Science fiction and fantasy                                            

Echoes of a Distant Storm

by Wendy Simpson


At first glance, Echoes of a Distant Storm is a book that does itself no favours. The cover art looks as though it was done by a teenager, the proofreading is poor, and the prologue gives entirely the wrong impression. We hear about The Entity and The Five in a Genesis-like account of the history of this world. The style is impersonal and pompous, full of Capital Letters, Gods and Heroes. It's not very enticing, and reading it induces an inward groan in case the whole of the novel is in this vein.

Fortunately the prologue is short, and quite unlike the rest of the story. But it's as though Wendy Simpson has done her level best to discourage anyone from actually reading what turns out to be a fairly entertaining book.

Cael Blackshear is a young dafhalla boy, that's to say a member of a warrior race, living in the town of Bright Autumn. His father, Shar, is one of five people who have been chosen to perform a special magic ritual intended to keep the evil Entity from entering their world. But Cael notices a change in his father each time he returns from performing the ritual, a kind of cold madness that takes him over. Everyone else believes that this illness that affects those who perform the ritual is simply a consequence of performing the exhausting magic.

Cael begins to ask questions, and he turns to Elder Avenarius for answers. However, just before Avenarius is due to meet him to clear things up the old man is murdered. The citizens of Bright Autumn blame Cael, and they don't seem inclined to listen to reason. It's as though they are bewitched.

With the help of his friend Damiana, a feyhar girl with wings and a gift for magic, they escape the baying mob. Their flight takes them across country, through forests and even to an otherworld. On the way they meet more strange creatures than you would find at a Star Wars convention. They are trying to catch up with the Five and warn them about the dangers of the ritual they are about to perform. But the Entity is always after them, sending its minions to confuse and destroy them.

This book is full of people saying things like "safe journey and swift justice", and minions who say "Yes, master" and then grovel for mercy when they fail their tasks. Wendy Simpson is guilty of the crime of using clichéd fantasy-speak at every opportunity, without the mitigating circumstance of writing a parody. Cael and Damiana go from one strange encounter to another without any logical connection between each event. The whole story appears to be set up merely so they can have adventures and be heroic, and the author often uses the deus ex machina of magic to get them out of trouble. There's no apparent theme or deeper moral meaning behind this. It's just a straight good versus evil romp, and the evil is depicted without any nuance.

That said, Echoes of a Distant Storm has good pacing and dramatic timing. It's both suspenseful and moving, with peaks of action and troughs of calm in all the right places. Cael and Damiana are likeable characters, although Cael occasionally seems to be 17 going on 13. This book is aimed at younger teenagers, and some people of that age might enjoy it for its action and melodramatic fantasy elements. But most will be discerning enough to realise that this is the mental equivalent of eating treacle: sweet and sugary, but hardly nutritious.

Book Details

Year: 2004

Categories: Books


If you like this, try:

The Ice Crown cover    

The Ice Crown by Sean Beech
A young prince sets out to discover what happened to the lost crown of the Lands of the Moon in a bid to unite his people.

2 star rating

Review © Ros Jackson


margaret west     3rd November, 2004 10:06am

Hello. I actually feel your review is unjust. I really likes this novel and as a multi published author myself, I think it was very well written. The cover is enchanting and fits the fantasy premise. I found your review inconsistent ie You wrote , Echoes of a Distant Storm has good pacing and good dramatic timing. It's both suspenseful and moving, with peaks and troughs in all the right places. Cael and Damiana are likeable characters...' This confuses me as it it like saying this book is terrible , but hey,, it's also good and suspensful. I just thought I would jump in here as I did find this review very conflicting in its opinions. Regards Margaret West

Ros Jackson     3rd November, 2004 13:56pm

It's fair to say that the review is conflicting in its opinions, but that's because I found this book to be of fairly uneven quality and I was often in two minds about it. I found both good and bad in this book and it would be wrong for me to put one side and not the other. I should just clarify that when I talk about "peaks and troughs" I'm talking here about the pacing and suspense, rather than the overall quality.

Ruth Gordon     8th November, 2004 22:13pm

Hi. I'm a middle-school teacher with a Master of Arts degree in language arts and a particular interest in young peoples' fiction.

Having had the good fortune to read ECHOES, I have to admit I was somewhat surprised by this write-up. Did we read the same book? For instance, the first part of the review says that the prologue "gives the entirely wrong impression." What impression was that? The prologue seemed pretty straightforward to me. It was primarily a quick overview of events, which helped set the stage for the coming conflicts. I enjoyed the "high fantasy" tone and found it well done.

