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BOOK REVIEW: The Echo by James Smythe

REVIEW SUMMARY: Goes deeper into the mystery and emotions of this dark space epic.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The sequel to The Explorer charts the second expedition to understand the deadly anomaly in the far reaches of outer space.

PROS: Complex mystery adds depth to what was established in The Explorer; relationship between main character and his twin; empathetic struggle between ambition and failure; the ending.
CONS: Lacks immediate hook into the story; secondary characters only engaging at key moments; confusion during significant events.
BOTTOM LINE: A deep-space mystery to save Earth in a story for anyone who fears failing in their life’s work.

Following in the footsteps of the phenomenal first book, The Explorer, The Echo rewards fans with answers to the anomaly located deep in outer space, but then adds more danger as the anomaly’s strengths and mystery increase. More than that, though, the story of its main character, Mira, is touching, succinct and a perfect fit for a reader toe-to-toe in the battle between ambition and failure.

Mira is the captain of the flight toward the anomaly. His twin is on Earth, guiding them and offering support on a mission to succeed where the one described in The Explorer failed. The anomaly is spreading, and decades have been wasted getting this second trip launched. If they fail, Earth may not survive long enough for a third attempt. More important to Mira than Earth’s survival, though, is proving to his brother and himself that he is more than the overlooked younger twin.

Mira, through luck, finds his opportunity to show the world (which, to him, is his brother) his greatness. In this pursuit, however, he uncovers more misery than he was prepared for and fights desperately not to be consumed by fear and violent self-preservation. This emotional battle is the best part about The Echo. This is also a common theme to James Smythe’s works and his greatest strength as a storyteller. Not only does he amaze with the mystery, but his characters (who sometimes don’t end up better off than they were) churn out heart-wrenching moments. The author also possesses a superb ability to weave clues and emotional turmoil into increasingly difficult and surprising conclusions. That said, while The Explorer started out with a line that propelled initial interest into the story, The Echo takes a bit longer to start getting exciting. In hindsight, though, the development of Mira’s relationship to his twin was essential to his struggles and revelations later on. Once they found the anomaly, action and relationship tension made the remainder of the book fly by.

James has a way of creating characters with interesting backgrounds and struggles, and did a fantastic job with Mira and his twin, but the secondary characters did not create as much sympathy or empathy as I would have liked. He introduces them in interesting ways early on, but then little is connected to those introductions and their identities flattened as I forgot who was whom. There are moments near the end that made me care, but in the middle their placeholder characteristics slowed the read. Also, it could be that I missed something, but there were a couple events that took place without enough explanation in regards to how the anomaly spread and where Mira was in relation to it. There is a chance that from Mira’s point of view, he did not know what happened and then struggled in the midst of something more complex than he understood. However, this confusion left me unsure how to accurately understand what Mira was going through.

The Explorer already uncovered a mind-bending characteristic of the anomaly. The Echo successfully doubles the mystery, while still leaving plenty to discover in the remaining planned two books. This is is the kind of science fiction horror that I crave. I don’t get this blend of science fiction, mystery, horror and emotion anywhere else.

About Timothy C. Ward (29 Articles)
Timothy C. Ward grew up on DragonLance, Stephen King, and Dune. Read how he blends these influences in his serialized epic, Scavenger: Evolution, where sand divers uncover death and evolution within America's buried fortresses. His books are available in ebook and signed paperback at

6 Comments on BOOK REVIEW: The Echo by James Smythe

  1. Paul Weimer // January 30, 2014 at 7:37 pm //

    Mixing science fiction with horror is often peanut butter and chocolate, when done well. It seems for you, Tim, this is definitely your blend.

    • Yes. My kind of horror is the mental kind, and with this and other books by Smythe, he adds mystery that really challenges your mind as you hope for the best in a possibly horrible ending.

  2. Mark McSherry // January 30, 2014 at 8:06 pm //

    Mixing SF with horror… May I suggest Edmond Hamilton’s THE HAUNTED STARS (1960)?
    About a journey through stellar space to encounter an ‘appalling reality’.

  3. I need to get back to the first novel. I picked it up after a great review on SF Signal last year, and now I’ll be picking this one up too.

    • Yes, Carl you really do ;). I’m curious to see what you think. How far did you get before putting it down? Each part amps up the suspense. I wish this one was as exciting from start to finish.

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