Echo Cycle is a bit of a weird book. It meshes together two very different tones in two interconnected narratives that shouldn’t work, yet somehow Patrick Edwards not only makes it feel right but makes it bloody good too!
Echo Cycle is set in a world where Britain has left the European Union and become an isolationist nation. Whilst Britain has suffered extreme poverty and strife the rest of Europe has come through their own shaky period of upheaval to become a powerful group of nations. Sensing that they can no longer shut themselves away from the rest of the world, a delegation is sent to Rome, the centre of the new European Confederacy. One of the members of this group is Lindon Banks, who visited the city two decades before on a school trip, where his classmate Winston Monk vanished.
When Lindon runs into Winston on the streets of Rome, where he appears to have spent years living rough, he is told a fantastical tale: one where Winston found himself transported back to the year 68 CE, and lived his life in ancient Rome.
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These two stories – a crumbling Britain on the brink of collapse after isolating itself, and a teenager magically transported through time to live in ancient Rome – don’t seem too connected on the surface, and it takes a while of reading the book to figure out just how they are. Not just the fact that Lindon and Winston end up meeting and their stories intertwining, but how the history of the Roman Empire, and the rise and fall of leaders and the change of regimes reflects modern politics more closely than you’d first think.
The book also feels incredibly timely thanks to the recent withdrawal of the UK from the European Union. This is where I get personal for a moment, and brutally honest: I think it’s a mistake. I voted against it. I have family from Italy that have lived here for 50 years, and who I’m afraid will be deported. I think the whole thing was motivated by fear, xenophobia, and hate. And Echo Cycle seems to kind of agree with me. It’s not stated what Patrick Edwards thinks of the real world situation, but considering how he paints an isolationist Britain suffering on its own I think he might lean the same way that I do.
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Because of these personal feelings Echo Cycle managed to draw out some very strong emotions. I got absolutely angry at the members of the British delegation who were being racist bastards, looking down their noses at people doing so much better than them just because they’re foreign. I felt a great sense of sadness when Lindon spoke about how poor the medical care was, how food was scarce, and power rationed, because that’s something I actually worry about. And the book almost made me cry when he spoke about how the LGBTQ+ community was stamped out in Britain, because I’m expecting something like that to really happen.
The book drew upon all the worst case scenarios about what could happen to Britain in our future. It affected me more that I thought it would. If it wasn’t for the sections where we jump into ancient Rome to see Monk living as a slave or fighting as a gladiator, I think the book might have been too depressing for me finish it. Luckily, the sad parts are fleeting, and the book contains not only magic and mystery to lift you up but a sense of hope too.
I came to see Echo Cycle as a story of survival. It wasn’t just about the survival of a teenage boy dropped into ancient history, literally fighting for his life at times, but about the survival of a nation. It gives the message that despite what we may choose to do, if things go horribly wrong, there’s always the chance for them to be set right again. If Britain suffers alone we can still try to rejoin our neighbours, we can still have hope of a brighter tomorrow. I just hope it won’t take 50 years and magic to get us there.
Echo Cycle is out on 10th March from Titan Books.