Book Reviews, Science Fiction

Review: Ocean’s Echo by Evarina Maxwell

When Tennal – a rich socialite, inveterate flirt, and walking disaster – is caught using his telepathic powers for illegal activities, the military decides to bind his mind to someone whose coercive powers are strong enough to control him. Enter Lieutenant Surit, the child of a disgraced general. Out of a desperate need to restore a pension to his other parent, Lieutenant Surit agrees to be bound to Tennal and keep him conscripted in the army, a task that seems impossible even for someone with Surit’s ability to control minds. Tennal just wants to escape, but Surit isn’t all that he seems. And their bond may just be the key to their freedom.

Thank you NetGalley and Orbit for the free copy in exchange for an honest review.

I’m going to tell you upfront: I loved this book. I finished it about a week ago and I still find myself thinking about it, and have been yelling about it to my coworker at random intervals (sorry Carys) because it just struck a chord with me. If you’ve read Winter’s Orbit by Maxwell, you will recognise a lot of the elements: a spoilt, dramatic young royal is forced together with an upright and professional man from outside his circles in the hopes it will set him straight (hah) and then a political conspiracy brings them together, as they both want to solve it while the reader just cries out for the two of them to kiss already!! As a very vague premise, the author hasn’t strayed far from her first book, but she has certainly improved her craft. While I loved Winter’s Orbit it didn’t really stick with me after the fact, while – as I said – Ocean’s Echo has been on my mind ever since I finished it and I can tell it’s one I’ll want to reread in a few years.

So what is it that made me love this book? First of all, the characters. Tennal is chaos incarnate and I loved him from the moment he walked in, fashionably late to a party he wasn’t invited to. And when we meet Surit a bit later on I immediately wanted to hug this gentle giant with his childhood trauma and constant to-do lists running through his head. I couldn’t wait for the two of them to crash together spectacularly, and Maxwell did not disappoint. Let me take a step back here and explain a crucial part of the world they inhabit: due to scientific experiments with Remnants (artefacts from a long-gone civilisation) by the government a generation previously, some people gained mental abilities that allow them to either influence other people’s thoughts (architects) or read them (readers) and though the experiments were stopped those abilities were passed down through the genes so that they are now widespread. However, readers are regarded as dangerous and tend to be “recruited” by the military and bonded to architects who can control their actions.

Tennal is a reader, and though he managed to avoid detection for many years, he’s finally brought in and sent on a retrieval mission to the old lab station where the first experiments were conducted, and while there he will be synced to Lieutenant Surit, who is a powerful architect with something to prove. Surit’s parent was one of the first batch of experiment volunteers, but became notorious for siding with the Reader Rebellion and blowing up herself and the research centre in an act of sabotage. Surit, who bears her name, has been trying to make his own way, but also live up to the expectations of a parent he never met, and when he’s offered a promotion to sync a new reader he takes it. That is, until he realises that Tennal has not volunteered, and is being forced to give up his freedom. Surit is that outstanding type of character who does everything by the book and knows the entire code by heart, but won’t even hesitate to do the right thing even if it contradicts his orders. It’s endearing and entertaining both, and allowed for Maxwell to criticise institutions like the military while also showing the bravery and talent of individual soldiers.

The other thing I loved about this book was the underlying political tension; not only do Tennal and Surit have to maintain the façade of a sync even though they didn’t go through with one, but some of the details of their mission are too vague, and everyone might be in more danger than they originally thought. In some ways, the plot is just a device to throw these two characters together, but I was genuinely engaged in the mystery and wanted to solve that almost as much as I wanted to see Tennal and Surit confess their feelings to one another and just kiss already! Readers of Winter’s Orbit will be pleased to know that there is more revealed about the Remnants in this story, and it blew my mind a little.

And finally, I have to mention the writing, and in particular the beautiful imagery that Maxwell uses when talking about the way Tennal perceives reading, and the way Surit perceives Tennal’s consciousness. It’s obvious where the inspiration for the title comes from when reading these parts, as the ocean becomes a metaphor for the swirling of thoughts and the depth of one’s essence, and it has really stuck with me. Definitely one to reread, as I said! And I think this book will appeal to a wide audience: classic sci-fi fans may not be as intrigued, but if the idea of a story with a bit of politics, a slow burn romance, and an intergalactic backdrop appeals to you, then definitely give this a go! You don’t have to have read Winter’s Orbit as they are each standalone stories set on totally different planets.

Book Info

Published: 3rd November 2022 by Orbit
Genre: sci-fi, LGBTQ+
Pages: 512
Narration style: third person past tense, two points of view
Format read: eARC
Content Warnings: brainwashing, suicide mentions, mind control, language

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