Review by Hira Peracha
Penguin Random House, January 2022
400 pages, paperback, $24.99 CAD, 978-0-593-35165-9
Ages 12+, Grades 7+
Young Adult, Fantasy
All these years, I’d only heard it mentioned on the newsfeeds and in the queen’s speeches, like some sort of deadly plague that threatened to wipe out humanity if it wasn’t contained.
Magic had always been the monster hiding under my bed that I feared would grab my ankle with its clawed hand if it slipped out from beneath the sheets. But I never actually saw that monster since I’d always stayed tightly tucked in until morning.
It was a metaphor, of course. I didn’t believe there was a monster under my bed.
Well, not anymore.
Magic is evil. The Empire of Regara is very straightforward in its views on magic: Those who deal in it are sentenced to death. And 17-year-old Josslyn Drake knows better than anyone that those who use magic are not to be trusted. After Joss’s father, the former prime minister of the Regarian capital of Ironport, is assassinated by the dangerous warlock Lord Banyon, Queen Isadora makes sure that she is well taken care of. But when Joss finds herself contaminated with dark magic that allows her inside Lord Banyon’s memories, she teams up with the mysterious Jericho Nox, a 19-year-old thief, to expel all sources of magic from within her before the people she loves find out.
Echoes and Empires by Morgan Rhodes is a fantasy novel with an urban feel, due to the use of technology like phones. The story follows Joss in a first-person narrative – thus readers view the world through a somewhat clouded lens. Joss is immediately introduced as a rich and spoiled socialite who is very much sheltered from the world outside of her own. Despite this, she is very confident in her beliefs and her opinions do not seem easily swayed. At first, it seems like Joss fits right into the socialite world but, in my opinion, she seems isolated after her father’s death, even though the Queen is fond of her. She is an outcast, out of place even after leaving Ironport in her quest to remove the magic inside of her. The more time she spends away from her home in the prime minister’s residence, the more questions she is faced with and the more truth she is exposed to. As the story progresses, I see a change in Joss’s character as her focus on shopping and being popular shifts to magic, warlocks, and the history of the Empire of Regara.
Jericho’s character, on the other hand, experiences a more subtle growth in the novel. Jericho’s past and true personality are initially very hidden from Joss and the readers, with his history being revealed bit by bit. Joss seems way more of an open book in comparison to Jericho – though this could be due to the novel’s point of view. With Jericho being the mysterious and serious ally, he embodies the love interest and enemies-to-lovers tropes that are present in many young adult novels. Because of this, Joss and Jericho’s relationship is very much predictable – though I greatly enjoyed reading their snarky exchanges. Still, Rhodes does a great job incorporating twists into the main plot of the novel, which compensates for the expectedness of Joss and Jericho’s relationship.
Rhodes’s novel touches on themes of good vs. evil, trust, and politics. Readers will continuously question along with Joss whether certain characters are trustworthy or whether the dichotomy of good and evil is really that disparate. Joss has to work hard to view the present and the past without clouded lenses. Over the course of the novel, she must break out from blindly following the norm in order to take risks and figure things out for herself, which makes for an engaging read.
As book one of a duology, the novel ends with enough questions left to be explored in the second installment. You can expect to be taken on a wonderful adventure with Joss and Jericho in the fantastical Echoes and Empires.
Hira Peracha is a graduate from the Psychology and Creative Writing programs at the University of British Columbia. She enjoys reading and writing fiction and poetry.