Tennalhin Halkana has always pushed the boundaries, laying on his charm when needed, or just barreling through when that fails. He also has destructive tendencies that he turns mostly on himself, which gets him in quite a bit of trouble. Tennal is the nephew of the powerful legislator and he knows his aunt is looking to bring him in line. What he doesn’t expect is for her to conscript him to the military and assign him to be “synced” with an architect against his will.
Lieutenant Surit Yeni believes in honor, structure, and order. The specter of his mother, who died a traitor in the civil war, looms heavily over Surit and he is determined to be a model soldier. Like his mother, he is an architect, someone who can influence others’ minds. When he is assigned to mentally sync his architect powers with a reader, someone who can perceive other people’s emotions, Surit is wary of creating this permanent mental bond. But he is also willing to do his duty… that is, until he learns that the man he thought was a volunteer is actually being forced into the sync.
Surit is not a man who usually breaks the rules, but his code of honor is rock solid. When he learns the truth about Tennal’s situation, he refuses to initiate the bond that will allow him to control Tennal’s mind and behavior. However, the men know that someone wants this sync to happen, though neither are quite clear why, and so they decide their only option is to fake it and then help Tennal escape to the other side of the galaxy. But there are political forces at work neither man anticipated and, with another civil war on the horizon, they soon find their choices are becoming increasingly limited. As they learn more about true motives behind the maneuvering, it becomes clear that the men are more tied into the conflict than they dreamed. If they have any hope of escaping with their lives, Tennal and Surit need to sync their minds for real. But even as they form the dangerous mental bond, the political situation is becoming more dire and, with Tennal and Surit being used as pawns in someone else’s war, it will take all they have to survive with their minds and their lives.
Ocean’s Echo is the second book in Everina Maxwell’s Winter’s Orbit series, however this story easily works as a standalone. The books are connected by a shared world, but the characters and events of this book are separate from Winter’s Orbit and you can definitely start here. While I enjoyed the first book, this one really blew me away. I found the story to be totally engrossing and, even at close to 500 pages, it kept me thoroughly engaged and eagerly turning pages to follow along with Tennal and Surit’s adventures. The world building is complex and well developed, with not only the concept of architects and readers, but interesting takes on space travel and other futuristic elements that really make the world shine.
This story is really quite an epic saga, divided into multiple parts and moving in such interesting directions. The early part of the story focuses on Tennal being caught by his aunt and shuttled off to a ship about to undergo a recovery mission, where he is supposed to sync with Surit. Here we see the men getting to know one another and figuring out their way forward once Surit learns the truth about Tennal’s situation and Tennal realizes that Surit won’t sync him against his will. It allows the men to become allies and then together face the myriad of challenges that arise as they get caught up in the complex political situation. I don’t want to reveal too much about what happens, as there are a lot of twists and turns here, but I loved the way the story sets things up to get the men on the same team as they work through the challenges. There are a lot of politics and machinations happening at a larger level, and it ties in nicely with the big picture world building. Things get intense and thrilling and, as I said, this is a full on epic saga that is just exciting and fascinating.
With all that is happening around them, Tennal and Surit are the real heart of this story and I just adored them both, individually and together. This isn’t a romance heavy book; I’d say it’s more of a science fiction story with a romance subplot. But Maxwell really makes the connection between the men shine and even as their feelings grow slowly throughout the book, the bond between them and the sense of being a team in the face of all the chaos comes through so clearly. These guys are as different as can be, but complement each other so well. Surit is the model soldier. He follows the rules and enjoys the structure and the process of military life. Surit has a mind that retains almost every piece of information he sees; it is likened to a mental filing cabinet. He has this orderly brain that enables him to think through problems and figure out solutions, even in the most chaotic of messes in which these two find themselves. But for all that he is a rule follower, Surit’s sense of honor is even stronger. So when faced with syncing Tennal against his will, Surit doesn’t think twice about refusing the orders and lying about it. If Surit’s mind is like a file cabinet, Tennal’s is likened to an ocean, flowing all over. He tends to find himself in trouble a lot, mostly because when he feels boxed in, Tennal acts out. He often stirs up trouble just to shake things up, but frequently ends up hurting himself in the process. That said, Tennal is the one who can see outside the box, who can break the mold and figure things out from a totally different perspective. The two are such an interesting pair because their ways of thinking are so different that they end up being a perfect match and their strengths play to one another. I found them a fascinating pair and Maxwell does such a great job creating these interesting characters who form this wonderful team. As I said, this isn’t a romance heavy story, but the men do fall in love over the course of the book. There is a lovely connection between them and the slow build from allies to romantic partners has a great development.
I really loved this book and it kept me so engaged throughout what is quite a long story. Maxwell does a great job combining the world building with the wonderful character development to bring together a really entertaining book. If you enjoy science fiction, Ocean’s Echo is definitely worth your time.