Sunday, June 11, 2023

BOOK REVIEW: Ocean's Echo by Everina Maxwell

This is the second book set in the Universe of Winter's Orbit written by Everina Maxwell. Ocean’s Echo is not a direct sequel, but it has numerous similarities to Winter's Orbit. Both books are centered around a male-male romance. One would think that this feature would make Ocean’s Echo resonate with me, but unfortunately, it was not enough to win my favor in this case. 

I don’t have a lot of experience with the romance genre, but it is my understanding that it is dominated by female authors. This fact is apparently true of male-male romance as well. I’m not saying that women can’t write effective gay love stories (there are clear examples of amazing gay romances like Heartstopper and The Song of Achilles that have women authors) but there’s something about the romantic interactions between the two male protagonists in Ocean’s Echo that just seems “off” or inauthentic to me. I had an ill-defined feeling of unease while reading Winter's Orbit but I think that perhaps I was so impressed by the very existence of a viable space opera with a male-male romance at its core that I didn't want to quibble about its authenticity. However in Ocean’s Echo my misgivings about the verisimilitude of the gay romance swamps my generally positive impressions of the other parts of the narrative.

In Ocean’s Echothe two male protagonists are Tennalhin Halkana (Tennal) and Lieutenant Surit Yeni (Suri). They are very different people but they have several things in common; primary among these is that they both have very powerful mental powers. Their powers are complementary: Tennal is a “reader,” someone who is able to read the minds of others (i.e. a telepath) while Suri is an “architect,” someone who can “write” or force other people to do what they want by mental force. Oftentimes, an architect is mentally bonded (or “synced”) with a reader in such a way that the architect completely takes over the reader’s mind and uses their combined mental powers to write and read those around them.

Some people have described Winter's Orbit as romance with SF and Ocean’s Echo as SF with romance. In other words, in the first book, the romance storyline was subordinate to the political and space opera themes while in Ocean’s Echo the balance is reversed. I suppose I agree with this characterization of the books, but from my perspective it doesn’t tell the whole story because I liked (or at least didn’t recoil from) the romance elements in Winter's Orbit but the romance elements in Ocean’s Echo didn’t work for me at all.

I think the main source of my adverse reaction to the love story in Ocean’s Echo is simply the nature of the characters involved. In Winter's Orbit, the two guys were very different from each other, socially, politically, and even culturally. One is a mess and flamboyant and the other is reserved and careful. But they both seemed interesting (and even attractive) to some extent, so that I was hopeful and invested in the resolution of their relationship. In Ocean’s Echo, the two guys are also very different, with Tennal being something of a chaos monster (who has a powerful planet-wide politician as his aunt) and Surit being a dutiful member of the military (who happens to have an infamous traitor as his mother). I mostly identified with Surit, but Tennal has the bigger role and probably must be considered the primary character in the book. However, to me Tennal just is not very likable, so I never really saw what Surit would see in him and why I would/should root for these two guys to get together or fall in love. This is my primary problem with the book. I mean, how can you have a romance novel if the reader really doesn't like one of the protagonists in the couple?

To be clear, there are several aspects of Ocean’s Echo that I do like. For example, it includes multiple SF elements: spaceships, astronomical anomalies, alien artifacts, man-made habitats, and various advanced technologies. However, as I mentioned earlier, in this book the romance storyline is more prominent than the space opera elements and this was a decided downer for me.

I hope that in future books Maxwell continues to feature same-sex romances in space opera contexts; I think this is a great idea and I would love to read more books like this. I just hope that future books include characters that are more realistic and likable!

Title: Ocean’s Echo.
Everina Maxwell.
Format: Kindle.
Length: 464 pages.
Publisher: Scribner's.
Date Published: November 1, 2022.
Date Read: February 20, 2023.

GOODREADS RATING: ★★☆☆  (3.0/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: B (3.0/4.0).



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