Our Last Echoes by Kate Alice Marshall
CW’s: Attempted Murder, Violence, Gore, Injury and Body Horror, Animal Death, Panic Attacks
❤ Published March 16th 2021 ❤
Sophia’s first memory is of drowning. She remembers the darkness of the water and the briny taste as it fills her throat. She remembers the cold shock of going under. She remembers her mother pulling her to safety before disappearing forever. But Sophia has never been in the ocean. And her mother died years ago in a hospital. Or so she has been told her whole life.
A series of clues have led Sophia to the island of Bitter Rock, Alaska, where she talked her way into a summer internship at the Landon Avian Research Center, the same center her mother worked at right before she died. There, she meets the disarmingly clever Liam, whose own mother runs the LARC, as well as Abby, who’s following a mystery of her own: a series of unexplained disappearances. People have been vanishing from Bitter Rock for decades, leaving only their ghostly echoes behind. When it looks like their two mysteries might be one and the same, Sophia vows to dig up the truth, no matter how many lies she has to tell along the way. Even if it leads her to a truth she may not want to face.
Our Last Echoes is an eerie collection of found documents and written confessionals, in the style of Rules for Vanishing, with supernatural twists that keep you questioning what is true and what is an illusion.
This is another of the Ashford Files, concerning a girl called Sophia Novak who is trying to uncover what happened to her mother ➽ In case you don’t know, this is connected to the author’s Rules for Vanishing, another book told in a mixed-media format and conceptually representing a file of a paranormal occurrence. You don’t have to read the other book in order to read Our Last Echoes, but it’s nice to see the connections, as they both take place in the same supernatural universe. This time, the file is about Bitter Rock, Alaska, a place notorious for its disappearances and the thick mists that surrounds it– Sophia’s mother is presumed dead since she went missing from the place and now Sophia herself has come to the island in order to get answers. She already knows something isn’t right and is joined by Abby, an assistant of Dr. Ashford, who investigated paranormal events and documents them in files. Abby is a minor character from Rules of Vanishing, though she has a much more prominent role this time (though you get to know her well enough without having read Rules for Vanishing). I was incredibly excited for this entire setup, as I adored Rules for Vanishing and I think the idea of the paranormal files is very clever.
I thought the book did a great job showing us Abby and Sophia’s motivations ➽ Both girls already know that something paranormal is out there, though they seek it out for different reasons. Sophia got herself hired as an intern for the island’s research center in order to find answers about her mother, who she thought had died in an accident … until she founds out she might still be alive. Sophia was such an interesting character. There’s something unnatural about her and she knows that she isn’t like other people. Throughout her time in the foster system, Sophia hasn’t found a place to call home, and inevitably every friendship she has attempted falls apart when people realize something is off about her. She struggles with her panic attacks and feelings, though Sophia knows it might be something different than just a mental health problem. The exploration of her humanity and feeling of abandonment was so well-written! On the other side, I also felt for Abby who is sure her foster father and boss Dr. Ashford is lying about the death of her sister and her entire background story. I liked her determination, humor, and fierceness. Abby is brave and ready to uncover the truth of the island. Another character is Liam, one of the researcher’s children, who gets dragged into it all and slowly falls for Sophia. I liked him as well, though I wasn’t as interested in the romance!
Of course, the atmosphere of this desolate island was well-written, though it wasn’t as spooky as I expected. ➽ When I read Rules for Vanishing I was terrified at times, as it felt like the more classical ghost/horror story. Nevertheless, Our Last Echoes does a great job to unsettle you. Starting with the island’s grim history, the mysterious fog, and the overall eerie and creepy ambiance, it sets up another horror adventure. The only thing on Bitter Rock is a couple of houses, lots of land, and the LARC, a research center for the birds native to this part of the country. You can really feel the isolation of the few people living here as well as the unsettling feeling that something is wrong.
The plot was a bit slow to get started, but then took off and introduced us to a larger scale concept. ➽ I wish the first 40-50% had been a bit more fast-paced but the ending definitely delivered with the intense scenes. I also liked that we got more information about the paranormal universe that Rules for Vanishing introduced, as it added even more complexity. I won’t say too much because of potential spoilers, but there’s talk of parallel worlds and paranormal beings that exist right next to our normal world. This veered even more into supernatural lore and shows great potential for another standalone book in the universe, as we aren’t finished with Abby’s story.
