When Matt, my co-author, stepped in to review Daniella Bova's Tears Of Paradox, he made a very important observation: Indy publishing - aided by the eeeeeevil, "literature-destroying" Amazon - is a remarkably vibrant "proving ground" for aspiring authors. I have had the privilege to read quite a few Amazon-published novels and have consequently discovered many talented writers who, for various reasons, may have been unfairly ignored by legacy publishers who, to maintain their brands, accept a very narrow range of works. Kal Spriggs' Echo of the High Kings is one illustrative example. Like Bova's book, Echo is somewhat unpolished -- but like Bova's book, Echo reveals its author's raw talent when it comes to crafting complex characters and complex worlds.
It took me a while to finish reading Echo. Now don't get me wrong: This is not because the book is awful and/or tedious. Still, this novel is long, covers a lot of ground, and contains a wealth of complicated scene-setting. Spriggs has tasked himself with juggling a "mega-ensemble," and at times, this leads him down alley ways that, while interesting, don't (yet) feel important to the central plot. Indeed, until the back third of the book, there were moments when I wasn't quite sure where Spriggs was actually going with his cast -- moments when I had no sense of the ultimate goal. Moreover, by the end of the novel, nothing was actually resolved, which may frustrate those readers who expect books to stand on their own. Granted, this novel is intended to be the first of a series -- but even within a series, individual books should satisfy at least some of the reader's desire for an "end".
On the upside, the multiple threads and side stories do reveal the thoughtfulness of Spriggs' world-building. You can really feel that Eoriel is a world steeped in history -- a colony world on which many different cultures and kingdoms have left their marks, building societies on each other's ruins. After finishing the novel, I definitely do want to learn more about Eoriel's past and how it has shaped Eoriel's disorganized and fascinating present.
Another thing that becomes apparent as you read Echo is Spriggs' ability to create complex, multi-layered characters. Hector, for example, is one of Spriggs' principal "villains" - a man who has made deals with objectively awful people to further his own ends - but even he has comprehensible motives for his actions. Indeed, said character is strongly reminiscent of other characters I've adored who've allowed their single-minded focus on protecting their nations to cloud their moral judgments. And I get the sense that Hector's arc could be going in a direction we may not expect -- that he may still retain some small spark of heroism that will become apparent as the plot of this saga continues to unfold.
On the whole, Echo is a book that could use some firm editing to tighten the plot -- but it is still very much worth a read. As an epic fantasy writer, Spriggs has a great deal of potential, and I'm eager to see where he takes the Eoriel Saga in future books.
Final Verdict: Recommended