonist! and her Asian best friend! and a multi-racial cast of side characters! HOLY SHIT WHAT IS THIS SORCERY???

So yeah, all good points, all things I liked about it. All things that make me really really wish I’d liked the rest. Unfortunately, ’twas not to be.

First and probably biggest roadblock for me was the world-building. I did not buy any of it. It’s weird and contradictory and it didn’t really hold together, regardless of which way I tried to look at it. It felt like a mish-mash of a bunch of things that seemed cool independently, but just didn’t integrate together well enough.

So, we’ve got a sci-fi setting, this book taking place in what is presumably our future, but on a different earth, colonized initially by anti-tech folk who wanted to get back to basics and found a space-Amish community. They were, however, followed shortly by pro-to-neutral-tech folks, and that caused a rift because they couldn’t have their nice, tech-free planet all to themselves. All of that is fine and well and I can almost get down with that except that the anti-tech folk, known as Believers, decided immediately upon arrival that their new world’s twin suns were actually gods and should be worshiped as such. confusedgif I don’t…believe that? I don’t understand why that would ever happen. Like, on earth, ancient people created gods to explain natural phenomenon and I understand why that would take hold and endure, but these “Believers” came to this planet on a rocket ship made of science, they presumably understood that suns are stars and stars are just big balls of hydrogen and helium, and just because this star is one you haven’t seen before doesn’t make it a mysterious and unknowable thing. They are still fucking stars.

I mean, the colonists name them Ra and Solaris and I’m still not clear on whether or not they actually believe the sun is Ra, or if it was just the most popular sun god name when they took the Name Our New God poll. But then, why Solaris? Those two names don’t even go together. Why an Egyptian god and then generic Greek sun name? Plus, you’d think that if these people believed they were actual gods, they would invent new names for them or try to discern the names the gods gave themselves, not just slap a handy earth name on to an existing thing. That seems incredibly disrespectful to any pre-existing sentient being much less a deity.

This wouldn’t make any more sense but I guess you could just write it off as willful human nonsense, except that eventually all this is actually implied to be true. Furthermore, it turns the issue from one of tech vs anti-tech into one of science vs faith, which opens a whole other can of worms, but I’m getting ahead of myself. The other big thing you need to know is that a significant portion of the people on this planet are benders. bendingif Yeah almost exactly like that. You have your standard water, fire, air, earth, and metal benders, although they are legally distinctly called Flooders, Burners, Breathers, Movers, and yeah actually literally Benders, respectively. Then there are Ethereals, who manipulate ether, which is basically just generic energy bending, and once again this world mythology is getting muddled.

So look, I can handle fantasy aspects in space, I can deal with actual literal deities in space, I can even deal with science and magic existing side by side, but to deal with any of this, I need some consistency.

We’re told initially that bending is a Totally Normal and Scientific Thing that the characters can do thanks to some aspect of this new planet’s twin suns. The most important thing is that it is Totally Science Y’all and is completely unrelated to how those people believe the suns are gods, and we are totally comfortable looking down on their superstitious beliefs because Science. Ok. Fine. Bending is not actually something that sits well with me as a science-based power, even future-science, but fuck it, ok book, disbelief suspended.

Book: Cool, glad you’re okay with that. So Ether-benders, ether is totally a science thing, right? Also, there are Seers who see the future and actually believe their powers come from the gods, but are still employed by the Council of Things That Are Totally Science and Not Even Remotely Mystical No Really We Mean It. Also also, the method that we use to rewind the timeline looks, walks, and talks like a spell, but we’re not going to call it that. Look, this is all basically legit fucking magic, but we’re going to portray it as scientifically unremarkable, and remain committed to pretending that none of this is even within the same realm of possibility as deities. confusedgif2 Book: Also in like a hundred pages, with little to no explanation, we’re going to tell the heroine that to completely unlock her incredible Ether-bending powers, she has to believe in the gods. Because bending is actually a gift from the gods, you see, and unless you believe in them, you cannot develop this skill that you totally had pre-faith any further. It’s impossible. confusedgif2 None of this makes any sense. For one, you cannot establish that bending is a scientifically understood phenomenon then ALSO say that it is mysterious and unknowable because faith. It can’t be both. One absolutely precludes the other. Secondly, the bending, precognition, and spell-casting? The book never sells that stuff to me as actually being hard science, and it really needs to if it also wants to sell me on this groundbreaking science vs faith conflict that drives an entire subplot. There are totally ways to do that, but rather than developing the Council in that light, the book just uses Magical Cult shorthand, tells you that it’s science, and then doesn’t expect you to find any of this hard to swallow.

Even positing that the Council is flat-out wrong and the Believers are the ones who actually have a handle on things, this world still makes no sense theologically – if bending were going to be a sacred, god-given gift, why would they allow non-Believers to do it at all? What does walling off an ambiguous level of bending prowess achieve? And how does this system even work? Are the gods monitoring every bender on the planet and only unlocking their next power set when they reach the appropriate level of piety?

