AUDIOBOOK REVIEW: Echo in Emerald by Sharon Shinn, narrated by Emily Bauer
Dear Ms. Shinn,
Recently I’ve been listening to the audiobooks of your Uncommon Echoes series. I’ve reviewed the first in the series, Echo in Onyx, and the following is my review of the second, Echo in Emerald. I’m going to begin by cribbing the description of the series and its world from my earlier review of Echo in Onyx.
In the Regency-like world of the Uncommon Echoes series, a small percentage of the population, mostly members of the nobility but a few others as well, are attended by echoes, creatures who resemble them exactly, copy their gestures precisely, but cannot speak.
The echoes are conferred on these nobles by the triple goddess (her three aspects represent justice, mercy and joy) for reasons that only become clear as the story unfolds. Echoes have been around for centuries and have developed into a status symbol; one can be born with up to three, and the number you have is a factor in how exceptional you are considered.
The series is set in the Kingdom of the Seven Jewels, seven provinces each represented by a different gemstone, but each ruled over by the same king. There is quite a bit of intrigue around the royal family, and the series introduces characters from other provinces and tracks their involvement in those goings-on. The books take place concurrently so many of the characters appear in more than one book.
Echo in Emerald is narrated by Chessie, a young woman who lives in the capital city of Camarria. Chessie is from Empara, a province represented by emeralds. She arrived in Camarria as a teenager and has had to fend for herself on her own.
Well, not exactly on her own, because Chessie has two echoes. This is more than odd, it’s almost unheard of, since Chessie isn’t a noblewoman. It’s unclear why the goddess saw fit to gift Chessie with echoes, but Chessie is grateful for them.
Nevertheless, she has to conceal their existence. Chessie is the unwanted, illegitimate child of Malachi Burken, the king’s inquisitor. She hates and fears her absent father (the reasons for this are clarified later) and hides her presence in Camarria from him, since he also lives there.
Concealing the echoes isn’t easy; to succeed Chessie has to give them separate identities. Luckily, she has rare abilities: she can differentiate and control the movements of her echoes, and what is even more remarkable, “jump” from echo to echo and back to herself, so that her consciousness can inhabit whichever of three bodies she chooses.
The echoes can’t stray too far from her, and to hide their existence she gives them their own appearances, identities and jobs. “Red,” a young woman, waits tables at a tavern, while “Scar,” works in the warehouse district, usually unloading crates. Chessie takes on odd, sometimes dangerous jobs.
Early in the book, Chessie is asked to transport a teenage boy from Empara to Camarria, but refuses—Empara, her birthplace, is the last place she wants to go.
Chessie’s life begins to change when Jackal, Camarria’s underworld boss, a close acquaintance of Chessie’s and “Red’s” erstwhile lover, gives Chessie a new odd job. He pays her to go the botanical gardens and approach a nobleman. The nobleman will be meeting someone and Jackal wants Chessie to wait for the meeting to end and then warn him that two dangerous men will be waiting for him near the gardens’ exit so that they can attack him.
When Chessie arrives at the gardens, her echoes trailing her, she identifies the noble—a dark-skinned, dark-haired man with two echoes – and approaches him after his meeting. But the man–Lord Dezmen of Pandrea—doesn’t take her warning seriously. When Lord Dezmen is jumped, “Scar” rescues him.
Afterward, Chessie and her echoes share a quick outdoor meal with Lord Dezmen and his. She sets up a meeting with Jackal, and there she learns that Lord Dezmen is investigating the murder of a nobleman who was hired to assassinate the crown prince. In the normal course of things it would be Malachi, the king’s inquisitor and Chessie’s natural father, whose job would be to conduct such an investigation. But the king trusts Lord Dezmen more.
Chessie becomes involved in Lord Dezmen’s investigation when she assists him further, and slowly but surely, she begins to fall for the attractive lord. But even as she and Lord Dezmen grow dangerously close—close enough that she fears he’ll unravel her secret—they get nearer to the conspiracy behind the assassination attempt. And this, too, is a dangerous, not only because of the threat it poses to Lord Dezmen’s life, but because the conspiracy leads them back to Empara, Chessie’s birthplace, and to Chessie.
I have a few quibbles with the book, and the biggest is that Chessie, though a bit toughened, trusted Lord Dezmen and Jackal a bit more than I would expect a streetwise character to.
One has to go with the premise that Chessie, Scar and Red could pass for three different people. Chessie disguised her echoes in various ways, moved in their bodies differently and even gave them differing personalities, but since their faces were similar, I have to believe that the goddess looked out for her on that one.
There is a point in the book when Chessie does something that could easily reveal the existence of her echoes. It read contrived and not in keeping with story—out of character for the person she should have been, given how long she’d had good reason to hide.
Similarly, the underworld of Camarria was a little too safe for an underworld. There didn’t seem to be that much violent crime in the capital city of the realm. I could suspend disbelief in this since Camarria is a fantastical place, but it was a bit of a stretch.
Even so, Echo in Emerald was an engrossing read, both romantic and thoughtful. Chessie is appealing and interesting, deceptive because her life depends on it, a streetwise survivor without being hardened. And her alter egos, Scar and Red, give her characterization added dimension.
Dezmen is equally wonderful and in romance genre parlance he would likely be called a beta hero. He is open where Chessie is cagey, trusting where she is a bit cynical. They make a lovely couple because they complement one another, and also because of the commonality they share: unlike any of Chessie’s friends, Dezmen knows what it’s like to have echoes.
Dezmen’s experience of being othered due to his dark skin is touched upon when Chessie realizes what it must be like for him. I also liked that the characterization ran counter to stereotypes, with Desmond as the gentle, well-to-do nobleman and Chessie the one who grew up in rougher circumstances.
At the beginning of the novel, Dezmen comes across as too trusting, so that Chessie has to explain the lay of the land to him. That bothered me a little, but he quickly caught on, and in his relationship with Chessie his honesty is an asset. Just as she teaches him to be more wary about the dangers that lurk in Camarria’s streets, he shows her how to open up to another person and eventually, how to embrace who she is.
The plot of Echo in Emerald is intricate and has multiple big twists. I only guessed at part of one of them, but the other two took m by complete surprise and one of them blew me away. The suspense leading up to the big reveals was taut and absorbing. The book was well-paced, with no boring parts whatsoever.
While Echo in Onyx was a fantasy with romantic elements, I would categorize Echo in Emerald as a fantasy romance, because Echo in Onyx could still work without the romance subplot, but in Echo in Emerald the romance is integral to everything that happens.
And what a romance it is. Satisfying because it’s well-developed, sweet, and slow burn. And rich, too, because of how well it is integrated into the world and its politics.
As for the audiobook’s narration, once again Emily Bauer’s narration did not work well for me. She pitches her voice a bit lower for Chessie’s narration than she did for Brianna’s, and I was grateful for that, since it helped underline that Chessie had a little toughness to her. I thought she did a much better job of conveying the tension in this one than in Echo in Onyx. But still, I will never be a fan of this narrator’s voice—it is too sugary for my taste.
My grade for the audio narration is a C+ this time, and for the novel Echo in Emerald, an A-. Objectively, Echo in Onyx may be a stronger story, but I’m grading this one higher because it was more romantic.
PS The ebook is currently priced at $3.99!