ARC Review: Echo: The Curse of the Blackwood Witches by Yasmine Maher

Echo: The Curse of the Blackwood Witches

Echo: The Curse of the Blackwood Witches by Yasmine Maher: a young woman in form-fitting jeans tanktop, pants, and boots, kneeling on a glowing octagram drawing in chalk and alight, with her fist planted in the center of the star, while ravaged skyscrapers and a swirl of smoke-storm and dust surround her.Series: Standalone

Author: Yasmine Maher

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Release Date: October 10th, 2022

Book Description:

Master forbidden magic, destroy an immortal enemy, and prevent the apocalypse—all before college finals.

Echo Blackwood has no idea she’s a witch, but after supernatural beasts attack her sister’s wedding, she discovers her long-dormant magic, and she’s quickly catapulted into an impossible war.

The novice witch is the only one who can stop the immortal Jivar—but her magic hides a sinister secret. The dark arts run through her veins, and using their power could cost her soul.

Desperate to control her magic and uncover the truth about herself, Echo and her newfound allies must race against time to defeat Jivar before he unleashes his fury and destroys the world.

Can Echo use the powers of evil to save the world? Or will fighting fire with fire only end in her ruin?

Rating: Fast-paced, Intricate Setup, Complex Characters and Themes, Original

The First Review:

I received a free ARC of ECHO: THE CURSE OF THE BLACKWOOD WITCHES. This has not affected my opinions or rating.

Echo: The Curse of the Blackwood Witches is one of those books I picked up – or more like, asked to ARC read – because I’d met the author (on Twitter). Urban Fantasy isn’t usually my genre, and some of what’s in the blurb – well, I’m a different kind of reader than most, and I tend to avoid ‘Can she use the powers of evil to save the world?’ kind of blurbs unless I already know a bit. There’s just so many ways the trope can be done wrong! But I’d talked to Yasmine, and chatted about her book, so I was pretty interested in how she was going to handle things.

Echo did not disappoint. I really, really love how that was handled, but I’m pretty sure it’s what’s usually considered a major spoiler, so I will share it in the “Continued Review!” I will say that I genuinely think Echo’s forbidden magic grimoire and how she discovers herself, how her magic develops, is one of the best things in the book and sets it apart.

As for being urban fantasy … it’s urban fantasy. Not that I read the genre a lot, so it might be really different from most urban fantasy and I wouldn’t know, but the urban fantasy elements did distract me from the story at times. One of several reasons I avoid urban fantasy is that there are a number of elements of the modern world that I find disturbing and would rather avoid, something that can be hard in a contemporary setting. I have something of a love-hate relationship with the concept of urban/contemporary fantasy, and that extended to the setting in Echo. Some of those elements that make me avoid the genre were definitely present. At the same time, I really enjoy the basic premise to a lot of urban fantasy – that there’s magic to the world, and it’s hidden so most people are blinded to its existence.

And that was definitely present in Echo. Once it’s over, even direct witnesses of magic forget it ever happened, and come up with all sorts of other explanations to explain the effects of the magic, complete with fake memories. They think people they saw die never showed up to the wedding reception and all sorts of other things. It’s a provocative setting. And Echo’s own relationship with her grandfather gets complicated. Because being a chosen witch in a war with the stakes of the world in the balance, and that training consuming all one’s focus, looks like being crazy to other people who don’t see that ….

Here’s a passage I’d like to quote:

“I’m your grandfather, Echo,” he cut in. “Your parents entrusted you and your sister to me, and I did my best with you two… Where did I go wrong? Why did you have to be this person? To fight monsters and live in constant danger?”

“This is who I am, Grandpa,” I said.

“Well, I don’t want to accept that.” He came to stand. “I’d rather you be a college dropout who does drugs. At least then, I can get you help.”

Echo is a multiple timeline novel, with the story told outside of chronological order. I haven’t read many of these, and it didn’t affect me – I’m used to reading novels outside of chronological order – but I figured it was worthy of a mention. We get perspective from many people, at many different times, whose actions are involved in creating the situation Echo faces, though only Echo’s sections are written in first person. Each life has themes and depth woven into it – self-discovery, repentance and redemption, loyalty, guilt, pride, forgiveness. Following the perspectives feels like watching the weaving of a tapestry. Or perhaps the unrolling of a canvas painting.

The villain shows a depth of its own. This isn’t a simple “someone chose to become an evil psychopath” situation. Instead, Jivar – and some other people – made choices they really should not have, and Jivar lost his soul trying to gain something else. Without his soul, without real feelings, Jivar’s world is a hell – but one he doesn’t even experience as a hell, since he doesn’t feel. Yet that deep ache urges him on, looking for what he’ll never find. At least not the way he’s trying to go about it. In a sense, that defines that story. None of them are evil because they want to be. Abused, violated, and broken, sometimes from before they’re old enough to make choices or know what’s happening to them, before they’re able to choose who to trust, that’s what lets the darkness in. What lets them let – or cause – those around them to be even more abused and violated.

