Format: hard cover, first edition, 2017
Reading Time: about 18 hours
One Sentence Synopsis: Wirr must deal with the fallout of repealing the laws against gifted and Augers; Caeden begins to regain his memories and struggles to deal with them; Asha investigates the disappearance of Shadows and discovers a greater threat; and Davian runs into problems at the Tol while his instincts urge him to get to the failing Boundary as soon as possible.
In my review of James Islington’s The Shadow Of What Was Lost, the first book in the Licanius trilogy, I praised his worldbuilding and character development, but I was concerned that 3 books would not be sufficient to effectively wrap up the plot. I really loved the first book, so did that carry over to An Echo Of Things To Come, or did it suffer from “middle book syndrome”? Read on to find out, and beware of spoilers for this book and the previous one, but first a few guest reviews collected from other sites…
James Tivendale of Fantasy Book Review says: “The narrative starts slowly and takes a few 100-pages to really get going. A fair amount of new characters are introduced or expanded on from the shorter almost cameo roles they had in the previous book. Andyn, Wirr’s witty and mysterious bodyguard was a personal favourite. Certain side characters never feel as fully fleshed as I would have liked though and more often act as devices to point the main characters in a certain plot direction. The magic scheme is still enhanced and pretty glorious though and through Caeden’s flashbacks we are given views of the phenomenal potential it can have as well as the history surrounding it and it’s past users…The magic-system, world-building, and character-development are sublime. The pacing was slightly off for me here very occasionally…The final third sees everything speed up and previous complexities seem to make sense. There are a few tragic moments, unexpected deaths, and brief torture scenes. All the story arcs conclude in an intense and exciting fashion…”
The Quill To Live explains: “Book two however, is where the plot starts to really become clear. The Licanius series is all about time in many senses. While the magic of the world surrounds manipulating time’s flow, the themes that are explored by the cast also revolve around time. Some characters have lost their past and are working hard to discover who they are and what happened to them. Some characters are trapped in a terrible present that they want to escape, and are searching for anyway to rewrite the past or find a future with hope. And some characters have seen an echo of things to come and must prepare and plan to deal with what they know is inevitable…While it might be unfair to both series, I can’t help but think that Licanius is shaping up to be a better version of The Wheel of Time. It has all the things that made that classic great; a diverse cast, a sweeping epic world, an unambiguous evil to fight against, and a protagonist rising from nothing to greatness. But it also shores up a lot of the issues I have with Wheel (such as its pacing issues); however, no book is perfect. One of the POV’s in the story is a man recovering his memories. His segments are often used to give you insight into the backstory and history of the world as the character and reader discover his past together. This can unfortunately result in some confusing sections as following conversations with people he used to know can be difficult. On the other hand, if you can put up with being a little in the dark you will eventually have enough puzzle pieces to understand who everyone is and what is happening – and the payoff is definitely worth it.”
The Eloquent Page states: “The thing I like most about this book is that each character’s narrative thread weaves seamlessly into the story as a whole. Take Caeden for example. As he uncovers more and more about his murky past, he has to confront the fact that he has done things he isn’t proud of. The question that looms ever greater in his mind. If push comes to shove, would Caeden choose his friends over the greater good? An Echo of Things to Come reinforces the idea that the author has hinted at before; there is no such thing as entirely good or entirely evil there are just endless shades of grey. Character perspective is key when it comes to events unfolding. Due to the gaps in his memory, Caeden is the character ideally suited for seeing both sides of the conflict. Islington does a great job of subtly exploring the nature of this dichotomy while ensuring his observations always enhance the plot…When it comes to epic fantasy I guess you’re going to expect a large cast of characters. I think a story’s ultimate success or failure is dependent on how well the author is able to flip between multiple different perspectives. George R R Martin is a master at this, and James Islington displays similar skill. A shocking admission I know, but in other epic fantasy novels I have skipped whole chapters whenever I realise it is a specific character that is being followed. Fortunately, I never felt the desire to do that in this case…Book two of The Licanius Trilogy achieves exactly what I had hoped for. Not only does it build successfully on the solid groundwork James Islington crafted in book one it also allows the characters to evolve. The second part of a trilogy needs to act as a bridge between the beginning and end of a story. All signs suggest that this latest release does exactly that. Like a massive fantastical boulder, An Echo of Things to Come gathers momentum as it hurtles towards its conclusion. There is little doubt that reading, never mind writing, this series is a massive undertaking but it is entirely worth it. Great characters, a plot that captivates and some first-class world building are coming together to create something quite special. If you like your vistas endless and your narratives legendary then look no further.”
