A Critique of ‘An Echo of Things to Come’ by James Islington

Goodreads

Spoilers Below. I’m writing this review in good faith, as one author reviewing another’s book, trying to balance positives with negatives.

This is book 2 in the Licaneus trilogy. I read book 1 a long time ago, and decided to read this book 2 when a bookclub poscast I listen to (The Legendarium Green Team) covered this series a few months ago. I’m keeping this review short because it’s book 2 in a series.


WHAT IS THE TARGET AUDIENCE? WHAT GENRES? WHAT MAJOR TROPES?

  • YA, but with Adult crossover
  • High Fantasy
  • Political Scheming
  • Mind Control
  • Classic ‘Chosen One vs Evil Overlord’ quest fantasy
  • Oppressed Magic users

IF YOU ARE IN THE TARGET AUDIENCE, OR THE GENRES/TROPES SOUND INTERESTING TO YOU, SHOULD YOU READ THIS?

Yes


MY EMOTIONAL RESPONSE/ FUN FACTOR

Objectively, this book is flawed. I’ll just be blunt: the characters and dialog are just dull. I had difficulty reading this at times because how uninvested I was in the characters.

Now that said, I had a ton of fun reading this. This is a popcorn book for me; a story I read as a guilty pleasure. It’s not a good book, but it’s a fun one. The plot and the twists and the magic are fun, as are the ethical dilemmas faced by the protagonists. And the twist ending was magnificent.

Citing my review of the first book of this series, this book is an acceptable homage to this subgenre.

Overall, I give the story’s Emotional Resonance: (2.5/5 Stars)

Note: For perspective of what this star ranking means, here’s a link to my rankings for 2022. In summary, I weigh books so most are 3 stars. I consider 3 star books as ‘Average’ quality.


BIASES STATED

To put this review/study in proper context, you must know my starting point.

I found book 1 a bit uninspired, so I came into book 2 not-very-excited. I was pleasantly surprised, because I thought book 2 was better than book 1.


SIMILAR BOOKS


CONCEPT AND EXECUTION

This book’s concept is ‘rallying the forces of good against evil. However, the forces of good have been at one another’s throats over abuses of power going back decades. Due to generations of misunderstandings, it looks like evil is about to win.’

From a plot angle, I felt this was really well executed upon. As I mentioned above, I liked how the author introduced a mind control magic system, and then explored the ethical implications of that magic system. The protagonists were constantly tempted to just unite the factions by force of mind control. However, because they are good, they refused to use it. Their enemies, being evil, were willing to use it. (See how I mentioned abuses of power above? Mind control was one of the abuses.)

From a character angle, I really didn’t think it was super well executed upon. More on this in the next section.


CHARACTERS, CHARACTERIZATION AND DIALOG

I’ll just get this out of the way. Maybe I wasn’t reading the book close enough, but none of the heroes had a very developed personality. They were simply not memorable. They got the job done of being vectors of agency, causing the story to happen in a compelling way. However, in and of themselves, all the protagonists (barring Kayden/Caeden) just weren’t that interesting.

This is the weakest aspect of this book, and probably series. If you need strong characterization in the books you read, I’d skip this series. But if you just want to read some plot-heavy, classic fantasy, this is a good option.


PACING AND STRUCTURE

I’d say this book was slow-to-medium paced. Have you read a series like ‘The Wheel of Time’ or ‘The Belgariad’ or ‘Eragon’ or something like that? This story felt like one of those books, specifically a politics-heavy one of them. It was compelling reading, but it had minimal combat.

I think this book used the 4 act format. The 4 act format is best defined by it’s use of dual Inciting Incidents. The first incident is on the border between Act 1 and 2, and the second is between 2 & 3. Acts 1 & 2 are grouped together, forming one micro-arc, just like how Acts 3 & 4 are grouped together. In short, Acts 1 & 2 serve as a thematic practice for acts 3 & 4

  • Act 1
    • The status quo. Specifically, the new status quo after the dramatic climax which finished off book 1.
    • We explore the fallout of one of the protagonists regaining his identity, and the establishment of new Tenets of Magic (aka the freeing of the oppressed mages).
  • Act 2
    • Inciting Incident 1: This act begins with one of the protagonists being followed by strangers, who also happen to be Augars.
    • This act is about how one of the stranger Augars is abusing his mind control powers, and the extreme difficulty of defeating him as a result.
  • Act 3
    • This act is about how in the past of 20 years ago, past mages and Augars used their magic and mind control to abuse power.
    • Inciting Incident 2: This act begins with one of the erstwhile ethical protagonists accidentally using mind control, triggering a rebellion against them by the Administration of anti-Mages.
  • Act 4
    • This act is about the protagonists desperately trying to convince people to believe them when they say that evil monsters are about to attack, but those people not trusting them because of past abuses of power. (Such as in act 3 when a protag accidentally used mind control for the first time.) The heroes don’t want to use mind control, but it seems like they might have to.

In the 4 act format, Acts 1 & 2 are thematic practice for 3 & 4. In this case, Acts 1 & 2 provided a down to earth example of what it looks like when an Augar abuses their mind control potential by having him abuse the heroes. Acts 3 & 4 made that small example much larger, showing how the Administration is entirely justified to not trust either Augars or Gifted. This culminates in a revolt of the Administration against the protagonists. In other words, Acts 1 and 2 led naturally into Acts 3 and 4. This was structurally well done.


PLOT, STAKES AND TENSION

As stated, I enjoyed the plot. I thought it was well done. I won’t belabor the point here further.

I thought the stakes needed to be better developed. We learned that if the barrier were to fall, the evil dark lord would return and take over the world. I think I would have liked it if we see a present example of what the world would be like if this were to happen. For example, a burned down city. I don’t want a prophesy, but an actual present event in which this happens.

The book’s tension was good, but not great. Going back to the stakes, I feel like we needed to see more of the antagonists to really feel the tension in this one. Remember how I said this had minimal combat? I think it needed more combat.


AUTHORIAL VOICE (TONE, PROSE AND THEME)

I already spoke about the theme of abuse of power, causing reprisals. Basically, twenty years ago Mages abused Everyone Else, so Everyone Else overthrew Mages. Then in book 1, Mages overthrew Everyone Else because Everyone else were abusing Mages. Then in this book, Everyone Else tried to reclaim power from the Mages. Now, Everyone Else and Mages must unite against the coming Big Bad, but due to generations of bad blood they don’t trust one another. We got here a classic case of cyclical rebellion to gain power, and then abusing power when you have power.

The book’s tone was Classic Fantasy. The prose was very mid, nothing to write home about. It wasn’t bad; it provided no obstacle to enjoying the text.


SETTING, WORLDBUILDING AND ORIGINALITY

The setting/worldbuilding was somewhat unique. There are two categories of magicians: Gifted, and Augars. Gifted are normal mages, while Augars are Chosen Ones with lots of Over Powered abilities. I liked this worldbuilding. It wasn’t super original, but it was fun!


AUDIOBOOK NOTES

The audiobook narrator was the ever-reliable Michael Kramer.


LESSONS LEARNED

As an author, I want to improve my own writing/editing skills. To that end, I like to learn lessons from every story I read. Here’s what I learned from this story:

  • Use the 4 act format to explore a theme in microcosm, and then in macrocosm. Use the plotline of acts 1 & 2 to explore a small version of a theme, only to broaden it to a larger scale in 3 & 4.

Here’s a link to all the lessons I’ve previously learned.


SUMMARY

Good book is good. Do you need an homage to the genre? That’s what this is.


Did you like this critique/review? Here are some more:

The Rest of My In Depth Reviews

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