I was also surprised by the comments about the cover art. That seemed rather unnecessary. Are we judging books by their covers now? (I always warn my students against that.) For the record, I thought the cover was a good one that well fit the story. But why mention it at all when it?s what?s inside that's supposed to count?

The review goes on to state that the book is full of "clich?d fantasy speak." I?m curious as to how a manner of speaking used in every classic novel of fantasy can be clich?d when it is a staple of the genre. Surely we can't expect the characters to be using modern-day speech?

Likewise, magic is another staple of Sword & Sorcery Fantasy (hence the word "sorcery" in the genre's name). The whole review, in fact, makes me wonder if the reviewer really understands the fantasy genre? I couldn't help but notice that the majority of fantasy books reviewed on this site are given three stars or less. Does the reviewer, perhaps, have a problem with fantasy? I'm also wondering if she actually read this entire book, or merely scanned it, since so many of the review's comments are so off-base. If the reviewer doesn't understand the reasons for "one strange encounter after another" she's missed a key element of the conflict and a major plot point, which was clearly explained in numerous places in the text. And if she thinks the book is too "sugary and sweet" she's missed its dark moments and its classic heroic theme.

All things considered, it's rather difficult to take this review seriously. Perhaps the reviewer would be more comfortable sticking to straight science fiction or horror? Reviewing carries a certain responsibility, after all. It doesn't seem right to lead readers astray with an uninformed opinion. All fantasy requires some "suspension of disbelief" and if one is unable to do that, then no, one won?t be able to enjoy it.

Thanks for allowing me to respond. Best wishes, Ruth G.

Ros Jackson     8th November, 2004 22:59pm

The prologue gives the wrong impression because it's written in a different style to the rest of the book. I can't really say it any clearer than that. For anyone finding this book for the first time in a shop, the prologue and cover art will be the first things they have to make a judgement on. They deserve mention precisely because I don't want people to judge this book by its cover, but the temptation to do so is quite high when the presentation is poor. The cover art and proofreading do not figure in calculating the final rating.

As far as the fantasy dialogue is concerned, it doesn't have to be trite or frankly dodgy. Anne Bishop, Lynn Flewelling, Sarah Zettel, Terry Pratchett and David Feintuch are just a few examples of writers who handle fantasy dialogue better than Wendy Simpson. Good dialogue should mean that the style of the language shouldn't be more noticeable than the message itself.

In many great works of fantasy, magic is either a double-edged sword (The Lord of the Rings), or it serves a purpose related to the theme of the plot. In Anne Bishop's Black Jewels series, for instance, it allows traditional male and female roles to be reversed and is often used as an expression of emotion during male-female power struggles. In most fantasy it's rarely used as a random device to rescue the protagonists, there are usually layers of meaning to the use of magic. Fantasy is about more than mere escapism.

As for "the majority of fantasy books reviewed on this site are given three stars or less", to suggest that there's some bias against fantasy is inaccurate. At the time of writing there's a slight bias in favour of fantasy. As 3 stars denotes an average ranking, it's reasonable to expect that at least half of the reviews will be 3 stars or below. This isn't one of those sites where nothing gets reviewed unless it already meets a certain standard.

Just because you don't agree with my assessment of this book doesn't mean that the review is uninformed or bad. People look for different things in fiction, such as depth, good characterisation and credible dialogue.

I'm also wondering if you actually read this entire review, or merely scanned it, since so many of the comments are so off-base. All things considered, it's rather difficult to take these comments seriously. Perhaps the commenter would be more comfortable sticking to reviews that sing the praises of this book? Commenting carries a certain responsibility, after all. It doesn't seem right to lead readers astray with an uninformed opinion. Etc.

Anonymous     13th November, 2004 03:56am

I'm only halfway through the book and know you probably can't publish my comment because I haven't given a name, but I thought the review was right on target. I was very impressed with the reviewer's ability to pinpoint both flaws and strengths and to express them in a diplomatic and even encouraging manner. I turned to other reviews to compare what was said about books earning even fewer stars and found consistency there. I'd definitely trust other reviews by this critic. Oh, and yes, the cover art DOES matter. I work with students who won't touch a book that has a cover they don't like, no matter what the value of the content inside; the cover art on this one looks (in my experienced opinion) to be more detrimental than beneficial in enticing readers.

Add your thoughts

All comments are pre-moderated. Please do not post spoilers or abusive language.

Name :

Your comments :

Please prove you are human.

Enter the following digits in reverse