Today I am delighted to be reviewing The Echoed Realm, the second book in The Chaos Cycle Duology by A.J. Vrana which is out in the world TODAY. The first book in the series – The Hollow Gods – was one of the first books I ever requested on netgalley (you can find the review HERE), and it blew me away so I leapt at the chance to read and review an arc of The Echoed Realm and Dreamwalker I loved this book!
Parliament House Press is also releasing special hardback editions of both books on October 26th of this year, and the pre-order campaign is up and as pre-order incentives all hardbacks are signed and come with a custom-made bookplate and a postcard of new character art. (You can check these out below – as well as the stunning cover for the book – the cover for The Hollow Gods is still to be revealed!
You can pre-order HERE
Disclaimer – I received an e-arc in exchange for an honest review, all thoughts are my own.
Miya’s world ended in Black Hollow.
It’s been three years since the Dreamwalker upended her life and left her with a heavy burden. A fledgling to the ethereal realm, Miya stumbles into the nightmares of those haunted by spectres. Little does she know, one of them is coming for her, clutching a dark secret abreast.
Kai has found a new purpose with his companion, but the price is his freedom. Bound and beholden to Miya, he struggles to adjust to his new role as her vanguard.
Meanwhile, Mason discovers he may be a pawn trapped in a web of schemes. Was his time in Black Hollow an accident, or was it only the beginning of some greater machination?
As Black Hollow’s bloody stain spreads beyond its wooded borders, Miya fights to evade a past she barely understands. The Dreamwalker’s legacy is a vise grip, and it isn’t letting go. Primordial horrors draw near, fables come alive, and long-buried histories rise from the grave, ready to hunt.
Sharpen your claws and bloody your teeth. There’s fear to be sown.
One of the things I loved most about The Hollow Gods was how Vrana used language and storytelling to reflect the tale that was being told, giving it that feel of a folktale, only one that was being woven around you as you read so that you were fully immersed in it. In The Echoed Realm that feeling has been dialled up to twelve, and it was fantastic. The Hollow Gods built the foundations, let us learn about some of the lore and the characters, but ultimately left us on the tantalising hunt for answers to questions, because Vrana knew just how to balance the intricacy of the world she had created with a sense of ambiguity that would stretch out into this second book. The Echoed Realm reaches out and pulls you into a twisting, dark labyrinth that is built on those very foundations, and here in dark and the twists of time and dreams, you get to find their answers.
That is the first major difference – the darkness. The Hollow Gods dabbled in the shadows, and there were wonderful tendrils of horror stretching through the story, but it felt as though it was in the twilight with just enough lingering light to hold the darkness at bay. The Echoed Realm on the other hand is a moonless night for the most part, with stars appearing on the horizon. It’s dark. What success there was at the end of the previous book, has not meant that everything is all right with the world. It’s not. And I love that connection between the two, that here we get to see the consequences for those events and the character’s choices, and that it is continuing to play out. It’s always nice to see a good payoff for a character’s actions, but it’s fascinating to see the fallout – the angst and darkness – when that payoff isn’t as positive as you would want it to do, and Vrana plays on that beautifully. I was a little unsure about how it would work with the time skip, but it works really well, and it makes sense with the shift in the mood of the book as the darkness has had time to build.
As has the emotions.
We return to the characters we met and loved from The Hollow Gods, as well as a host of new ones, and once again we get to see Vrana’s skill with the characters. This series has always been character-driven, focusing on the relationships between the characters and their pasts and present, delving deep into the secrets, the lies, their path to learning the truth about Black Hollow and about themselves, and as with everything about The Echoed Realm that reaches new levels. There are a lot more moving parts here, and a stronger sense of a river surging forwards than in the first book, but the focus remains on the character. It was fantastic to return to Miya, Kai and Mason – and to meet the new characters. What I really loved though, was that although there was that familiarity, there was also obvious change. The time-skip wasn’t going past unmarked, that time between now and the events of the first book had left a mark and shaped their relationships – and not just in how Kai and Miya were now bound, but in multiple ways, some subtle some less so, but also in how it had changed the characters. They had learned and grown – not always in the best way – and it just makes for such a realistic edge that you’re immediately pulled back into their story.
That feeling of forward momentum and character growth continues throughout The Echoed Realm, and the way Vrana brings them to life on the page means that we’re fully immersed as we watch them trying to deal with the impact of those events, and with the unfolding darkness around them.
Miya remains my favourite, and in many ways, her journey was the most personal – because she is trying to learn who and what she is, while in the shadow of her predecessors, having to balance that connection and the weight of their choices with her own and those around her in the here and now while trying to find her own path. I like that she makes mistakes, that she gets lost, but that for all the setbacks and struggles, she keeps moving forwards. She really felt as though she came into her own in this book. Mason was always a little harder to connect to, perhaps because he feels like a pillar of ‘reality in a world that doesn’t bend that way, he has good intentions, but as they say ‘the road to hell is paved with good intentions and in some ways, it feels like he had the biggest transformation, as he had to learn to accept that ‘the truth’ is not some rigid, definable thing and that sometimes you have to accept that there isn’t an explanation. Kai – our bad boy – has turned out to be a surprise in many ways. He’s always had more depth than a typical bad boy character might have, and I enjoyed his arc in the first book, and Vrana has taken that to new levels in this book and to some extent, his journey is almost as personal as Miya’s (which makes sense considering the bond between them). In some ways, Kai is simpler, and that means his chapters had some of the strongest impacts because the growth and emotion were just so clear and raw – and your heart can’t help but go out to him.
Everything about The Echoed Realm felt MORE. It was darker and more intense, without losing that character focus, and the quiet moments in between. The world and the lore which was so enticing in the first book has expanded considerably, and I like how Vrana gave us those threads and questions in The Hollow Gods and followed them through to this book. It feels like she has drawn back the curtain to show us the full majesty of the world that she has woven, and what a world – it’s so richly imagined, both past and present – and the use of flashbacks to show us that past, to show us the decisions and threads that led to the now was masterfully done and didn’t stop that forward momentum. This still felt like a folktale, just one that was whispered in hushed voices under a starless sky, and the prose just seals the deal.
I went into this one with high expectations because I loved the first book so much, and The Echoed Realm was so much more and the perfect way to finish out this duology. It was wonderfully, deliciously dark without losing all the charm that makes it stand out. I would absolutely recommend this to anyone with a love for dark tales, folklore and character-driven tales.
If you’ve read it, or read it in the future, please feel free to shout at me about this fantastic book.