Title: Ocean’s Echo
Author: Everina Maxwell
Publisher: Tor Books
Publication date: November 1, 2022
Length: 484 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Ocean’s Echo is a stand-alone space adventure about a bond that will change the fate of worlds, set in the same universe as Everina Maxwell’s hit debut, Winter’s Orbit.
Rich socialite, inveterate flirt, and walking disaster Tennalhin Halkana can read minds. Tennal, like all neuromodified “readers,” is a security threat on his own. But when controlled, readers are a rare asset. Not only can they read minds, but they can navigate chaotic space, the maelstroms surrounding the gateway to the wider universe.
Conscripted into the military under dubious circumstances, Tennal is placed into the care of Lieutenant Surit Yeni, a duty-bound soldier, principled leader, and the son of a notorious traitor general. Whereas Tennal can read minds, Surit can influence them. Like all other neuromodified “architects,” he can impose his will onto others, and he’s under orders to control Tennal by merging their minds.
Surit accepted a suspicious promotion-track request out of desperation, but he refuses to go through with his illegal orders to sync and control an unconsenting Tennal. So they lie: They fake a sync bond and plan Tennal’s escape.
Their best chance arrives with a salvage-retrieval mission into chaotic space—to the very neuromodiifcation lab that Surit’s traitor mother destroyed twenty years ago. And among the rubble is a treasure both terrible and unimaginably powerful, one that upends a decades-old power struggle, and begins a war.
Tennal and Surit can no longer abandon their unit or their world. The only way to avoid life under full military control is to complete the very sync they’ve been faking.
Can two unwilling weapons of war bring about peace?
Once I started reading Winter’s Orbit last year, I basically couldn’t put it down — so I was very excited to get my hands on a copy of Everina Maxwell’s follow-up novel, Ocean’s Echo. Ocean’s Echo is a stand-alone, but it is set in the same universe as Winter’s Orbit. There are no cross-over characters, but the basics of the galactic system and some key political and scientific aspects connect the two books.
In Ocean’s Echo, Tennal is about age 20, from a powerful family (his aunt is the head of government of the Orshan planets), and is incapable of (and has no interest in) staying out of trouble. After one scandal too many, his aunt orders his conscription into the army. As if that’s not bad enough, she’s also ordered him to be synced. Tennal is a talented reader — he can read other people’s thoughts — but readers are both rare and considered very dangerous if left uncontrolled. Control is exactly what his aunt wants, and so Tennal will be forced into a sync, where an architect — someone who can telepathically influence others’ minds — will force a sort of mind-meld with Tennal. From that point on, the architect will be able to control Tennal’s actions. Worst of all, the sync is permanent — a broken sync results in death for both reader and architect.
Needless to say, Tennal is not at all happy about his fate, but he truly has no choice. He’s surprised, therefore, when he meets Surit, a young lieutenant with strong architect abilities and an even stronger moral compass. Despite orders, he knows deep down that a forced sync is wrong, and he suggests that he and Tennal fake it. They’re successful in their deception at first, until they are pulled further and further into an impending civil war where their own survival and the fate of their world is at stake.
Tennal and Surit are both terrific characters, with very distinct characters and personality traits. While the chapters alternate between their perspectives, there’s never any confusion about whose point of view we’re getting. They are definitely a case of opposites attracting, and while the intricacies of the reader-architect dynamic are the main focus, there’s a romantic chemistry as well that keeps bubbling to the surface.
The world-building is very detailed, but occasionally confusing. While Ocean’s Echo is a stand-alone, I think it would be somewhat baffling for a reader who hasn’t first read Winter’s Orbit. Without a basic understanding of the books’ universe, I’m not sure that talk of the Resolution, the Link, and remnants, among other concepts, would make a whole lot of sense. As is, even having read the first book, some of the high-concept military and scientific scenarios went over my head. That’s okay, though — I didn’t have to fully grasp every single detail in order to appreciate the characters, their connection, and the big picture stakes of the storyline.
Overall, I really enjoyed Ocean’s Echo. The writing pulled me in, and even when concepts such as chaotic space started boggling my mind, some nifty turns of phrase would get me back on track and impress me with the author’s creativity and descriptive skill.
Since the moment they’d synced, the sea had come in roaring, a glorious, terrible torrent. Where there had been ordinary rooms and cabinets and stairs in Surit’s neat mental house, there was now a tumult of swirling water, deep-sea caverns instead of foundations, whirlpools instead of floors.
You need to have an appreciation for space battles and sci-fi drama and high stakes military adventures to truly love this book, I think… but if you do, then don’t miss out on this book (and check out Winter’s Orbit too!).