Echo City (book, Tim Lebbon, 2011)


TWO AND A HALF STARS

Author: Tim Lebbon

Publisher: Orbit

Going underground

This is a frustrating book. Lebbon’s an author of dark fantasy with a serious fanbase, and you can see why here. Set in the last city (might be on Earth, might not be), Echo City manages a high level of invention. The eponymous city is baroque creation, enthralled to its own past, the city being built not on, but over the buildings of yesteryear. Ghostly cities of successively great age – the Echoes – are entombed beneath its bustling streets.

Echoes are what you get, with Lebbon playing with the idea of mutability in flesh (this world’s tech of “chopping” is bio-based), stone, identity and reality.

Top marks for world-building, but what he does with this excellent creation is less impressive. Lebbon takes so many trips into our character’s psyches that it robs readers of a sense of interaction. We’re being lectured to by Lebbon, not invited to join in.

A lot happens in Echo City – it’s the end of the world – but because of the mode of delivery, it feels leadenly empty of incident, and reading becomes tiresome as different parts of your brain war over whether the need to find out what happens next or the desire to rip out a page with yet more tedious dialogue upon it and eat it is more important.

There is loads of room for pleasing speculation on the nature of the mysterious city itself, but there’s not enough of that crucial engagement with characters to make this all that it could be. For a more engaging fantasy with underground themes, check out Chris Wooding’s The Fade.

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