By Marty Mulrooney
Ecko Burning by Danie Ware is a science fiction/fantasy epic published by Titan Books. A sequel to Ware’s debut novel Ecko Rising (which Alternative Magazine Online described in its glowing 2012 review as “staggeringly impressive in both its richness and detail”), readers once again join cybernetically enhanced future assassin Ecko as he tumbles further and further down the rabbit hole. With the grasslands diseased and the people growing restless as a dark evil begins to spread, Ecko must decide once and for all whether this fantasy world really is an alternative reality, or simply a virtual Rorschach that can only be escaped from by burning it all to the ground.
Why do you care, creature? What do you want?
I? The creature was grinning – a white slash of savagery in the darkness. Somewhere, embers smouldered in yellow eyes.
Trust me, my estavah, my brother. The greatest knowledge requires the greatest risk. Bring Ecko to Aeona, tear him wide, and you will craft the greatest creations of your life
Rather than following on immediately from the game-changing cliffhanger ending of the previous book, Ecko Burning returns readers to a wonderfully realised fantasy world with a visitor – and potential saviour – very much out of time and place. Ecko is more lost now than he has ever been before – his friend the Bard has disappeared and a blight is ravaging the grasslands. He still has companions around him from his previous adventure who want to continue fighting, who care about him… but he’d rather just sulk, consumed with anger and rage. None of this is real anyway, right?
Meanwhile, Lord Phylos has taken control of Fhaveon City and is using the failing crops as a cover to mobilise its troops and bring the plains under his command. Brutality sweeps through the streets of the once prosperous and peaceful city, with defiant citizens slaughtered and military rule reigning supreme. The dead rise covered in moss and rot, arms outstretched, yearning. Rhan wanders broken and defeated, a fallen hero without a cause. Great warriors fight bravely and fall, but true heroism will ultimately fall upon the shoulders of a wise old scribe…
“We must find Kale,” Roderick said. “And you – your communication, your information – you need to help. You need to find him before he causes trouble that cannot be undone, before I lose anyone else. Before your Pilgrim finds something it will not understand.” His expression said, Please.
Something hit home. Lugan looked at him sharply, chewed his lip for a moment, then seemed to reconsider.
“Awright,” he said at last. “You wanna do this? Let me take you by the ’and an’ lead you through the streets of London. Someone’s mind is gonna get a fuckin’ change.”
The culture shock of Ecko Rising is juxtaposed beautifully in Ecko Burning with the Bard’s first experience of a gritty, futuristic London. Yet whereas Ecko constantly questions reality and wants only to escape, the Bard is simply in awe, overwhelmed by the implications of online technology and information that knows no bounds. His unwavering desire to protect his world will lead him to make irrevocable decisions that will change him – and the fates of both realities – forever.
Danie Ware writes with detail akin to beautiful poetry, her worlds and characters brought to life with hardly a pause for breath. Sometimes, the fantasy lexicon can make the flow stumble ever so slightly – but Ware will immediately pick you back up again and push you onwards, grinning. The world building and character development are glorious – the darker tone of this sequel, along with some truly shocking creatures that have no right to exist, proves wickedly original and scary – but sometimes all it takes is a supremely well-written fight sequence with characters you care about to keep the pages turning.
The beast was massive, oozing muscle. Ecko didn’t care – as Triq came back with both blades, he slammed a foot into the thing’s rear end, knocking its ass sideways and making it roll –
Its tail struck at him.
Like a snake, like a whip – it lashed across the side of his face with an impact that made him falter, pain shooting through his skull. He fell back, his right ocular seeming to spark – or was it just his vision? – and Triqueta was on her feet, a claw-slash in her shoulder but both blades out.
She snarled at it, “Come on then! Come on then!”
Ecko Burning is a massively entertaining sequel that fulfils much of the grand promise of its predecessor, once again delivering authentic high fantasy with a generous shot of science fiction laced adrenaline. It sometimes fall trap to middle-itis, with new questions being asked as old ones are only half answered. Ecko doesn’t have a clue what’s going on and readers are being kept mostly in the dark too. It’s also a necessary evil that as the plot has grown in both stakes and scope, Ecko’s darkly sarcastic anti-hero has received slightly less attention. Regardless, you’ll always want to know what’s going to happen next – and have a blast as you find out.
Ecko Burning feels very much like the promise of something even greater to come, whilst remaining funny, exciting and compelling in its own right. The final book in the trilogy will no doubt drastically alter perceptions of the previous two instalments. I have full confidence – along with immense anticipation and excitement – that Danie Ware is going to cap off the trilogy with Ecko going out in an unforgettable blaze of glory. As Lugan would say, I can’t fuckin’ wait.
8.5 OUT OF 10