#SciFiMonth Ocean’s Echo by Everina Maxwell
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction, Romance
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Tor Books (November 1, 2022)
Length: 464 pages
Do you have to read Everina Maxwell’s first novel, Winter’s Orbit, before coming to Ocean’s Echo? Nope! In fact, its standalone status was what attracted me most about this one. The truth is, my feelings were kind of mixed on Winter’s Orbit which I thought was middle-of-the-road novel, and I liked the idea of being able to come to this one with a fresh story following new characters.
At the center of Ocean’s Echo is Tennal Halkana, the rich, smarmy nephew of a powerful legislator who fancies himself to be a charming rogue flirting his way across the galaxy. But the reality is, his life is a mess. On the planet of Orshan, where this book takes place, past experimentation with neuroaugments have led to some people being born with special abilities: Architects are those who can influence your thoughts, and Readers are those who can read minds as well as navigate chaotic space. Tennal is one of the latter and as such is seen as a security threat, leading him to always be on the run—until one day, his aunt catches up to him and forcibly conscripts him into the military as punishment for using his powers illegally. There, it is also expected that he will be “synced” with an Architect, a process that creates a permanent mental bond so that the Reader can be controlled.
This is how Tennal eventually comes to be placed under the watchful eye of Lieutenant Surit Yeni, a strait-laced dutiful soldier who values regulation above all else. The son of a notorious traitor, Surit’s rigid adherence to rules may be his way of dealing with the taint of his past. Which is why when he discovers that he is to be synced with Tennal, who has not consented to having his mind merged, Surit balks at the illegality of it. Still, unlawful or not, an order is an order, which is why the two of them ultimately decide to hatch up a plan to fake their sync.
Fans of Winter’s Orbit will be happy to know Ocean’s Echo is also a queer romance and keeps to many of the similar tones and traditions of Maxwell’s debut. But to me, the difference is that the romance isn’t as central to the plot. There was far less brooding and pining in this one, for instance, leaving more time to enjoy the other aspects of the novel. Not surprisingly, I found myself way more invested in the story and the characters, and even the world-building held more appeal, never mind that Ocean’s Echo actually takes place in the same exact universe as Winter’s Orbit.
Naturally, Tennal and Surit end up together, but their relationships is slow-burn enough—and subtle enough—that it was almost like reading a very light military sci-fi novel. Admittedly, the concept of the Architect/Reader dynamic was a bit sparse, but still far more complex than I expected. The idea definitely made for an interesting take on the fake romance trope! But as I said, the plot is about so much more—from a political power struggle among the elite to an impending civil war about to break out amongst the disparate factions, there was always something going on to give the backdrop a life of its own.
One might also think the dreadful cliché of putting two characters who couldn’t be more different together is a recipe for disaster. However, in this case, Tennal and Surit did in fact have chemistry, which is more than I could have said of the pairing between Kiem and Jainan of Winter’s Orbit, another “opposites attract” romance which didn’t work quite so well. What made Ocean’s Echo different is that by focusing more attention on their individual backstories rather than the two of them together, Tennal and Surit both gradually came to their own. Only then was I able to care about their relationship.
Like Winter’s Orbit, Ocean’s Echo is also standalone, their stories self-contained and independent of each other so you can read the books in any order. In fact, I would probably recommend tackling Ocean’s Echo first, as I found this to be the better novel. Romance readers are going to love Everina Maxwell’s take on fun and familiar tropes, sci-fi fans will enjoy the modern space operatic feel, and both camps will relish the result created by the blending of all these elements.