Wednesday, 13 July 2011

'Echo City' - Tim Lebbon

My first encounter with Tim Lebbon was his duology, Dusk and Dawn. I still get the shivers from the opening scene in Dusk where Red Monk slaughters the inhabitants of a village and the desperation with which the men fought to stop the him to protect their loved ones. It was all for nothing as the Red Monk just kept coming in spite of his wounds. I will always associate Tim Lebbon with an ability to create the kind of suspense necessary for a real page turner. In his case, it's about finding out just how bad things can get with no promise of anything getting better.

Echo City is the last bastion of life in a vast desert. For thousands of years, its inhabitants have accepted that the desert is all there is. If you are caught out in the desert during the day, the sun will literally burn your skin away. If you were to survive the sun, then the poisonous vapours that drift through the desert would melt your innards. Outside the walls there is just sand and the bones of the dead.

The Watchers are a loosely organised group that has always maintained a belief that there is something more than the desert. They have remained vigilant, keeping watch for that something which will give them their freedom. The Watchers are persecuted by the ruling Marcellans, who three years ago struck a hard blow against the Watchers.

Peer was one of the Watchers who was caught in the Marcellans' crack down. She was tortured but they let her live. A part Echo City, Skulk Canton, has been transformed into a prison for petty criminals, dissidents and others who have been deemed unwanted. This is where Peer has made a new life for herself and come to terms with the fact that her old life is gone forever. One evening, as she is watching the desert from the wall surrounding Echo City, the impossible happens. Someone is walking towards her from far out in the desert.

Peer now has a tough choice ahead of her. She might be free to go wherever she wants in Skulk Canton, but the rest of the city is off limits to her. The borders of Skulk Canton are heavily guarded by the cruel Border Spites. Anyone caught trying to escape usually ends up nailed to the wall.

There are three things that I associate with Tim Lebbon: world building, descriptions and suspense. Much like his previous books, he favours a dark and cruel world with hidden secrets and delivers that again in Echo City. For generations, Echo City has been expanded, each new generation building on top of the previous. Old parts are abandoned for new ones, the past is buried beneath the new. These Echoes of the past are a treasure trove for the brave explorer.

With Tim Lebbon holding the pen, the treasure is also very likely to rip your face off. HR Giger himself would have been scared by some of the things lurking in the dark.

With his worlds, Lebbon always creates something with a unique twist to it. He populates it with a new flora and fauna. Some authors goes overboard with their creation and add so many new things that it is hard to follow with all the new words. Lebbon’s balance is perfect and with enough context to understand what has been introduced. It's just a shame that he could not give us a few more answers by the end of the book. It's a fascinating world, with a lot of mystery surrounding it. By the end of the book we do have more information, but there could have been more.
Echo City has a little bit of a steam punk feel to it. Instead of magic there is 'chopping', which is the ability to shape living tissue and mix it with metal and glass. This is used to give humans extra arms, wings or create living machinery. It made me think of Tim Waggoner and his Matt Richter series with some of the creations equally as disturbing. Imagine if the tube carriage was a living creature and you entered through its mouth. Then consider paying £106 a month for a zone 1-2 travel card. No wonder it's not used.

It's an interesting story as well. There are several factions involved, each fighting for their own end and when their interests intersect, blood is spilled. Each faction has its own players and they each have a story to tell. The characters are well written and have enough depth to make them feel realistic.  However, compared to the story itself and the world building, the characters don't stand out and are the weakest part of the book. The plot moves smoothly forward by having them make decisions instead of just reacting to events outside of their control.

It's definitely a book for adults. Tim Lebbon has a very raw and grim style of writing. Acts of violence and torture can be quite graphic. Joe Abercrombie and Steven Erikson spring to mind as a violence meter. When it comes to describing his world, its inhabitants, flora and fauna, Tim Lebbon is a master. Everything comes alive. It's more like watching a movie than reading a book. Echo City is a book I'm more than happy to recommend. Anyone looking for an action packed fantasy set in a unique world need look no further.

Echo City weighs in at 592 pages and is published by Orbit.

Recommendation: read


  1. I heard it is a mixture of horror and fantasy, how does the horror aspect of the book hold up? I was going to add it to my reading list but the reviews on Goodreads are not very favourable and seems a few people have given up finishing the book.

  2. I'd say it is more fantasy than horror to be honest. You do get moments of suspense when they are down exploring in the Echoes. I would not really call it a horror book though. It's not scary, like for instance, The Ritual. Does that make sense? I have to have a look at goodreads.

  3. Excellent review, Erik. Echo City sounds deliciously dark and creepy.