By Marty Mulrooney
Ecko Rising is a science fiction/fantasy epic and the debut novel of Danie Ware. It tells the story of Ecko, a cybernetically enhanced rebel/assassin who is recruited into a resistance group in a dystopian future where the population are controlled via mind-altering drugs. During a reconnaissance mission, Ecko takes a fatal plunge and ends up landing in a fantasy realm. But is this brave new world real or all just in Ecko’s head?
He was small, slight, as strong as coiled steel wire. His skin and cloak were dappled in a shadowy, shifting blue-grey. As he put back his cowl with one thin hand, Fuller gasper, Lugan swore softly. Neither man was a stranger to cybernetic enhancement – but they had never seen anything like this.
This couldn’t be human.
With his ‘savage, sharp-cheeked and gleeful’ face, ‘black-lipped, black-toothed grin’ and eyes ‘blacker than pits’, Ecko isn’t your everyday hero. Even calling him an anti-hero is a bit of a stretch, as he doesn’t seem to particularly care much about anyone but himself. Ecko Rising opens in a futuristic London with Ecko being recruited by Cell operatives Fuller and Lugan – or perhaps it’s the other way round…
Ecko is a loose cannon but Lugan protects him anyway – as he tells the Boss, “E’s also a fucking gem.” Ecko has a lead on Doc Grey – the creator of the drugs controlling the population – and Pilgrim itself. The Boss gives Lugan an ultimatum: Ecko will succeed in his mission or she will place him within a Virtual Rorschach, a physiological diagnosis program taking place in a fantasy world entirely within his own head.
There was no cover up here; nowhere to go. Turbo-charged or not, he wasn’t a fucking action-movie hero able to dodge short-range rifle suppression with no cover.
He did the only thing he could do. He went over the edge.
And fell down, down into the screaming and the dark.
Ecko Rising mixes science fiction à la early years Michael Marshall with the comedic fantasy of Terry Pratchett and the sprawling authenticity of J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth. Ecko takes a nasty fall in future London and wakes up upon a bed in The Wanderer, purveyor of fine ales and currently in the city of Roviarath. The Wanderer, a man who introduces himself as the Bard explains, is a teleporting pub that travels with a mind of its own. Ecko becomes infuriated – how can he escape this Virtual Rorschach? Should he play along – or simply burn everything to the ground with his inbuilt flamethrower?
The story works so well because, although Ecko is the main character, he is literally dumped into the middle of a fantasy land that is on the brink of an extremely dark time and doesn’t even know it. Ecko doesn’t so much drive the story as wreak havoc throughout it. The numerous supporting characters are all well-written and great fun to spend time with too. Furthermore, any good fantasy needs a memorable villain and the Elementalist Maugrim – who doesn’t seem to belong here any more than Ecko does, with his South London accent and oil-stained denim jeans – is a scary, truly evil man intent on tearing down the world and starting anew.
For a moment, Ecko’s thoughts were poised on the edge of explosion, torn between impossible, opposing poles. He wanted, needed to be a hero, a fighter, a champion. He needed the purpose, the validation. But at the same time, he likewise needed to be free, to achieve his success his own way, to escape with his mind intact.
For a debut novel, Ecko Rising is staggeringly impressive in both its richness and detail. The only real issue is that the text can sometimes become overwhelming, as it often references previously unknown terminology - such as terhnwood and the Varchinde – although the flow does improve as the book continues and the reader becomes more familiar with the ways of the world and the language used. Ecko is a foul-mouthed, ugly, violent creature that becomes more and more likeable as the story progresses, a cybernetically enhanced fish out of water with a major chip on his shoulder.
Beneath the sex, violence and relentless action lies a surprisingly sophisticated fantasy adventure that culminates in a shocking conclusion, turning everything Ecko thought he knew – and therefore everything the reader thought they knew – completely on it’s head. A sequel is scheduled for publication in 2013 and if the ending of Ecko Rising is anything to go by, it’s going to be even bigger and better. A hugely enjoyable genre mash-up that promises great things to come from first-time author Danie Ware.
9 OUT OF 10
Ecko Rising by Danie Ware is due for release in the UK on the 21st September 2012. It will be published by Titan Books with a RRP of £7.99.