IN CONCLUSION. ➽ Our Last Echoes was another great blend of mystery, horror and the paranormal. Once again Kate Alice Marshall has crafted an immersive story told in a mixed media format, that seems to be part of a larger supernatural universe. I cannot wait to read even more books by her in the future! ❤
A Dark and Hollow Star by Ashley Shuttleworth
CW’s: Violence, Murder, Kidnapping
Representation 🌷 Lesbian, Queer & Gay MC’s
❤ Published February 23rd 2021 ❤
Choose your player.
The “ironborn” half-fae outcast of her royal fae family.
A tempestuous Fury, exiled to earth from the Immortal Realm and hellbent on revenge. A dutiful fae prince, determined to earn his place on the throne. The prince’s brooding guardian, burdened with a terrible secret.
For centuries, the Eight Courts of Folk have lived among us, concealed by magic and bound by law to do no harm to humans. This arrangement has long kept peace in the Courts—until a series of gruesome and ritualistic murders rocks the city of Toronto and threatens to expose faeries to the human world.
Four queer teens, each who hold a key piece of the truth behind these murders, must form a tenuous alliance in their effort to track down the mysterious killer behind these crimes. If they fail, they risk the destruction of the faerie and human worlds alike. If that’s not bad enough, there’s a war brewing between the Mortal and Immortal Realms, and one of these teens is destined to tip the scales. The only question is: which way? Wish them luck. They’re going to need it.
While this book didn’t for me at all, I saw some potential. ➽ I have a lot of negative things to say, but I’ve seen many reviewers genuinely love this book! You should definitely be ready for a more slow-paced and character-driven book, but that can certainly appeal to some readers! Here is a bullet list of what I liked about the book:
- The characters were great in theory (though the story didn’t get me as invested in them as I could have been). We have Arlo, an Ironborn girl trying to fight to belong in the faerie world. She’s caught between two worlds and faces prejudice from the full-blooded fairies, as she doesn’t have the same abilities as them. Next up is Nausicaa, a former Fury who is punished by having to wander the human world. She’s full of revenge, passion and anger, playing into the role of the badass fighter. We also have Vehan – Prince of the Seelie Summer Court – and his former best friend/now guardian Aurelian, who are secretly pining for each other but it’s complicated.
- I also adored Celadron, Arlo’s cousin, who is a full faerie and super supportive of her and trying to get her accepted in faerie society. He’s a bit of a daredevil, up for some mischief but has a heart of pure gold. I wish we had seen more of him, as I loved his relationship with Arlo.
The worldbuilding was mismatched and felt jarring. ➽ There was inspiration taken from Greek Mythology (Titans, Furies) and then creatures like Dragons, Trolls and Reapers also turned up. Plus, the ‘main’ creatures the whole premise is based on: fairies. Even here we have 8 courts (Seelie and Unseelie, with 4 courts each based on the seasons) that were barely explored and that I couldn’t distinguish from each other. In addition, the word fae here is NOT synonymous with fairies. Fae are common folk like changelings and other non-human creatures. There were also so many terms for them, it all blended together after a while. Generally, all this didn’t fit together at all and felt like an clumsy attempt to build up a complex magic system. I was mainly confused with all these different influences and mythologies, as they didn’t come together to form a cohesive worldbuilding. There were simply too many contrasting ideas to use for only one story.
The setting was also why I think A Dark and Hollow Star lacked focus. ➽ There was a lot of ‘info-dumping’ about the world, that the story felt clunky and held up by the avalanche of information I had to digest. The attention was on too many different things at once, so none of them felt well-explored. Apart from the idea of the Ironborn – human/fairies hybrids – this book felt like a blend of as many fantasy tropes and creatures as possible with no original twist.
The plot was SO slow and tedious to get through. ➽ The pacing is incredibly slow and I felt like nothing much happened at all. The book felt like a prologue for a big fantasy series and entirely like setup, which wasn’t good for this first book as it made me lose interest in the story. I was also so confused because the author didn’t manage to give the story structure or a clear direction. It felt aimless, the character’s motivations weak, and even in the end, I had no idea what story was being told.
There much telling and not enough showing. ➽ The book is 500 pages and could have easily been shorter, as it not only dragged pacing wise but also had so many pages focused solely on description. The author told us the character’s stories and motivations in such detail that it felt like they didn’t trust the reader to figure out certain things on their own. This also slowed down the pace, as there were too many what I consider ‘filler scenes’ that didn’t advance the plot at all.
IN CONCLUSION. ➽ A Dark and Hollow Star sadly didn’t work for me at all despite my anticipation. Between the mismatched worldbuilding and the incredibly slow plot, I found it hard to care for the story or the characters. This felt more like a prologue or setup than a compelling first book in a series.
Are you going to read Our Last Echoes and/or A Dark and Hollow Star? Any books you’re looking forward to this year? ❤