PUBLISHER: Titan Books
RELEASE DATE: 28 September 2012
FORMAT: Paperback, 528 pages
GENRE: Fantasy, Science Fiction
Ecko Rising is a unique genre-bending fantasy–sci-fi epic following a savage, gleefully cynical anti-hero. After awakening in a dimension-jumping inn to find himself immersed in his own sardonic fantasy world, Ecko joins a misfit cast of characters and strives to conquer his deepest fears and save the world from extinction. (Goodreads)
I am going to start this review with a comparison…and it’s a bit of a stretch so bear with me. Over the years I have been able to relate, explain and compare any number of things back to Star Trek (Next Generation only btw) and here I go again. In some ways ECKO RISING reminded me of the STNG episode called Darmok where Picard lands on a planet where everyone spoke in metaphors. He has to work together with the leader of the colony to save the day and struggles as he tries to piece together the metaphors in order to work out the leader is trying to tell him. I kind of felt like Picard when reading this book as I was certain that Ware had a story somewhere in amongst the mishmash of fantasy and science fiction elements but it was a struggle to figure out what it was. There were so many threads and so many characters that I almost didn’t win the battle to finish the book. I wonder if Picard had been faced with this book if he wouldn’t have jumped back onto the Enterprise and taken off for the next adventure rather than finishing it.
ECKO RISING starts out set in fairly traditional sci-fi future where the ‘hero’ Ecko is the slightly psychotic and mostly unbalanced, technically enhanced assassin. He has black, mottled skin that acts like camouflage, ocular implants with targeting devices and pyrotechnic abilities just to name a few of his unique enhancements. The story really starts when he is sent on a job that ends up going terribly wrong and he wakes in an inn that can move through dimensions. While the inn has this odd Tardis like capability there is no other technology in this world and despite Ecko’s enhancements none of the other characters seem to shocked by what he looks like or what he is capable of. To rationalise what has happened to him Ecko believes he being punished for his bad behaviour and has been sent for re-conditioning in a virtual world or a virtual Rorschach as it is referred to numerous times throughout the novel.
Following Ecko’s arrival in the inn the story switches completely to fantasy as in another part of the world a healer and her apprentice are attacked by centaurs and the healer is taken to a cruel and sadistic ‘scientist’ whose is trying to meld human flesh and metal. Here we meet Maupharim who keeps the healer captive (with a lot of sex) and forces her to aid him in his quest to develop some odd super human made partly of metal plating. His other evil plan for her and the world is not revealed until much later in the novel. Ecko joins several others, including people he met in the inn on the quest to find the healer, avenge the death of her apprentice and save the world. In amongst this journey we meet a few other characters who are loosely connected together and all have their own minor part to play in the culmination of the plot.
So, enough of the vagueness. I would like to give you a nice overview of the plot, with who was who, why they were important, what they did but to do that I would practically have to re-write the book there were so many. Ware had a way of rather haphazardly introducing new characters and focused her attention describing Ecko rather than the other linchpin characters in the plot. I only started reading fantasy quite recently (in the last 3-4 years) as one of the things I didn’t like about the genre was the tendency for writers to practically create a new language when naming their characters, places, religion and artefacts. I find that when there are lots of completely new/different names for things that are out of context or in a poorly developed world or characterisation then it is nearly impossible to follow the plot. This was the case with ECKO RISING as I could never keep track of what was going on or who anyone was or why I should care about them. The chapters that focused on Ecko were slightly more coherent but only just barely. I am still not entirely sure I understood who was trying to destroy the world which made it difficult to rationalise the time investment to read a fairly lengthy book.
On the positive side however, a big round of applause to Ware for her creativity and ambition to create a debut novel that had such a breadth of plot and a significant number of characters. It was also very enterprising to try to mix science fiction and fantasy as these are two genres that you don’t normally see together in the same book. I just wish that Ware had pulled back a bit with the number of characters and focused on well developed characters and a well constructed plot. Ware also finishes the book with a great cliffhanger which I wasn’t expecting at all and for that reason alone I have awarded the book an additional 1/2 star.
ECKO RISING is not a book for someone who doesn’t like epic fantasy, as despite it being labelled as science fiction there is relatively little in the book that can be attributed to that genre, especially after the first four-five chapters where it tended to be pure fantasy. If you are looking for a challenging read then keep a notepad at hand to make copious notes to keep track of the characters and then jump into Ecko’s virtual Rorschach (or is it?)
I found ECKO RISING a very difficult book to engage with partly because of the nature of the sci-fi/fantasy mash-up and the number of characters, many of whom I just didn’t care about. I think as an author you need to be very careful when mixing such completely different genres and in the case of ECKO RISING the combination of some of these elements were just a bit too jarring. Having said that, kudos to Ware as this was an auspicious undertaking for a debut novel and demonstrates her creativity and imagination. I would be a bit reticent recommending this book to anyone who wasn’t both a sci-fi and epic fantasy fan.
BUY THE BOOK