An Echo of Things to Come is the second volume in The Licanius Trilogy by James Islington. Like the first volume A Shadow of What Was Lost, Echo is a hefty volume of more than 700 pages continuing an intricate epic fantasy about the Gifted, Augurs, Shadow and Administrators who are involved in a web of politics and various struggles to stop the Boundary from collapsing, a magically constructed wall that protects their world from monsters and certain oppression.
Whereas A Shadow of What Was Lost had action right from the beginning, this second volume takes a while to get going. The first hundred pages deal with how the primary characters cope with the aftermath of the devastating battle described at the end of the first book. But once the action begins, the reader is flung back into the lives of Davian, Wyr, Asha and Caedan who once again find themselves separated as they follow different routes to saving their world. Each one has their own increasingly desperate roles to play. While it can be tiresome and even confusing to constantly switch between different sets of characters and situations, I admire the way Islington ends each chapter with cliffhangers that keep you breaking that promise to read “just one more chapter” before going to bed.
That said, An Echo of Things to Come for me drags in places. In Shadow, Davian was clearly the main character, the “Chosen One” on whom everything depended. But in Echo, Caedan is arguably the central character as he gradually regains his memory and the readers learn where exactly he fits in the jigsaw puzzle which seems to get bigger and more complicated as new characters are introduced and big revelations made. The chapters dedicated to Caedan all contain flashbacks which are interesting enough and do provide crucial insights, but I eventually found myself groaning as soon as I realised that the next chapter was all about Caedan. First of all, the flashbacks disrupt the general flow of the novel (which is why I think it drags in places) and in many cases the flashbacks provide too much information which makes it hard to keep up. And second of all, the flashbacks are too lengthy and the fact that they are presented in italiced text makes them more difficult and slower to read. I wish that Islington could have treated Caeden’s backstory in a more concise and flowing manner.
The Licanius Trilogy is often compared with The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan and the similarities between the two series are accentuated in the second book. The magic system becomes more complex and Islington seems to be following Jordan’s fondness for introducing new characters in every chapter until it becomes hard to remember not only their names but what their roles are. I found it hard to differentiate between members of the Venerate, a group of immortal Augur, and remember which character is on whose side. I found myself having to reread certain pages to remind myself what is going on and/or understand the significance of what I had just read. In other words, Echo requires more thought and pauses to digest than Shadow.
One of the things I like about Islington is his ability to surprise and shock. He also seems to have the knack for killing off characters that you either have just begun to care about or curious to know more about. Nobody is safe in Islington’s world and I have this vision of him smirking as he imagines his readers mourn the unexpected death of a character that they have begun to see as a companion. I am particularly dismayed by the death of one character introduced in this book whose banter and interaction with one of the primary characters had put a smile on my face several times. Needless to say, the book ends with a big cliffhanger, one which will not only leave your mouth wide open, but have you scratching your head as well.
I read this book back to back with the first book in the series. I was quite happy when I reached the end: after more than 1,400 pages of Islington’s series, I was ready for a break from his world and was quite glad that the third and final book will not be published until next year. This is not to say that I am not looking forward to the series’ conclusion – because I very much am – but I will appreciate the time to reflect on the first two books and perhaps reread certain sections to enhance my understanding of the story so far. There is a lot to take in and Islington has given his readers much to think about.
All in all, this is a gripping middle section of the trilogy (apart from the flashbacks!) which will leave Islington’s increasing number of fans eager for the final volume.