Reviewed by Jessica Pelton
After several years of becoming increasingly entangled with the mysterious, destructive figures known as God and The Other, Ophelia’s fantastical journey finally comes to a head in this fourth and final novel of the Mirror Visitor quartet by Christelle Dabos.
Dabos’ fantasy world is a steampunk alternative Earth that has been split into large floating landmasses known as Arks. Each Ark is headed by powerful figures that are essentially reclusive monarchs with unique fantastic powers and fragile memories. Living on these Arks are a diverse collection of magical families, each with their own family powers that they use to climb the cutthroat sociopolitical ladder. Ophelia, our quiet, clumsy heroine, begins this series working quietly in her museum, taking advantage of her family power of animism which allows her to see the pasts of any object that she touches, as well as her ability to travel through mirrors. She is then forced to travel to another Ark for an arranged marriage with the cold, enigmatic Thorn, whose precarious political standing forces Ophelia to become increasingly enmeshed in the dangerous world of the Pole. Navigating people who can manipulate space and create complex illusions, as well as cause pain and injury with only their minds, Ophelia must find a way to stay afloat amidst brutal family politics. Simultaneously, she becomes increasingly aware of dangerous figures far more powerful than she ever expected that are manipulating the world from the wings.
In The Storm of Echoes, Ophelia and Thorn are now on the Ark of Babel, a hierarchical hub of strictly labeled diversity and arduous scholarship where peace is valued above all else and will be achieved by any means necessary. As Babel tries to keep itself from falling apart, both literally and not, Ophelia and Thorn insert themselves into the mysterious Deviations Observatory, which they believe to be the key to unravelling the meaning of the echoes, the mystery of God and the Other, their involvement with the shattering of the world, and how Ophelia seems to connect to it all.
Although this series is classified as YA, there is no doubt that it can be appreciated by adult fantasy readers as well. The world and its politics are both nuanced and expansive, with cutthroat politics and vivid, complex characters that undergo careful development throughout the course of the series. The Storm of Echoes completes Ophelia’s journey of self-discovery and development with a layered discussion about the concept of identity, how it expands and contracts as each individual navigates their own journey. There is also an element of political commentary in the book’s presentation of Babel’s ideals and the perils of holding onto them with too firm a grasp, as well as criticism of blind loyalty to strict hierarchical power structures. The book briefly raises questions about immigration and the role of machines in the work force that grounds this fantastical story with elements of social relevance. Additionally, the novel explores the idea of peace- what it means, whether or not it can be achieved, and if it can exist without opposite balancing forces. But these aspects of the story are just rich undertones to the phantasmagoric world that Ophelia leads you through, with writing that grounds this expansive fantasy and its surprisingly abstract concepts with simple moments of quiet complexity in the characters’ relationships. Ophelia comes to know a diverse cast of characters throughout the course of this series, from a man born with his limbs on the wrong sides of his body to a janitor suffering from chronic bad luck and an exceptional sense of smell, but her relationship with Thorn specifically becomes the solid, shining thread woven into the story that, although subtle, gives this book real heart.
An additional interesting aspect to Dabos’s writing is the inclusion of vignettes from points of view other than Ophelia’s, many of which leave the reader wondering whether these chapters are memories or happening in the present, who the perspective belongs to, and whether those perspectives are even from an actual person. At times seeming to help the reader along, and at others only complicating the mysteries woven into the story, these chapters work to artfully build suspense and propel the reader through the pages. As the last book in the series, this suspense is magnified by the overarching feeling that everything will finally be revealed, and yet Dabos keeps the story twisting until the very last page, because nothing and no one in this series is exactly how it appears.
Imaginative, emotional, and suspenseful, A Storm of Echoes is a powerful conclusion to a masterful fantasy series. With characters that are just as flawed as they are lovable, and a fantasy world that is as deadly as it is beautiful, the Mirror Visitor quartet is a treat to read and valuable addition to the fantasy genre. Anyone looking to pick up a truly unique fantasy series would benefit from adding this one to their list.