I have an interesting review for you today about a book (and series) that I am particularly attached to. Back in the blog’s first year I was testing out ideas for thought pieces to complement my reviews. One of the first ones I did was this piece on perception. At the bottom of that piece I tell a story about how a free self-published book I got through Amazon Prime, The Shadow of What Was Lost by James Islington, turned out to be one of the best books I read that year. I had initially dismissed the novel due to its cover and because I got it for free, but soon learned a lesson in the age old saying “don’t judge a book by its cover”. Since then, Islington has gotten picked up by Orbit and his novel has been reprinted with one of my favorite covers ever. In addition, last week the much anticipated sequel, An Echo of Things to Come, finally hit the shelves and I am excited to say that this story is shaping up to be one of the best ‘farm boy with a destiny’ stories I have ever read.
Echo is the second book in the Licanius series, an epic fantasy centered around time travel and time magic. This was a bit of a red flag to me at first, as I have never been one who enjoys time travel or prophecy in my stories, but I was surprised to see Islington take these elements in a different direction than usual and I ended up really enjoying them. The plot of this series is astoundingly complicated and I am not going to pretend I can do it justice in this short review, but I will give the elevator pitch a shot. Essentially the Licanius series takes place in a magical world where a good god and an evil god went at it. The good one lost (and presumably died), but not before locking the bad one behind a giant magical barrier in the north of the world. Since then, humanity has tried to survive to the south with the traditional set-up of multiple countries that hate one another. In addition, the world has three distinct groups of magic users that have fallen in and out of favor over the age. The first and most common are the gifted, mages with the ability to alter the world around them – usually with some form of telekinesis. When our story begins in book one they are an oppressed and feared people due to their powers, but allowed to live with a brand that makes them unable to use their magic to harm others. Next we have the augers; these much rarer mages have various abilities to manipulate time and occasionally see into the future. The augurs, after ruling the world poorly in the wake of the evil god’s containment, have been hunted and killed wherever they are found due to their dangerous abilities. Finally we have the venerate, a small group of super augers who have ascended to deity like power and are essentially immortal. The books follow a group of individuals from a mix of these magical (and other non-magical) groups as they help the reader piece together the history of what happened in this world and how to stop the release of the evil god stuck behind the barrier.
I know that what I just said sounds fairly generic and vague, but the story isn’t and I have to be because part of the magic is just piecing together what is going on. Book one spends the majority of its time worldbuilding and introducing the cast. Islington did an incredible job investing me in his characters and showing me that his world was worth exploring. 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. It is a beautifully crafted series with both a kick ass world on the surface and a lot of deeper themes hidden below. As a side note, I also want to give Islington a huge hug because he put a detailed book one synopsis, glossary, and index in Echo that made keeping things straight possible as the series can get really confusing.
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.
An Echo Of Things To Come is a wonderful book in a great series that I already want to reread. It manages to both be fun, emotional, and deep at the same time. The book is gigantic and holds my current record for the longest time to read this year – but I do not regret a moment of my time with it. If you like epic fantasy like The Wheel of Time, if you like time travel and oppressed magic users, or if you just like good books The Quill to Live recommends you pick up The Shadow of What Was Lost and An Echo Of Things To Come if you haven’t already.
Rating: An Echo Of Things – 9.0/10