And always, always, it’s complicated. Like there’s Doyle, one of Jivar’s servants, who loves the beasts Jivar throws away in war and does his best to teach them so they can survive. So they can kill. So they can live.

I enjoyed the story – I may even have read it far too quickly – and was invested in Echo’s life, even though I was never able to relate to her goals and ambitions, and her personality beneath it all. Plus the fact the novel is a little heaver on “action, adventure, plot, things are H-A-P-P-E-N-I-N-G” than is my usual preference. It’s not that Echo is an unrelatable character in herself, as that she’s just one of those characters that, well, it feels like she has personality, but for some reason I wasn’t able to relate to her. And I don’t think it’s the writing, because I was very invested in the story for a character I related to so (for me) exceptionally poorly.

Plus, I was happy with who she ended up with by the end of the story!

I would write more about the characters, like Ebba and Lù who is Echo’s ancestor and partially responsible for the mess, and Doyle, who is one of Jivar’s servants, and Zaros and Viessa, a brother and sister who are also Jivar’s servants. All of them have interesting stories with the potential to be very thought-provoking – about love, sanity, forgiveness, loyalty, and repentance/redemption. Where they are, how they got there, the choices their own and others that took them there, have a great deal of potential to be explored. However, the nonlinear timeline of their stories (and my own tendency to read nonlinearly) leave me very confused as to what might be spoilers. It also leaves me unable to assess how much the order in which one discovers their lives is important to perceiving the story, so what might be a spoiler that might be better not to share. Besides, I have a feeling this review would get way too long if I went into them.

My feelings about the light spirits are somewhat unsettled/confused. There’s this rule that if they don’t find their names by the time they’re a certain age, then they have to go to the dark side, where it appears that they become dark spirits. But there are some workarounds for that, at least sometimes, and some exceptions to the rule. And I enjoyed what becomes of the light spirits who are Echo’s guides – that’ll be in the “continued review” too.

The Continued Review (Things Others People Might Call Spoilers/What Might Convince Me to Read the Book):

That leaves pretty much my favourite here, which I simply have to share, so here’s the way it works: in this world-setting, souls spring from an essence, and a noble witch’s grimoire – the book that allows her to make new spells and sets her magic apart from common magic – is made from the essence of her soul and defines her element. Which Echo receives her grimoire it is, to everyone’s shock and chagrin, one of Dark Magic – a magic one ordinarily gets only by selling one’s soul to the devil or something like that. She is forced to draw on it again and again, in desperate situations, no matter how much her teachers wish she wouldn’t.

Eventually, she goes on a quest to discover why she has a Dark Magic. A quest to discover what her element really is, since it can’t be Dark Magic. Dark Magic isn’t a natural, proper element. That involves traveling to an oasis built on magic that’s been destroyed and sickened, and there this happens:

“I’m not sure if I have that kind of power.” I lied. With one word, I could summon my grimoire and invoke a new spell to fix the spring, but I wondered if a book meant for evil could be used for good. That grimoire was my disgrace.

I hesitated, but eventually, I called for it. It appeared to me and opened itself to a blank page. Its aura had grown colder and darker, forcing Doyle to shuffle to the back. “What is this?” he asked in an appalled tone.

“Let it all be healed,” I chanted.

The words inscribed themselves onto the page. I closed my eyes when I felt a beam of gold light growing inside me, tingling. It grew big enough to surround the grimoire, weaving into the dark aura, filling it up the way water would fill an empty glass.

My heart opened, seized by an indescribable feeling. Love? Healing? Peace? Bliss? It was all yet none of them.

“Let it all be healed,” I repeated.

The light continued to grow, enveloping the entire oasis. Everything became one. The spring, the sand, the plants, the seller at the market, Maradis, Doyle, Tara, and Ebba— they were all inside me. For an instant, I saw through their eyes. Tara scrolled through pictures of her daughter, wondering if she had done the right thing leaving the baby with Jackson for the day. Ebba battled through many unexplored emotions. Her heart was heavy, and she wished for a second chance. Doyle just watched me, and as he did, something inside him shifted.

My spell restored the balance to the spring, giving its magic back. I looked at my grimoire, whose cover now had a bright, golden color and a title reading: The Magic of Recreation.

That might be my favourite scene from the book. And I think it speaks for itself. But one thing more: you want to know why Echo, the Chosen Blackwood Witch, has a grimoire of Dark Magic – at least at first? Souls spring from an essence, and Echo’s soul comes from the same essence as the soul Jivar has lost.

Oh – and I was going to mention the light spirits. After they find their names (Echo helps with this), they become her witch’s familiars, taking the form of a dog and cat. It seems light spirits can be many things, from inspiring music to animals. I liked the place that gives the animals.

This is a book about healing, not conquering. About repentance, not slaughter (though there is plenty of that). About redemption, not destruction (though that happens, too, and it’s not as if “endings” are all we hoped for – then again, I have high hopes that “endings” are only apparent).

It feels like a kaleidoscope of color, dark and bright, of artfully woven threads.

Yasmine’s Website

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