Review: Ocean’s Echo – Everina Maxwell

Review: Ocean’s Echo – Everina MaxwellOcean's Echo
by Everina Maxwell
Publisher: Tor Books
Publication Date: November 1, 2022
Genres: Mystery, Non-Fiction
Pages: 480
Source: Neon Rainbow

I received an advance review copy of this book from Neon Rainbow. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

My rating: One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

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 neuromodifcation 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?

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4 stars icon categories_m_m romance icon scifi icon

I don’t know what I did to be blessed with the sequels to two of my favorite books of last year (Winter’s Light and A Marvellous Light) coming out on the same day. Though, while this book is technically set in the same universe as its predecessor, it’s not even in the same planetary system, so you can easily read this without having read the other (but why would you when the other one involves only-one-tent and bear-like alien creatures??). As the author said before, space is gay, and in this case it’s also heavily pine-scented (because of the pining? get it? no?).

“I’m good at picking up the worst side of human nature,” he said. “Or gossip. One of those.”

After his latest screw-up, Tennal’s aunt, former military and current high-level politician, has him conscripted into the military. Due to genetic experimentation, a segment of the population on Orshan are architects, capable of essentially mind control, and a much smaller segment are readers, who can read minds and also typically have abilities that help with spaceship navigation. Considering a reader led a very public and very messy rebellion several decades ago, readers – like Tennal – are viewed with suspicion and most – like Tennal – chose to hide their abilities. But the conscription is even worse than it seems, as she intends to force him to sync with a military architect, meaning that he will essentially be powerless to stop the architect from controlling him whenever they feel like it. Enter Surit, a meticulous rule-follower who’s family history has relegated him to out of the way posts and boring jobs – until he’s ordered to sync with Tennal. But when he realizes that it’s not Tennal’s choice, he refuses, and they hatch a plan to fake the sync. But something doesn’t add up, and before they know it, Tennal and Surit’s actions – or inactions – could have ramifications of galactic consequence.

“Do you want a written order? Might cover you when the shit hits the fan.”
Surit straightened. “I’ve never needed an order,” he said stiffly, “to do the right thing.”
When Tennal met his eyes, Surit saw a brief glint of that heat he’d seen before. “I know,” Tennal said, “it’s infuriating.”

It would be incredibly easy to dislike Tennal in the first few chapters. He comes off as a spoiled rich kid who’s squandered all his chances and a complete embarrassment to his aunt, a highly-placed politician. But inside he’s a mess, convinced he can never be anything more than a failure, that he hurts those around him just by being there, that he’s not worth anyone’s time or attention. Surit’s the child of the leader of the reader rebellion. He’s grown up fascinated with what happened with his mother and determined to prove himself. He’s a rule follower, but more important to him is doing what’s right – like not syncing to an unwilling and probably illegally conscripted reader. Basically, they’re both disasters, just in completely opposite ways.

Unlike the previous book, the romance takes a backstage to the political machinations. While there’s quite a bit of pining (as well as so many conflicted emotions when they realize they’re falling in love with each other), their relationship is initially more an alliance than anything else. But the only one each can trust is each other and slowly that morphs into a friendship. Besides, even if they wanted a romantic relationship (which they don’t, nope, not even a little bit), Surit’s not the type of person to do short-term and Tennal’s on his way out of the star system (and his aunt’s hands) as soon as possible.

“There should be an outcry. This is a scandal.”
This made everyone look at him in incredulity. “But everything else is just fine and dandy?” Tennal said. “We’re okay with a coup every now and then?”
“Well,” the medic said, “not when you put it like that.”

Most of the tension comes from them worrying that the fake sync will be found out.. until they realize they have even bigger problems than that. There’s a lot of political machinations, really delightfully interesting ones. I had so many running theories throughout the book as to what was really happening and what actually happened did not disappoint. I especially loved that Surit’s crew was its own little found family, including Istara (yes, please continue busting Tennal’s chops over everything).

Overall, easily 4.5 stars. These books are absolutely delightful and well worth rereading, and I can’t wait to see where Everina Maxwell goes next!

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