The Well of Echoes Quartet

Author: Ian Irvine

Publisher: Penguin

Dates Published: 2001-2004

Pages: Total of 2,798 over four books

Tiaan, a lonely crystal worker, is using a new crystal when she begins to have extraordinary visions. The crystal has woken her talent for geomancy, the most powerful of the Secret Arts, and the most perilous. Geomancy is a magic that humanity’s allies and enemies alike are desperate to control, but is deadly to the user. Falsely accused of  sabotage by her rival, Irisis, Tiaan flees for her life. She is captured by the alien lyrinx, Ryll, who plans to use her in his dreadful flesh-forming experiments. Only geomancy can save her. Struggling to control her talent, Tiaan follows her visions all the way to Tirthrax, greatest peak in the Three Worlds, where a nightmare awaits her.

Set 207 years afters the events in ‘The View from the Mirror’, we are taken back to a radically different Santhenar. The old humans are in a seemingly endless 157 year long war with the Lyrinx – massive winged humanoids that came out of the void – and are governed by the vice like grip of the Council of Scrutators.

‘The Well of Echoes’ quartet spans the following books:

  • Geomancer
  • Tetrarch
  • Scrutator
  • Chimaera

One of ‘The Well of Echoes’ strengths is it’s extremely detailed and original use of magic. Magic has become a device of warfare, an constantly evolving means of destroying the enemy. Santhenar is shaped around the need to mine, process and awaken crystals, which in turn power the ‘clankers’ (their equivalent of tanks and their only hope against the far stronger Lyrinx).

The magic system itself is fascinating and is based on the hidden power of geographical features; a type of magic that seems somewhat plausible given the destructive forces often released by volcanoes and earthquakes in reality. The world view of characters who can sense the myriads of power, such as Tiaan and Ullii, is rendered stunningly. Irvine has created his own complex ecosystems of magic and cultures; no doubt his background in Geology provided a great source of knowledge. Again, Irvine deliberately steps away from the heavily westernised versions of high fantasy (such as Elves, Dwarves, Dragons, black/white magic etc).

A much wider range of characters and personalities feature in ‘The Well of Echoes’, which is a vast improvement from the previous series (which mainly featured ‘angered powerful man committing folly’ and ‘random distressed good guy forced to do bad things’). Irvine’s ‘warts and all’ approach to characterisation returns again, but due to the varying nature of the characters this is a point of strength rather than annoyance. Women are given important roles and actually behave like women, rather than men with tits or damsel’s in distress (a wonderful feature I often come across with male writers in the Fantasy genre). Of theses characters, Irisis and Scrutator Flydd were my favorites. Yggur and Malian from ‘The View from the Mirror’ return. Yggur is particularly interesting and is given  a role that really fleshes out his quirks and complexities.

Irvine’s writing quality has improved greatly. Though at times the story lags (there are drawn out chase scenes, particularly when Tiaan is kidnapped by Ryll), he has tightened his plot lines considerably. However, like most Fantasy novels, the story is still far too long and perhaps a third of content could have been cut without serious damage to the plot. The story features a great deal of warfare and action, some of which could have been sliced out or focused on less.

Irvine’s real writing prowess culminates in his descriptions of locations and objects. His ability to describe crazily complex and absurd magical constructs is fantastic. Some of my favorite passages were descriptions of the view from the peak of Tirthrax, the prism like city of the Aachim and the tar pits of Snizort. The greatest part of the series is in the beginning of book four, a section which I think crystallises all of Irvine’s strengths. The believable escape from such a difficult situation is a credit to Irvine’s planning and intelligence.

Though ‘The Well of Echoes’ vastly surpasses the ‘The View from the Mirror’ series, the series itself still has a somewhat amateurish edge. Despite this, I thoroughly enjoyed reading the series – probably more  so than comes across in this review. The very aspects that I see as a drawback – for instance the sheer page count and overly long story – strike me as qualities that fans of the Fantasy genre seem to appreciate, if not demand. Enjoying these books hinges on a predisposed affection for Fantasy and whether the reader is a fan of Irvine’s particular style of writing, however I would be cautious in recommending these books to those who fall outside of the beforementioned catergories.

(The story continues into the ‘Song of Tears’ trilogy, which I am currently reading.)

♥♥♥ – 3/5

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