The whole Believe vs Unbeliever conflict makes even less sense from their perspective – the idea is that Believers totally believe that the end is nigh, but they also believe it’s the will of the gods, so the Council shouldn’t do anything about it. Then we get scenes like this:

“You and I are allies. You see, you may or may not have the power to end things. Most likely, the Vision is a fluke, and there’s no end in sight. But either way, this is not something people were meant to interfere in. See—”

I cut her off. “I don’t understand. Don’t you guys care that everything we know may come to an end?”

“Should we care?” she asked, with one eyebrow quirked upward. “All things must end. Such is the cycle of nature. If the gods have decided that our time is over, then we should move on to the afterlives they have set for us. The end is not something to fear. It’s something to be welcomed.”

[…]

“So if we fight and survive,” I asked, “does that mean there are no gods? No one up there preparing to end the world?”

“If your people fight and survive, they were always meant to survive, and the Vision is a fluke.”
asplodgif So if the world ends, it was meant to end, and it should end, and you shouldn’t try to stop it, but if you DO stop it and it doesn’t end, it wasn’t meant to end, so I guess you should have tried to stop it, except that I’m literally willing to kill to keep you from stopping it, so you should stop it…

linkaragif UGHhhhhhhh nobody in this book makes ANY SENSE.

It really seems like the book needed for there to be this Believer vs Unbeliever conflict for the plot to work, but it also needed bending to be an everyone thing, but it also needed a way to gate off the heroine’s power until just the last minute, so we get this inconsistent mish-mash of movements and people doing and believing things that don’t make logical sense purely because the plot says that this is how it is.

“Plot convenience”: it’s going to be a recurring element in this review.

I mean, we all have different levels of tolerance for hand-wavy world-building shit, and maybe if I were more invested in other aspects of the story, it wouldn’t bother me so much. Ultimately, however, the undeveloped, incongruent aspects of the world-building were exemplary of the major problem that I had with book as a whole: it all felt really haphazard.

So we’ve talked a little about the plot and premise, and again, I’m on board with the idea here: ordinary girl is waiting out the apocalypse when she suddenly discovers that she is not as ordinary as she thought. Girl is summoned to help avert the apocalypse, but because she is new to her powers, she must learn how to wield them. Obviously because this is a YA book, girl is also the super-speshul-snowflake who will be the Key to saving everything.

Trope-tastic, but fine in theory. Unfortunately, the execution was a complete mess. The plot is slow and terribly paced and meandering – there is no sense of urgency here, and you would think that urgency is all there should be given that the characters have a literal clock in the sky, ticking away the seconds until doomsday.

There are long stretches in which characters are left aimless, adrift and out of the gravitational pull of the primary conflict until something swings by to pull them back in. It seems like most of what the heroine and her companions do is reactionary, or at the direction of someone else, and there’s never an actual plan for saving the day. Rather than a solid plot driving towards an attainable goal, what we get is more like a series of random encounters that occupy our protagonist until the clock runs down and it’s time for her to do something heroic. It’s way too disorganized and loosely plotted to get up any sort of meaningful momentum.

I wish I could say the characters redeemed it, but again, swing and a miss for me. Everyone seemed to have been characterized in shorthand – like we were supposed to recognize that type of character from other novels, then assign them depth and connect accordingly. Krin, Rey, Loken, Sona, hell, not even the bad guys clicked as anything other than a stereotype.

Ashara, our heroine, reminded me painnnnfully of Clary, except about 80% less self-centered, so that’s a plus. But god, she had that same Clary agency, that same lack of respect or willingness to be guided by people more experienced than her. And OH GOD the mandatory snark. Everyone, and I mean everyone, has a “snappy” line to spew out even when it’s tonally inappropriate or rude or we just don’t have the goddamn time for it.

It doesn’t help that none of the characters seemed to be able to reason, prioritize, or think their way out of a paper bag. They’re all supposed to be in their late teens-early twenties, but they solved problems like precocious children in a Middle Grade novel.

There was a point at which, with three days left on the clock, the characters actually debate on whether or not to spend their entire day swimming at a lake. They only opt not to when they decide it would be too difficult for them to invite everyone they want to join them, given that, you know, they’re on the run from the government.

NO SERIOUSLY. THIS IS A THING:

I stuck my tongue out at him and then hugged him again. “I’m so happy to see you guys. Won’t you get in trouble for not being at the Council right now?”

“Nah,” Krin said. “Loken’s covering for us.”

“You’re going to get him locked up! You have to go back.” I shoved Rey in the direction of the road, where his transport idled.

“No, we’re good,” Krin said. “A bunch of us have patrol duty just north of the city, but no Mages are expected to show. No one will even notice.”

“Is he in trouble for my escape?”

Rey shrugged. “I’m sure he is. I’m also pretty sure his punishment is postponed for now.”

I hoped it wouldn’t be too awful, whatever it was. “What’s going on? I mean, of course I’m happy to see you guys, but why are you here? Is everything all right?”

“We could all use a little fun,” Rey said. “Maybe we could hang out at the lake. I’d like to spend some of my last days enjoying myself. All my old friends are tied up with their assigned duties, so you guys will have to do.”

