Four books, 2500 pages, multiple worlds, loads of characters and incomprehensible technology. Was it time well spent? I am not really sure.
The story is fairly linear but quite long and complex so I am going to quote the blurb for each book in the quartet from Irvine’s site.
"This series is set two centuries after the time of The View from the Mirror, when the world is greatly changed as a result of what happened at the end of The Way between the Worlds. It's a dark world where the entire society is regimented for just one thing: survival in the endless war against the winged lyrinx.GeomancerTwo hundred years after the forbidding was broken, Santhenar is locked in war with the lyrinx - intelligent, winged predators from the void who will do anything to gain their own world. Despite the development of battle clankers and mastery of the crystals that power them, humanity is losing. The enemy is destroying their nodes of power, one by one.Tiaan, a lonely crystal worker in a clanker manufactory, is experimenting with an entirely new kind of crystal when she begins to have extraordinary visions. The crystal has woken her latent talent for geomancy, the most powerful of all the Secret Arts, and the most perilous. Geomancy is likely to kill her before she masters it. It is a talent that allies and enemies alike are desperate to control.Falsely accused of sabotage by her rival, Irisis, Tiaan flees for her life. She is also hunted by the lyrinx, Ryll, who plans to use her in his dreadful flesh-forming experiments. Only geomancy can save her. Struggling to control her talent, Tiaan follows her visions all the way to Tirthrax, greatest peak on all the Three Worlds, where a nightmare awaits her ...TetrachSanthenar is on its needs. The war with the alien lyrinx drags on, and humanity is losing it, but there is worse to come. The Aachim have invaded with an irresistible force - a fleet of battle constructs. Cursing humanity for the loss of Aachan and his own clan, the embittered Aachim leader, Vithis, demands half the world in reparation. The council is in no position to resist. But even if they agree to his demands, can anything satisfy his thirst for vengeance?Tiaan is in despair. Her life lies in ruins, and now she is being hunted through the abandoned city of Tirthrax by an implacable Nish, who blames her for the attack.The future of the world rests in the hands of three flawed people: Tiaan, whose geomancy holds the key to the power that can save or destroy them; Nish, who has sworn to bring her to justice; and Irisis, whose great talents are hidden even from herself.AlchymistTiaan is held prisoner by a vengeful Vithis, who is determined to extract her geomantic secrets at any cost. For his failings, Nish has been cast out and branded a traitor while Irisis, accused of high treason, has been forced to flee for her life.The fate of humanity is dependent on the survival of one wily old man, Scrutator Xervish Flydd. But Flydd has been blamed for the defeat at Snizort. His enemy, the vicious Chief Scrutator Ghorr, has expelled Flydd from the Council and stripped him of all rights. Now Flydd is condemned to die a brutish death as a slave, hauling ironclad clankers out of the battlefield mire until his heart bursts under the strain.ChimaeraAll resistance has been crushed. In a few minutes of overwhelming violence the Council's air-dreadnought fleet has destroyed Fiz Gorgo's defences. Xervish Flydd, Irisis and their allies have been condemned to die in a brutal aerial spectacle designed to reinforce Chief Scrutator Ghorr's power and majesty.Nish is their one remaining hope. But Nish is trapped in a burning watchtower, and hunted by both the scrutators and his former lover, Ullii, whose twin brother he accidentally killed. Before Nish can hope to rescue his friends, he must convince Ullii to spare him, then overcome the most powerful cabal of mancers in the world as well as the Council's four hundred crack guards.And even if he succeeds, to win the war the allies still have to defeat the scrutators and overthrow Nennifer, the corrupt Council's dread bastion, before the rampaging lyrinx overwhelm all Santhenar."
Comprendo? The Well of Echoes is a continuation of Irvine’s earlier quartet, The View from the Mirror, where he introduces his three worlds. A cataclysmic event creates a portal from an inter-dimensional plane called the Void, which separates the three worlds catapulting terrifying void dwelling creatures onto one of the three worlds – Santhenar. The lyrinx are the only sentient beings among these creatures and become involved in a brutal war with the humans who inhabit Santhenar. In Geomancer, the war has been going on for a couple of centuries and humanity seems to be losing. The rest of the books in the quartet follow several characters as they navigate their lives through the complexities of an inter-species war.
I think I first came across Irvine and Geomancer on the Speculative Scotsman who wrote that both the story and the style of writing were far more engaging than Irvine’s first quartet. I felt the story was interesting but not compelling enough to make you read four books. So why the hell did I read all of them? I quite liked Tiaan who Irvine initially proposes as his heroine, an ill-treated genius underdog (culturally pertinent when you learn that Irvine is an Australian). However, after Geomancer, Irvine takes the focus off Tiaan, becoming increasingly involved with two characters, Nish and Irisis who begin The Well of Echoes not just as Tiaan’s antagonists, but her tormentors. So much so that in Alchymist and Chimaera, I felt Tiaan was getting very little face time and she was the only reason I was intent on finishing the quartet.
George R.R. Martin makes the point of view style look deceptively simple but in the last month, I have come across two writers who make a hash of it. Joe Abercrombie’s error was in creating far too short POV sections marked by poor transitions. Irvine, on the other hand, attempts to show an event through multiple perspectives in a sequence of chapters. In A Song of Ice and Fire, this approach creates a wonderful play between gaps in your awareness, assumptions you make and their resolution. In The Well of Echoes, however, this style seems more like an unnecessary repetition of events after the cat’s let out of the bag. I frequently found myself skimming through sections where character A is witness to a critical event only to have the same event witnessed by character B in a subsequent chapter with barely any additional insight.
The books in The Well of Echoes are of the type that makes you feel ever so slightly, to use the Australian word for it, daggy. There is a lot of focus on emotions and relationships instead of world building. If I had wanted the former, I wouldn’t have been reading this genre. Irvine misses valuable opportunities to flesh out cities and scenes in original and memorable ways. The only cities that are described with any kind of love, Thirtrax and Stassor come off as updated versions of Tolkein’s Moria and Superman’s lair respectively.
I also agree with the Speculative Scotsman that the title Geomancer is inappropriate - in fact I would argue that all the titles are a case of over-promise under-deliver.
So, was it time well spent? I’m still not certain but I am sure of one thing though, I won’t be hunting down the next quartet (give this man a friggin award - that terribly opportunistic ‘to be continued conclusion’ irked me to no end) in the Three Worlds Cycle anytime soon.