REVIEW: Echo in Amethyst by Sharon Shinn
Dear Ms. Shinn,
All three novels in your Uncommon Echoes series take place in the Kingdom of the Seven Jewels, where members of the nobility are gifted by the triple goddess with echoes.The echoes are silent doppelgangers who exist in a trance-like state, mirror the actions of their “originals” and accompany them everywhere.
Though most originals are attached to their echoes, Lady Elyssa of Alberta, the girl expected to marry Prince Jordan (brother to the king’s heir), is not. In fact, Elyssa hits and tortures her echoes in secret when she can get away with it.
Through Elyssa’s cruelty, one of her echoes (eventually named Hope) slowly comes to consciousness, first in brief pieces of time, later in longer and longer stretches, and eventually on a permanent basis.
Hope, the novel’s first-person narrator, not only fears Elyssa, but dislikes her as a person (it’s easy to see why; Elyssa is unpleasant). As she accompanies Elyssa, Hope slowly gleans information about her life, and that includes Elyssa’s attraction to Marco Ross, a revolutionary allied with Elyssa’s father.
There is no love lost between Elyssa and Prince Jordan, but their proposed marriage is necessary to keep the kingdom peaceful. Elyssa chafes at her engagement and Marco would like to kill one of the princes to incite the revolution he wants, so Hope feels protective of Prince Jordan even before she meets him. When she does, her feelings intensify. Jordan is kind, considerate and handsome, and Hope falls in love with him.
But Hope is trapped. Elyssa wields all the power in their relationship. Hope belongs to Elyssa and is viewed as a pale shadow, an echo of her. And when Elyssa wants to, she can exert control over Hope and her other echoes so that they can’t move independently, or in Hope’s case, speak. Hope’s only chance for survival lies in hiding her consciousness from Elyssa. If she gives any sign that she can think for herself, Elyssa will kill her, and likely the other two echoes as well.
But can Hope keep silent when the life of the man she has fallen in love with is threatened? Can she protect Prince Jordan and the kingdom while still protecting her own life and that of her fellow echoes? And is her love for Jordan something that can manifest in the world, or is it doomed to be smothered by Elyssa’s will?
Echo in Amethyst has a terrific concept but its execution falls short of the novel’s potential. Since this is the third and final novel in the Uncommon Echoes series and the books take place concurrently, it’s easy to know what to expect from some parts and aspects of the plot, and that made the book less suspenseful than the other two.
A bigger issue is the characterization. Hope is a likable character with a lot of appeal, but part of that appeal is based in her purity of heart, an outgrowth of her inexperience. The book portrays Hope as innocent yet wise, and therefore as having a modicum of maturity. But it’s hard to forget that the time she’s been awake and conscious has amounted to less than a year, so for all her wisdom, she has no more experience of the world than a one-year-old.
Can a one-year-old recognize her lifelong match? Jordan is kind and attractive, a good person, but Hope is so new to the world. And there is little interaction between them when Hope begins to love him. How can the reader trust her feelings? It’s hard to view her love for Jordan as something more mature or lasting than a preteen crush.
I wasn’t sure what drew Jordan to her, either. He’s a kind and handsome prince, so presumably he could have any woman he chose. But he’s drawn to Hope, and the main thing that differentiates her from his previous lovers (they were all kind, he later tells her) is her childlike inexperience. So although he was portrayed as a good man, his attraction to Hope made me a bit uneasy.
Hope’s unusual beginnings hamper her in other ways, too. She can’t read. She can’t earn her own money. She has never held a job. Much of the time she has no autonomy over her own body. Of course, Jordan wants to rescue her (as she wants to save his life—the book is nothing if not a rescue fantasy). But the power differential in their relationship made their romance even more unsettling.
Just as Hope is portrayed as possessing simple goodness, kindness and wisdom, Elyssa is portrayed as selfish, rash, petty and shallow. There’s no subtlety to her characterization. If she weren’t endangering Jordan, his family and the kingdom, it might be possible to feel a little sympathy for her, since few people like her, but as it is, she’s too flat a character to be engaging.
The most irritating aspect of Elyssa’s characterization is that she is not only boring but so omnipresent in Hope’s life that we have to spend much of the book in her company. It’s a shame that she doesn’t have more dimension. When she first appeared on the page in book one, Echo in Onyx, and introduced herself to Marguerite as “the one nobody likes,” it made me want to like her.
There are positive qualities to Elyssa – her self-awareness, her honesty, her courage—but these are never explored as such. She remains superficial and dull to read about until the very end. Had the book leaned more into her unloved-little-girl past, Elyssa could have been more interesting.
Elyssa’s relationship to her echoes is full of missed opportunities too. The echoes are Elyssa’s perfect mirrors and have been with her since birth, so one would expect her to be used to their presence. But she’s resentful of it, and whereas most originals feel love and responsibility for their echoes and view the loss of an echo as akin to the loss of a limb, Elyssa begins to hit and torment hers as a child.
Is this self-hatred or self-harm? Does she hate Hope and her other echoes because they reflect her back to herself? If Elyssa and Hope are two sides of the same coin, does that mean that Elyssa is Hope’s shadow side, and Hope, Elyssa’s shining half? Has Elyssa suppressed all her own selfless impulses, her potential for good, and has that sublimated aspect of her found expression in Hope? These rich possibilities aren’t delved into.
Elyssa’s relationship with Marco is as inexplicable as Hope and Jordan’s. Why is Marco drawn to Elyssa? It can’t be due to her exterior beauty alone, because he’s with her long enough to know her as a person. It can’t be due to her personality, since there’s almost nothing attractive about that. Were Marco merely using her to further his own ends, their relationship would make a lot more sense, but that’s not the situation.
As for Elyssa, her attraction to him has at least as much to do with her need to rebel against her confined life as it does with genuine love for him.
Yet despite all this, part of me—the part that wanted to like Elyssa—rooted for her and Marco to a certain extent. I had some sympathy for Elyssa’s situation (that she might be forced to marry a man with no liking for her).
We are meant to view Marco’s desire for a revolution as bad because he wants to bring it about through violent means. I’m not in favor of violence, but I couldn’t fault Marco entirely. What drove him was the desire to be treated equally and to be able to marry Elyssa. Yes, he was ready (maybe even overeager) to use violence to accomplish these aims. But monarchs don’t cede their thrones willingly.
Reading Echo in Amethyst was a frustrating experience. I spent the book ping-ponging from the subtly disturbing Hope / Jordan relationship to the shallow Elyssa.
There are positive things to say about this book. When I wasn’t thinking too hard about the dynamics of their relationship, I found Hope and Jordan sympathetic and appealing. The plot concept—an echo who comes to life and consciousness—has a lot of freshness. The echoes are eerie and well-wrought and the triple goddess and her temples, fascinating.
The prose style is strong as well. Take this lovely description of a botanical garden in autumn:
The spiky skeletons of trees stenciled dramatic patterns across the cloudless sky; evergreens whispered together in shadowed groves, sharing their memories of summer. Ivy climbed in runners of blazing scarlet across gazebos and sundials and shivering statues.
Even so, and though I often find a lot to like in your books, this one didn’t work for me. C-.