“Thanks, Rey. I love you too,” I said. “Can we pick up Sona before we go? She loves the floaties at the lake.”

Rey shook his head. “We checked on Sona on our way here. There are Council guards watching her. Looking for you, most likely.”

“Oh.” I stared down at my feet, disappointed. “I don’t think I can go to the lake without Sona. I’d just think about her the whole time, and feel guilty for trying to have fun without her.”
icantevengif YOU HAVE THREE DAYS TO LIVE. YOU ALREADY KNOW THE HEROINE IS SUPPOSEDLY THE REASON THAT THE WORLD IS GOING TO END. YOU HAVE INFORMATION TO WORK WITH. WHY AREN’T YOU DOING SOMETHING? Is this supposed to be a sarcastic discussion? IT’S REALLY NOT COMING ACROSS THAT WAY.

AND YOU, SIDEKICKS, YOU WERE ON GUARD DUTY. YOU WERE MEANT TO PROTECT THE CAPITAL FROM THE RAMPAGING AGENTS OF THE APOCALYPSE, BUT YOU OPTED TO FUCK OFF AND PLAY HOOKY BECAUSE THEY PROBABLY WEREN’T GOING TO SHOW? OH MY GOD I HATE ALL OF YOU.

Btw, the thing they end up doing instead when they decide not to go to the lake? Sneak into the government headquarters and advance the plot.

WHY WASN’T THAT PLAN A???? IS IT BECAUSE YOU ARE ALL INFANTS WHO SHOULD NEVER HAVE BEEN TRUSTED WITH ANY SORT OR RESPONSIBILITY WHATSOEVER? How am I supposed to like or respect any of these characters when they can’t even be trusted to have the most BASIC SENSE OF PRIORITIES?

I think almost all of this just ultimately boils down to the writing. Everything is so contrived – the way the characters behave, the decisions they make, the way their minds work. None of it feels real, just according to script.

I could go on, because there are still problems stacked up – the exposition in the first half of the book is painful, the heroine’s powers progress in leaps and bounds whenever the plot requires she levels up, the reason that Ashara is important at all is broad and unsatisfying, etc, – but I’d rather just skip to the ending, because it’s a ghastly clusterfuck and I’m getting tired of talking about this book.

So somehow, we end up with two separate climaxes occurring simultaneously at different locations: Ashara confronting the mages outside the town, and the Council’s rewind ritual being sabotaged from within by the Believers back at the capital. Now these climaxes are not synchronized in purpose, and actually directly contradict the other’s effectiveness, but by this time our heroine has completely split from the Believers v Unbelievers subplot, and rather than adjust the story to resolve them together, the book splits off in two directions and has to break the narrative to accommodate. This is why we get two chapters in the last fifty pages told from two different characters’ points of view despite NEVER HAVING DEVIATED FROM ASHARA’S PERSPECTIVE BEFORE. whatevergif The story speeds through the climax the same way I am now, hitting all of the notes for a big finish without bothering to explain how or why these things occurred. I have no idea why there were earthquakes or storms while Ashara was being attacked by the mages. I assume that it was some side effect of her power and the thing that would have ended the world, but that’s just a guess, and I have no idea how or why it happened, or why she would continue to use her power if it really was going to destroy the planet. I have no idea how Loken magically found her in time to save the day, just that he conveniently did, and apparently that was all that was necessary to keep her from causing the apocalypse. I don’t know which steps that Ashara took were the ones that led to the destruction of the planet, hell, I don’t even know why Asha’s powers would have resulted in the destruction of the planet and not just her own death at the hands of the mages. All I know was that suddenly shit was hitting the fan and then two pages later it wasn’t, and then the book was over.

All in all, this book was just…not good. I liked things about it here and there, but the overwhelming majority just didn’t work for me in any way. I’m still here for Wright’s Angel series, but honestly, I’ll be happy to post this review and forget about Echo ASAP.

Two Stars


 

4 Responses

  1. Fangs 4 the Fantasy (@Fangs4Fantasy)

    August 27, 2014 8:20 pm, Reply

    This is one of my many many many many pet hates. The author wants something to be there – a theme, a result, a plot twist, a conflict – and will HAMMER AWAY until it happens. You can hear the square pegs scream as they’re forced through the round holes

    There WILL be science vs faith conflict! There will be antagonists who WANT the world to end! There will be a super power that just needs BELIEF to work. There WILL be reasonable doubt in the woo-woo despite the woo-woo being omnipresent

    THIS WILL BE THERE. it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t make sense, isn’t consistent and doesn’t hold together. This will happen! force them square pegs! Force ’em!

    Another pet hate is a book where everyone wastes time until the very end when a) all the plot is rammed in and b) the rest of the book is pretty much rendered obsolete as the protag pulls out their special snowflakeness and saves the day

    • Cyna Cyna

      September 2, 2014 11:48 pm, Reply

      Right?!? I can’t even deal with that shit, either. Seriously, you can see so much of the author’s hand in the text that it’s basically just an image of her fist. It’s all very writing-by-the-seat-of-your-pants that just hasn’t been cleaned up very well :/

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