Echoes of War (Echoes Trilogy #1)
Written by Cheryl Campbell
Published by Spark Press (September 2019)
Mass paperback, 400 pages
Distilled down to its very essence, Echoes of War is a mix of Falling Skies, The Hunger Games, and Doctor Who.
Which is to say, this is not something we haven’t seen before. Fantasy author Cheryl Campbell makes her debut in science fiction with a story that incorporates the usual tropes of a dystopian future story — alien invasion, government breakdown, young reluctant hero — but does so in a way that still works. And it’s an engaging read, even though there are a few predictable moments.
The story picks up in the midst of the alien occupation, with humanity being oppressed by the Wardens, a militant faction of human-looking extra-terrestrials known as Echoes. These Echoes have the ability to regenerate. Except when they regenerate, they become younger versions of themselves, and for the most part they retain their memories.
In the midst of this, there’s a young scavenger named Dani, and she’s doing her best to keep her head down and mind her own business. She just wants to survive, but when it comes out that she’s actually an Echo (something that gets telegraphed pretty badly from the start), she learns that a lot of her life was not as she thought.
Circumstances, of course, conspire to put Dani right in the midst of the fight against the Wardens, who are searching for Echoes hidden among the human survivors.
At first, I will admit, Dani initially struck me as a bit of a Mary Sue, but as the story progresses, she develops into a more balanced character. Although she’s mostly a brat, a lot of that is driven by self-interest and her experiences early in the book. Her growth as a character follows a pretty well-trod trajectory, but Campbell makes it work within the confines of the story.
Campbell’s background in YA and children’s stories is pretty evident, but the world-building is fairly solid and complex enough that I wasn’t noticing any significant holes in the plot. The story moves along at a fairly good clip. It doesn’t get bogged down trying to keep up with its own internal story logic. Dani’s immaturity and brash decision-making are portrayed as a product of her experiences, but she can be a little annoying as a character sometimes. My biggest quibble is something that bothers me with all of these dystopian stories: in spite of trained military leadership in place, in spite of civilians lacking the training they need for combat and wartime strategy, somehow a young-ish inexperienced naif becomes a prominent leader.
But it’s a predictable trajectory for this kind of character, really. Harry Potter, Anakin Skywalker, Buffy Summers, Katniss Everdeen, Clary Fray, Wil Ohmsford… all of them are cut from the same cloth, and all of them navigate a similar path. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially given that this is the beginning of a trilogy. I fully expect Dani to get taken down a peg or two in the next book, which should follow the pattern of the darker Act II in the three-act play. So there’s plenty of room for Dani to experience adventures and side quests that might not follow the script to the letter. I’m just happy to see that she’s not a Mary Sue character.
The supporting cast is a mixed bag, with some of them more strongly developed than others. I found Jace’s arc particularly interesting because of who he is in relation to Dani, and what his motives are throughout the story. The one character that disappointed me most was Miles, mainly because he didn’t feel fully formed at the beginning of the story. That made it very difficult to warm to the character or his plight. And I guess I’m just too old to care about any contrived love triangles at this point…
Overall, though, I enjoyed the book, and I’m interested enough to want to check out the second one when it comes out. If Cheryl Campbell is daring enough, Act II could get Mad Max level crazy. But I’m not familiar enough with her work to make a prediction on that front. I’ll just recommend you give this one a look and see what you think.