Ocean's Echo
Grade : A

My deepest thanks to the commenters who recommended Ocean’s Echo by Everina Maxwell in some of our Best of 2022 posts. Thanks to you, I not only got a great read, but I got to it in time for my own Best of list!

Tennalhin Halkana (Tennal) lives at the mercy of his own brain. A powerful reader, or person able to detect the thoughts of others, he is overwhelmed by the chaos in his head. He uses a combination of sex, drugs, and the psychic power of architects, who can issue mental commands to others, to create order and escape from his mind, but it’s always temporary. His powerful politician aunt draws the line at Tennal taking his abilities to the criminal underworld, and sets him up to be drafted into the military and “synced,” or forcibly mentally bonded to an architect, who can then command and order his brain for life. Unfortunately for her, the officer chosen is Lieutenant Surit Yeni, whose ethics don’t allow him to write (or command) someone unwilling, no matter how badly he needs the promotion offered to him for dealing with Tennal. Twenty years earlier, Surit’s mother died a traitor in a civil war. Now, Surit and Tennal are on a scientific mission to the place where she died – and where, seeking freedom for Tennal, they might inadvertently kick off another civil war. That’s as much of the plot as I want to give, so you can watch things unfold on your own!

Tennal is an utter chaos muppet reminiscent of Miles Vorkosigan. Upheaval follows everywhere he goes, and if he doesn’t find a crisis, he makes one. What keeps him from being annoying is the fact that 1) he’s at the mercy of a brain that can’t handle its own power and 2) the people he runs into really, really deserve everything Tennal puts them through. When he meets good people, like his sister, Surit, and military crewmates (nice nonbinary rep in the crewmate Istara!), he is unshakingly loyal. Surit, meanwhile, is structure, stability, rules, and ethics – all of which he’s developed to help him deal with his own powerful brain. At first, Tennal struggles to believe that someone would put their conscience and Tennal’s rights above promotion and profit. In multiple tight situations, Surit shows him that he is trustworthy. Surit is also a loyal and honorable officer who expects and then gets the best from his soldiers. It’s deeply offensive to Surit that his own military has placed him in this unethical situation. I won’t go into detail on secondary characters, but they are all interestingly developed as well – especially the antagonists, whose complexity demands that I label them as such and not with the more black-and-white ‘villain’.

I loved the prose here as well as the characters and the worldbuilding. It’s a third person narration, but Tennal’s arch humor and Surit’s thoughtful analysis differentiate the passages that are over their respective shoulders. The author does a wonderful job of showing, not telling, the characters. The scene where Surit rounds up AWOL soldiers is both entertaining and effective in showing how his and Tennal’s styles contrast but complement each other, and both get the job done.

My only dilemma in reviewing this book was whether to call it SF or SF with strong romantic elements. The core of the story, though, is Tennal and Surit, and how they go from not trusting each other to being literally inseparable (read it!) to finding out who they can be as a team. Because of the centrality of the two of them, I’ve decided to go with SF romance. The plot is so well balanced with the characters that this book will be a success for both romance readers and SF readers, which is a rare feat. I’ll also mention that although this book is apparently set in the same universe as Maxwell’s previous book, Winter’s Orbit, it’s a stand-alone. I haven’t read Winter’s Orbit and did not even realize there was a previous book.

As I said, I’m so grateful for the word-of-mouth that brought me to this book, and now I hope to return the favor. Go read Ocean’s Echo!

Buy it at: Amazon

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Grade: A

Sensuality: Kisses

Review Date : December 28, 2022

Publication Date: 11/2022

Recent Comments …

  1. This author (Judith Ivory) used to appear frequently in “best of” lists for historical romance; and it seems that this…

Caroline Russomanno

I'm a history geek and educator, and I've lived in five different countries in North America, Asia, and Europe. In addition to the usual subgenres, I'm partial to YA, Sci-fi/Fantasy, and graphic novels. I love to cook.

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