ECKO BURNING by DANIE WARE
PB, 457 pages, Titan Books
Danie Ware’s accomplished debut, Ecko Rising, was a sweary, bloody, highly entertaining and surprising mash-up of fantasy and SF that tipped its hat to Tolkien and gaming with equal cheeky irreverence. The sequel, Ecko Burning, ratchets up the tension a notch tighter, brimming over with political intrigue and violence, and hinted at a deeper twisted truth that underpins the entire plot of the trilogy.
Ecko had lost the Wanderer, the dimension hopping tavern he fell into at the beginning of his journey. Without it, he can see no way to break out of the programme he believes himself to be trapped in, to find his way back to his version of a corrupt and decaying London. Send with his companions by a manipulative Lord to retrieve a weapon from a city full of impossible creatures, Ecko begins to wonder about the nature of the reality around him. How can he believe in the world, when he can’t even believe in himself?
The trade cycles of the Varchinde are explored in more depth here, as Phylos is usurper twists them to his advantage, and it’s to Ware’s credit that the complex economic cycles of the Varchinde are both logical and , crucially, not dull, vital as they are to the plot. We don’t see as much of London this time around, and when we do it’s through the eyes of the Bard, a man falling in the opposite direction to Ecko, who is willing to give up his soul to save his dying world, and willing to force Ecko into being the hero he denies he wants to be.
The book is action packed, with barely room for the characters to take a breath between sequences, and Ware’s love of gaming is still to the fore – there were places where I could see the book playing out as a game. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it does make for the occasional predictable plot twists. But there are touching moments too, poignant breaths between the action and the low-flying gore. And one of the elements I particularly liked was that Ware lets her older characters, and the ones that aren’t all-action heroes, play a crucial role. It’s not all about enhanced Ecko and the bang-bang-bang. But when it is, it’s inevitably explosive.
A fine follow-up to an excellent debut, with rip-roaring action and a satisfyingly bloody climax. It’s hard to see how Ware will up the ante for Ecko Endgame, but it’ll be fun to see her take it on.