Mass Market Paperback
Pseudo-science and revolution converge in Echo City the post-apocalyptic/dark fantasy novel by Tim Lebbon. Echo City is a crumbling city in the middle of a desert, a city that may contain all that remains of humanity, and a city that may just be dying. The desert surrounding the labyrinthine city is poisonous and far too harsh for any people to travel long distances to find out if anything lives beyond the borders of Echo City. This known fact of life is, of course, thrown asunder when a stranger wanders into the city from the reaches of the desert.
The man who enters Echo City has no name, no memory of his past, nor does he know that he shouldn’t have been able to walk through the desert as unscathed as he did. In short, the man represents a wild card to all known perceptions of life as the characters in the world know it. This nameless person is met by a young woman named Peer, a Watcher who finds herself at odds with the powers that be of Echo City. She names the mysterious man Rufus, after one of the gods worshipped by the inhabitants of Echo City. She seeks out Gorham, a man with greater political connections than Peer, who also happens to be Peer’s former lover. From there, Gorham and Peer try to bring Rufus to perhaps the most enigmatic of figures to inhabit Echo City, a Baker by the name of Nadielle. In Echo City, Bakers “chop” and basically create people, much in the way Dr. Frankenstein cobbled together his creature from old body parts.
While those four constitute the majority of the breathing and speaking characters, Echo City itself is a living character. Its highest peaks soar to the upper reaches of the sky; the depths of its sewers delve deeply into the earth, as its many levels are built upon each other. There are Bellowers, large mouths that transport people through the depths of Echo City. At this point, I can draw some comparison. Perhaps because Miyazaki’s Spirited Away was being shown on television shortly after I finished the book, I was able to see some similarities – the strange creatures, the class structure, and the potential sinister nature of the city. Echo City also has shades of Mieville’s New Crobuzon, as well as the dark horrific city of Jeff VanderMeer’s Veniss Underground. As previously mentioned, Lebbon owes a debt to Mary Shelley for his Bakers, who seem to be spiritual successors to her most famous Doctor.
Lebbon is known for writing both fantasy and horror, and more often than not, for blurring the line between those two in his stories and novels. In Echo City, Lebbon’s interweaving of the two elements – fantastical and horrific – comes through in atmosphere of the city. There is a strangeness to everything, even to the characters who inhabit the world, and a great deal of the strangeness borders on the grotesque, if not plain creepy. The characters are fascinated with the new things they see, just as the readers are to be fascinated with the dark fantastical horrors of the City.
The plot is fairly linear, but the pull of the narrative, when it veers from the fascinating descriptions of the weird, fantastical creepiness of Echo City, did not grip as strongly. The most interesting plot point is the mystery surrounding Rufus’s origin, as well as the plot thread involving Rufus’s disappearance in Echo City.
In the end, I found the novel to be a fascinating novel for its sense of place and strangeness, but whose plot through the setting diverted a bit too much for me. A worthy novel in many ways and a fine addition to the canon of fantastical “city novels.”
© 2011 Rob H. Bedford