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Thursday, January 03, 2013

Just Finished Reading: Echo City by Tim Lebbon

The history of the City goes back countless generations to before the war that devastated the rest of the world leaving it the last refuge for humanity. Surrounded by a toxic bone strewn wilderness reputed to the home of demons it is the only safe place left – although safety is definitely a term open to interpretation. Living proof of this is rebel and exile Peer Nadawa – tortured by the ruling elite and banished to a walled off section of the city she fully expects to live out the rest of her no doubt short life away from everything and everyone she loves. Until that is she sees something that at first seems completely unbelievable, something which goes against everything she believes and everything she has been taught – a human figure walking towards the city from the desert, a place supposedly deadly to all life. Hiding him from the authorities who would have him executed for undermining the cities belief structure Peer needs to get the stranger to the organisation who abandoned her to the rulers of the city and who stood by as she was exiled. For only they still have the contacts which will uncover the mystery of who this man is and just exactly where he came from. Meanwhile miles below even the most ancient of the cities foundations something monstrous stirs, a creature created in the very earliest years, a creature abandoned and left for dead, a creature who seeks revenge against those who created it and left it to rot in the dark depths, a creature capable of finally destroying the city itself.

This is another of those books I pick up ‘on spec’ because they look different and interesting. I don’t read much Fantasy (as you can tell from the labels over on the Right) and don’t, generally speaking, have a high opinion of it. Oddly, to my mind at least, it’s just too fantastic too often to not set of my sceptic alarm and ruin the suspension of disbelief so important to much of the fiction I choose to read. Bit I thought I’d give this a chance and I’m very glad indeed that I did because it turned out to be one of my top 5 books of 2012. It is indeed one of the best Fantasy books I have ever read and has almost single-handedly raised my appreciation of the entire genre to a whole new level. This was a complex, detailed and unapologetically adult Fantasy tale full of darkness – both metaphorical and real – and danger where characters are driven by fear as much by love and greed as much by duty. All of the characters (both the main 6-8 and the supporting cast of a further 15-20) are deeply intricate with individual histories that drive them in certain directions and are fully internally consistent. If these people actually existed I would not be in the least bit surprised – they were (and are) as far as I am concerned real people. The story itself is quite simply fascinating. The world that Lebbon creates is rich and is literally multi-layered with the existing city being built on the foundations of previous cities – called Echoes – going back (as they go down) generation after generation. The city feels as real as the characters that inhabit it and is practically a character in itself again with literally hidden depths (it is on that level alone a deeply psychological novel overflowing with metaphor). Full of surprises, delights and a fair few stomach churning moments this is not a novel for the faint of heart. Certainly don’t expect a light, fluffy or comfortable Fantasy that seems to be the flavour of the month these days. If this ever gets made into a movie – if such a thing is even possible – I’m guessing that it would need to be an 18 certificate to do it full justice. It’s not just the casual death and the frequent gore that would ensure such a certification but because of its genuine disturbing nature. Gripping, moving and disconcerting in equal measure this novel blew me away as few indeed have managed in my 40 years of reading. Quite superb and, not surprisingly, very highly recommended. I shall be sampling Mr Lebbon again I assure you. 

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