Science Fiction and Fantasy Association of New Zealand

Echo City Echo City
by Tim Lebbon

Supplied for review by Hachette New Zealand

Reviewed By: John Toon

Echo City is a dark fantasy novel set in what I take to be a post-apocalyptic future. The eponymous city is surrounded by a desert so inimical to life that no one can walk more than a day across it and live; as far as the citizens are concerned, Echo City is the only human community left in existence. Not that "community" is quite the right word, as the city is composed of several conflicting districts - Cantons, as they're called - each with their own population and agenda and each built over countless previous levels of habitation. There are Echoes beneath each Canton, vertical ghost towns that few people dare to venture into for fear of phantoms.

Two cataclysmic events threaten Echo City's continued existence. The first is the arrival of someone from outside, someone who has survived the trek across the desert - who is he, where has he come from and what does he want? The second is the coming of some vast, terrible thing rising up from the lowest Echoes of the city. While a burst of activity from a normally isolated Canton distracts the attention of the authorities, a group of heretics and dissidents try to address the two dooms facing the city with the help of the Baker, a genetic sculptor of questionable morality.

This is a promising set-up, and the various plot strands all pull together and resolve in a satisfactory way, but stone me, this book is slow going. The first 200 pages felt uphill all the way; answers start coming through around 250 pages, but it's another 150 after that before the action really picks up speed, and by that time I was exhausted. After 500 pages it's a race to the finish, which came as something of a relief.

I'd strongly recommend this novel to anyone who wants to wallow in atmosphere (and has a couple of weeks to spare for it); to anyone looking for a gripping story, it's worth it when you arrive at it, but you might want to skim those first couple of hundred pages.

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