Review: Echo City

Posted: January 21, 2011 by in Books We Like (4/5 single_star) Meta: Tim Lebbon, Dark Fantasy

A while back I read and reviewed a collection of short stories titled SWORDS & DARK MAGIC (EBR Review). Hopefully after reading that review you went out and grabbed a copy, because it was fantastic. One of the surprise stories contained in that anthology was The Deification of Dal Bamore by Tim Lebbon. It was a dark, grim and violent tale that impressed me and left me with the desire to read more of Lebbon’s work.

Set in the same created world as Dal Bamore, Lebbon’s new novel, ECHO CITY (Amazon) took some of the interesting concepts from the short story and twisted them even more. The short answer is that ECHO CITY is a great read… for a certain kind of reader.

Have you read China Miéville’s PERDIDO STREET STATION (Amazon)? It is one of those novels that people generally seem to love or hate. You should know by now that Miéville is one of my favorite authors, with PERDIDO being high on my list of favorite novels. What does Miéville have to do with Tim Lebbon’s ECHO CITY? If there is one book (or series) that ECHO CITY is comparable to, it is Miéville’s creation of New Crobuzon. After reading that last sentence, you will probably already know if you want to pick up a copy of ECHO CITY.

The premise of ECHO CITY is that this sprawling city is surrounded by a vast and poisonous desert. Echo City is in a constant state of decay, but it has nowhere to go for aide. It is a veritable prison. Things start getting wild when someone arrives from beyond the deserts, apparently immune to that poisonous environment.

Immediately from reading descriptions of the Echo City, Miéville’s work comes to mind. It’s not really fair to compare anything to Miéville (whether you like him or not, his writing is incredible), but the comparisons are almost mandatory. The dingy, gritty, stagnated Echo City is realized in such an evocative way that it could be New Crobuzon’s sister city. Within this city the science of “chopping” is prevalent. The inhabitants of Echo City can be chopped and have extra appendages added, or really anything else for that matter. Some become so altered after being chopped that they aren’t even human. Anything biological can be chopped and altered, and it gives Lebbon’s setting and created society virtually absolute freedom. Yeah, it is very similar to New Crobuzon’s Remade. The comparisons are natural.

Really once one gets past the setting similarities, the differences are key. First is Lebbon’s writing. His approach, especially in the beginning of the novel, is more akin to Horror than Fantasy. ECHO CITY isn’t quite as dense in trying to come across as overly-literary. This serves to increase the pacing of the novel without actually adding faster-paced elements to the story. The scope of the story also seems bigger than that of PERDIDO. There is so much history alluded to in ECHO CITY that I can’t help but wish for novels set in those time periods.

ECHO CITY is a very good novel. It makes me want to go back and pick up some of his faster-paced stuff to see how it compares.

The main difference is the characters. To say Lebbon’s characters or Miéville’s are better shouldn’t really enter the conversation beyond this mention. Apples and oranges. They all feel distinct, and all have hefty flaws. The majority of the novel follows Peer, a political exile. She is the one who discovers the man from beyond the deserts who she Rufus. Gorham is the head of the organization that has been waiting and watching for an event that is supposed to change everything about Echo City. He is also Peer’s former lover. Nadielle is the Baker. She is the most gifted person in the city at chopping, and is the only person that can stop a rising calamity. She is Gorham’s new lover. All the characters are great, with Nadielle being my personal favorite.

This book wasn’t perfect. The middle of the novel lags with little movement towards the end goals of the novel. I’ve continually compared ECHO CITY to PERDIDO, and that goes for content as well. Sex, violence and language. Lebbon seems like he uses it as more shock value than other authors perhaps due to completely and purposefully avoiding the “questionable” content in other sections of the novel. Lastly, the “big bad” of the novel doesn’t get enough screen time. It was the perfect time for Lebbon to really outdo himself, but for some reason he holds back. It’s made up for by a near perfect end-piece that bookends the prologue, but man, that lack of power behind the “big-bad” really hurt the story.

In the end, ECHO CITY is a very good novel. It makes me want to go back and pick up some of his faster-paced stuff to see how it compares. Will you like it? Well, if you like Miéville’s work, you should like ECHO CITY. If you hate Miéville’s work, there’s still a chance that Lebbon will grab you with his more Horror-ish writing style, but I’m not going to promise you anything. I found ECHO CITY to be well worth the read, and we hope you give Lebbon a shot.

  • Recommended Age: 18+
  • Language: There are moments with a ton, and then moments where Lebbon completely avoids using it. The inconsistency actually bothered me a bit.
  • Violence: Yeah. And Lebbon is GREAT at describing violence and the grotesque.
  • Sex: Talked about in detail a few times. If Miéville’s scenes in PERDIDO bothered you, these might a tad bit more.


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