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An Echo of Things to Come by James Islington

Please note An Echo of Things to Come is the second book in The Licanius Trilogy. I strongly advise reading The Shadow of What was Lost before reading this book. Also, please remember this review may contain slight spoilers if you haven’t read book one. Consider yourself suitably warned!

In the wake of the devastating attack on Ilin Illan, an amnesty has been declared for all Augurs – finally allowing them to emerge from hiding and openly oppose the dark forces massing against Andarra. However as Davian and his new allies hurry north toward the ever-weakening Boundary, fresh horrors along their path suggest that their reprieve may have come far too late.

In the capital, Wirr is forced to contend with assassins and an increasingly hostile Administration as he controversially assumes the mantle of Northwarden, uncovering a mystery that draws into question everything commonly believed about the rebellion his father led twenty years ago.

Meanwhile, Asha begins a secret investigation into the disappearance of the Shadows, determined to discover not only where they went but the origin of the Vessels that created them – and, ultimately, a cure.

And with time against him as he races to fulfill the treacherous bargain with the Lyth, Caeden continues to wrestle with the impossibly heavy burdens of his past. Yet as more and more of his memories return, he begins to realise that the motivations of the two sides in this ancient war may not be as clear-cut as they first seemed…

I don’t read a huge amount of epic fantasy. I’ll admit, I’ve tried reading the The Wheel of Time on more than one occasion, and in each instance I’ve had to throw in the towel. Epic fantasy can be a heck of a commitment and it can be really easy to get bogged down in the vastness of it all. If you’re not feeling it then I’m inclined to say move on, life is way too short. The good news is that there are always exceptions to this rule. I started The Licanius Trilogy, reading The Shadow of What was Lost, last year and it managed the unenviable task of holding my interest. Book two is now upon us, and the land of Andarra is still in a whole heap of trouble. Dark forces are massing and there are only a handful of people who have the ability to stop these creatures in their tracks.

The thing I like most about this book is that each character’s narrative thread weaves seamlessly into the story as a whole. Take Caeden for example. As he uncovers more and more about his murky past, he has to confront the fact that he has done things he isn’t proud of. The question that looms ever greater in his mind. If push comes to shove, would Caeden choose his friends over the greater good? An Echo of Things to Come reinforces the idea that the author has hinted at before; there is no such thing as entirely good or entirely evil there are just endless shades of grey. Character perspective is key when it comes to events unfolding. Due to the gaps in his memory, Caeden is the character ideally suited for seeing both sides of the conflict. Islington does a great job of subtly exploring the nature of this dichotomy while ensuring his observations always enhance the plot.

Meanwhile Wirr is slowly adjusting to life as the Northwarden. His new role comes with much responsibility and he is quickly in the situation where he has to try and navigate the intricate politics of his homeland. Elsewhere Asha and Davian, though separated by circumstance, follow similar paths. They are both struggling to learn and control their new-found skills. All the while they need to fend off attacks from many different factions. Each of these characters have their own very distinct path to follow, occasionally crossing over one another, as the plots lead them from city to city, and then finally, to the magical Boundary that keeps them all safe.

The dangers the friends must face don’t all come from across the Boundary wall. There are various factions dotted throughout the country who are all scrabbling for power. Some are progressive and accept the potential for invasion, while others want a return to the old ways. Using the fantasy setting also allows the author to pick apart arguments for segregation and slavery. Augurs are viewed as cursed by many. Their skills may be useful but can be, without training, wildly unpredictable or easily abused. Because people fear what is different, what they don’t understand, there are those who want magic users to be controlled by any means necessary. Making the Augurs little more than indentured possessions of the crown and upper classes.  This aspect of the story adds additional weight to the rest of the book. An Echo of Things to Come isn’t just about Davain, Wirr, Asha and Caedan. The implications of the choices they make have political ramifications, whole swathes of society will be affected.

When it comes to epic fantasy I guess you’re going to expect a large cast of characters. I think a story’s ultimate success or failure is dependent on how well the author is able to flip between multiple different perspectives. George R R Martin is a master at this, and James Islington displays similar skill. A shocking admission I know, but in other epic fantasy novels I have skipped whole chapters whenever I realise it is a specific character that is being followed. Fortunately, I never felt the desire to do that in this case.

A word of advice, much like its predecessor, An Echo of Things to Come is a vast doorstop of a thing. Out of curiosity I weighed it and it comes in just a little heavy than book one. My advice is get yourself an electronic copy if you can possibly manage it. Your wrists will thank you.

Book two of The Licanius Trilogy achieves exactly what I had hoped for. Not only does it build successfully on the solid groundwork James Islington crafted in book one it also allows the characters to evolve. The second part of a trilogy needs to act as a bridge between the beginning and end of a story. All signs suggest that this latest release does exactly that. Like a massive fantastical boulder, An Echo of Things to Come gathers momentum as it hurtles towards its conclusion. There is little doubt that reading, never mind writing, this series is a massive undertaking but it is entirely worth it. Great characters, a plot that captivates and some first-class world building are coming together to create something quite special. If you like your vistas endless and your narratives legendary then look no further.

An EPIC story needs and EPIC soundtrack to accompany it. For An Echo of Things to Come, I needed something huge and awe inspiring. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim soundtrack by Jeremy Soule feels like the perfect companion piece.  It is also quite handy that the album is over three hours long. This is incredibly useful when you want to immerse yourself in the vast sea of magical action.

An Echo of Things to Come is published by Orbit and is available now.

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