by Kent Wayne
Genre: Science Fiction, Dystopian
Final Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Most of us change gradually—over the course of decades. For Crusader Atriya, it will happen in a single, agonizing day. On the edge of a decaying cityscape, Atriya struggles to hold onto his identity as he faces death from both enemies and allies alike. In the process, his old self is torn away, and he catches a glimpse of what he may one day become.
Twelve hundred years ago, humanity left Earth to settle on Echo. Despite hopes for a golden age, an era of darkness fell. Government and corporations merged into the Regime. The military and police merged into the Department of Enforcement. Over half the planet is covered by crumbling cityscapes and the elite live high above, removed and remote from the greater populace on the moon-city of Ascension. Hope lies in Atriya, but before he can break the cycle of darkness and ignorance on Echo, he has to do it within himself.
First Sentence: Eight Enforcer platoons were standing by in dropships, waiting to hear that the warehouse was prepped.
Wow! Just… wow! I gave 5 stars to a book that is so far out of my typical genre of enjoyment, and I regret absolutely nothing! The Taste of Ashes not only didn’t disappoint, it left me craving more!
The story picks up right where it left off from Volume 1, Approaching Shatter. Atriya is about to fight the most epic battle of his life (or at least up to this point in his life), but he’s going into it knowing that he has been set up. As soon as said battle is over, his comrades intend to kill him, as a result of the events that transpired in Volume 1.
The events all take place in a day, which might lead some readers to say it drags as Atriya slaughters Dissident after Dissident, by the hundreds, over and over again, but I didn’t feel it dragged. You cannot rush a masterpiece. You cannot rush through a battle as though it’s an afterthought, particularly if it’s a battle that changes someone for the rest of his life. In a battle like that, every second that passes by counts and cannot be glanced over. Every casualty counts. You have to feel each moment as if in real time or else you won’t fully grasp the situation and what meaning it holds.
The scenes are beautifully described, from the downright gory and heart-wrenching deaths to the beautiful colors from the beams of the futuristic weapons. Painting a vivid visual picture of what’s going on is one of Kent Wayne’s best strengths. We see it in the first volume, but his talent for imagery fully shines in this one.
I’ll admit that as the events played out in my head, I pictured it as an anime. I couldn’t help it. I love anime so much and this series would make one hell of an awesome one. I think what I loved the most were the connections I was able to make between the outward battle Atriya was fighting and the inner battles that conflicted him.
I enjoyed the subtle shift of humanizing the enemies. In other words, we start out with the perception that Atriya and the others have long been adapted to, which is a bit like a video game. Shoot and kill as many NPC enemies as possible. Do your job, regardless of how much you might hate your team members or how incompetent they might be. Regardless of what your personal motives may be.
Yes, the Dissident soldiers struck me as NPCs in a video game at first, no humanity to them, so no problem seeing them wiped out in the hundreds, but as the story moves further along, we start seeing more and more traces of humanity in them, as does Atriya. Particularly a scene when Dissident survivors are taken prisoner.
I don’t want to get into much of the situation with Atriya’s potential assassination by his team because I feel like I would be giving too much away, but I can say that I reflected on it for a while during the moments I had to put the book down to do my reality chores. At one point I’m almost scoffing at Atriya, “Why the hell are you helping these scumbags that are going to kill you anyway? Get the hell out while you can and join the Dissidents if you have to. At least they seem to have something to fight for!”
Well… it just isn’t that simple. Matters of the human experience seldom are. And despite the fact that I found myself wanting to label the Regime soldiers as the bad guys and smack Atriya for not fully accepting that’s the side he is fighting on (or so I say), I knew that I was just falling into the trap of a black an white perspective. It seems that perspective is one of the many issues that Atriya himself is beginning to fight against, just like most of us at one point or another. He is seeing that it’s really so much more than that. It was Liber’s character that saved me from that mindset. I liked his character a lot. I can’t put the Regime soldiers can’t all be put into the bad guy box. It doesn’t work like that, no matter how bad we might want it to. If I was in the story though, I’d probably be a Dissident.
Getting back to the actual review (I know you were wondering what happened to it), the characters are realistic and well developed. There’s one I’d like to mention in particular: his partner, Clement. What a backstabbing, self-serving, sadistic, cowardly bastard! And guess what? Despite that fact, there were scenes where I had no other choice but to cheer for him. Then I’d go back to wanting his head to pop off and leave a bloody mess. And then I’d have to cheer him on again. And it is that sort of conflict and irony that made me enjoy the story that much more. The characters are real, believable and fleshed out. Exactly what is expected of a 5-star book.
One more thing I wanted to mention that intrigued me: the Enhanciles. Damn. Enhanced (to a degree, Frankenstein-ish) super-powered Dissident warriors. Not only are they super friggin’ cool, but there’s a certain symbolism— at least for the two that appeared in this story— seems to represent (or at least from my view). I could be totally wrong and looking too much into it, as I tend to do. I don’t want to give too much away though. Just read the story! I cannot recommend it enough!
He couldn’t help but think that he was watching the death and birth of galaxies, each one a reality in and of itself, but also a piece of some massive and indescribable mechanism.
The Crusader took a deep breath and mentally switched gears, shoving his mind back into the hellish, hyper-alert state that accompanied battle. He loved it with a fundamental depth of his being—loved it even though he knew that it tore at his sanity.
“Please—you have to understand. I’m. Sorry. It’s. Why. I. Fight.” Hernandez was back to speaking in halting gasps. He coughed, then asked, “Why. Do. You. Fight?” Atriya’s mouth stayed shut in a tight, sealed line. Because I want to kill others. Because I want to feel the shadow of death grow long on my back, and I want to outrun it just one more time. Because there is nothing purer, nothing more respectful, than two people doing their damndest to stay alive by trying to erase each other. Because it’s the last thing that makes any damned sense.
What’s the best way to approach life? she’d asked. I don’t know, he’d replied. Verus: Approach life with nothing to lose. As if you are already dead.
Wolf got chased away from his kill, Atriya thought. It was mildly pleasing to him, albeit on an extremely petty level. And he doesn’t give a shit about what the rest of the pack wants. But he’ll fall in line. For the sake of staying in the pack.
And then, just to himself, he uttered the two most powerful words in all of existence: Fuck it.
The sane, normal world was filled with ideals to fight for, but after being beaten down by colossal suffering and endless futility, those same ideals were revealed to be empty, hollow indulgences.
Mutilated corpses sprinkled the streets. Most of them were workers—people who’d wanted nothing more than to eke out comfort and get on with their lives. As they blinked by the bodies, Atriya thought: Isn’t that what everyone wants?
…Maybe it’s what people want, but some of us think the only way to survive is by raining down punishment—keep the ones on the ground from climbing up.
Final Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Other Books in the Echo Series: