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Book Review: Echoes and Empires by Morgan Rhodes

Book Review: Echoes and Empires by Morgan Rhodes

Echoes and Empires is the first book in a new fantasy duology by Morgan Rhodes, author of the Falling Kingdoms series, and as such there’s a lot to like about it. The world of the novel is intriguing, mixing magic, royalty and other fantasy elements with more familiar beats like social news feeds, gossip sites and mobile phones for an American Royals-meets-Red Queen type vibe that captures attention, while there’s plenty of adventure and mystery to keep up the plot momentum in a way that’s quick and easy too. It all makes for an enjoyable fantasy read, but it’s also one that’s let down by characters who show little-to-no growth and a general lack of tension throughout.

The novel follows glamorous 17-year-old Josslyn Drake, a wealthy, privileged young woman who always gets what she wants. Growing up in Ironport, Josslyn is well aware that all magic is rare, illegal and dangerous, and the cost of coming into contact with magic in any way is punishable by death. Unfortunately for Joss, one night during the spectacular Queen’s Gala, she stumbles upon a robbery and accidentally ends up being infected by a deadly magic, one which forces her to relive the memories of an evil warlock. Knowing that magic means death, Joss has no idea where to turn for help, with both friends and trust running in short supply.

What Joss didn’t count on, however, was Jericho Nox, the thief she crossed paths with at the Queen’s Gala and a notorious criminal who wants to take the magic infecting Joss for his mysterious employer. When Jericho promises to extract the magic from Joss so she can return to her life exactly the way it was, the two strike up a reluctant partnership that takes them far beyond the pampered world that Joss has always known. As she steps outside her life in the city and gets to know more about Jericho, his life and his own past, Joss realises that everything she’s grown up believing isn’t necessarily the truth, and that she herself may not be the person she always thought she was either.

I needed air. I needed time. I needed this to all be an epic nightmare I could still wake up from, but unfortunately I wasn’t that delusional. Too bad.”

There are a lot of things of this book that promise a fun fantasy read, with a lot of interesting ideas and plot threads to explore. The premise is a good one; forbidden magic is a trope fantasy fans know well, but combining that with the more modern beats of paparazzi, an endless stream of Royal News content and Josslyn’s position as a young, pretty teen who’s rarely out of the spotlight creates the idea of a fantasy world with a Gossip Girl spin that would have been fascinating to explore in more detail. Jericho’s upbringing and backstory is another point of interest, hinting at a rough and rebellious kind of underworld in the city that Joss has lived her whole life in and never heard of. The little time we spent immersed in that world is both exciting and entirely too brief.

And really, the most frustrating thing about this novel is that nothing is really given a chance to linger. While it does make for a quick-paced plot and a breakneck read, it does also mean that, more often than not, Echoes and Empires suffers from a case of telling instead of showing. Politics and histories are shared in one big chunk of dialogue and it doesn’t help that the novel is told entirely from Joss’ POV too, with her own narrow perspective quick to dismiss anything she hasn’t personally experienced or known to be true. It comes as its own sort of double-edged sword too, as even later when her world expands and truths are exposed, Joss doesn’t take any time to process them, instead just instantly accepting it and moving on without asking any questions.

Even so, Joss isn’t a character we see often in YA fiction, and it makes for a refreshing change of pace. She’s sarcastic, stubborn and very aware of how to cater to her strengths, even if they tend to be dismissed as gossiping, networking and charming others to get what she wants. Jericho, too, is endlessly fascinating, although he does fit the archetype of a brooding YA hero more familiarly, with a handsome, sarcastic and cocky demeanour being deployed to protect himself after a traumatic past and an uncertain present. Together, they push each other in all of the best ways, but their slow burn relationship isn’t entirely convincing just yet, and their dialogue ends up falling flat more than it delivers the kinds of exciting, witty banter you look forward to reading.

Echoes and Empires delivers a quick and easy read that’s fun to lose yourself in for a few hours. It certainly has all the makings of a brilliant fantasy series, but at the moment it feels like the story is still finding its feet. This series has so much potential to grow and develop its world, its characters and its relationships and, thankfully, by the end of this novel, the story is in an exciting place, which promises an intriguing sequel and gives Rhodes a solid grounding on which to build a promising fantasy duology.


Echoes and Empires was published by Razorbill on 4 January 2022

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