Character development continues to be one of Islington’s greatest strengths. His characters speak and act believable, with emotional depth, and their interaction, especially between Caeden and the immortals, is wonderful. If Islington’s characters lack anything, it is perhaps an absence of personality quirks that would make them more individualistic. Each of the main characters are capable of showing fear, bravery, determination and empathy, but they all feel just a little too “same”, for lack of a better word. They need a few odd quirks or mannerisms that set them apart from each other. Asha is still my favorite character, and she has some tense scenes in the catacombs that are riveting. Davian also has some compelling moments, particularly in sequence at the Tol where he and other augers are confronted, and the resolution is smartly written and satisfying. Wirr has been a wasted character to me, but the scenes in which he confronts his mother create a lot of tension and are well done.
I have to say that I am impressed by the structure of Islington’s writing and plot. This book (and series) is less a question about good and evil, and more so about destiny versus free will. Think about all the fantasy books you’ve read where events all just happily line up to get the story and characters where they need to go. Most of the time it’s actually far too unbelievable and convenient. Lucky breaks, timely assistance, alignment of multiple factors…most stories don’t even acknowledge how the plot elements perfectly fall into place in order to achieve the writer’s desired outcome. In An Echo Of Things To Come, Islington has made a conscious choice to bring the concept out in the open and explain why things happen. There are two opposing forces, or gods, in the story. One god represents chaos and destruction, and is initially depicted as evil. The other god, or “the good one”, manages to contain the evil one by creating a world of predestination, or fate, where every action has already been predetermined.
Where Islington’s story becomes intriguing lies in the question of whether the roles of the god might be reversed, and those fighting for predestination may be on the wrong side. It is something Caeden struggled with so greatly that he turned on his fellow immortals to follow the path of “evil”. This struggle is conveyed, as Caeden travels to a series of pre-determined locations, through a series of flashbacks that restore small bits of Caeden’s memory, with each location triggering a flashback through its familiarity to him. While this is totally fascinating, as The Quill To Live states above, it also serves as the main problem with the book: the flashbacks often cause confusion, because we don’t know the ancient peoples, cultures, and settings in which these flashbacks take place. By design, Islington has hidden much of the worldbuilding and brings it out little by little. For the reader, being given small pieces of information in the overall puzzle often isn’t enough to make sense of what is happening. Several characters have more than one name, which only adds to the confusion. I think an immediate re-read would help immensely, as I found myself skimming back to previous pages in order to put things together. It probably all makes sense in Islington’s head, but for me it was sometimes a struggle to maintain clarity. It’s no secret that I despise flashbacks as an over-used plot device in print or television, and this simply adds fuel to that fire.
With regard to pacing, aside from the flashbacks the book moves along at a decent pace. Davian’s story is naturally compelling as his race to the barrier is impeded. Caeden’s story is just as compelling as he unlocks the mystery behind his past. Asha and Wirr’s narratives should bog the story down, but Islington solves this through the tense scenes I described above. I hated to put the book down, and each time I couldn’t wait to get back to it.
The worldbuilding also continues to be sublime. Although Caeden’s flashbacks are a problem, as the story got closer to the end, I felt I finally had enough information to start putting the pieces together. As I begin to understand more and more of Islington’s world, I am impressed by the thought and scope he has put into its past. The concept of the barrier is nothing new; many books have barriers that fall and release an evil entity. But some of the concepts that Islington employs, such as how the barrier is powered, and how it can be crossed, is pretty unique.
In conclusion I was enthralled with this book, despite my concerns over the confusing flashbacks. The characters and worldbuilding, as well as some of the plot piece reveals and Islington’s ability to maintain tension, continue to support the excellence that began with the previous entry. To me, An Echo Of Things To Come never feels like a middle book or suffers from “middle book syndrome”, despite that being the book’s ultimate purpose. I’m still not convinced Islington is going to wrap up this series to my satisfaction in one more book; it’s more likely that much of the past will remain in the past and largely remain a mystery, unless Islington decides to write some prequels. I also don’t see how the plot will reach the point where Davian time travels to the present day from the future. I’m looking forward to the next book, but I’m a bit sad that the series is coming to end when it deserves a Wheel of Time‘s worth of material. So far, this is the best book I’ve read that was published in 2017, and seems like it’s part of a “golden age of fantasy” where the quality of material that has been recently released is unprecedented…