Around two weeks ago, I posted my review of Beanstalk, a fantasy novel by E. Jade Lomax about a group of fledgling heroes drawn together by luck at a training academy. In it, Jack, Laney, Grey, and Rupert, along with their various friends, clandestinely shatter rules and perform small acts of rebellion and heroism around both the Academy and the surrounding locales of Rivertown, leading to a showdown with villainous forces working with magic on a fatally destructive scale.
Enter Echoes of a Giantkiller, the sequel, launching our quartet of heroes past Academy graduation and into government-sanctioned professional heroics. This shift drastically increases the scope of the series. Where Beanstalk was university antics (if slaying monsters can ever be considered antics) with an undercurrent of the social and political struggles facing the world, Giantkiller brings those struggles sharply into focus. As Jack and company travel farther into the mountains, political maneuverings become more insidious and the realities of the mage slave trade and the war against it are drawn in stark lines.
Echoes of a Giantkiller cements the Leagues and Legends universe as a world in flux, on the cusp of a technological revolution that will reshape the status quo forever. As a theme, this is a common enough idea in fantasy. A mainstay idea in The Dresden Files, for example, is the designation of mortals as the nuclear option when it comes to involvement in supernatural affairs. Vanilla humans outnumber everything else enough to bury them in bodies alone; more importantly, through the course of history humans transitioned from perpetually easy prey to adaptational badasses with the military tech to wreak havoc on supernatural beasties. Works like Avatar: The Last Airbender and Legend of Korra carry a similar idea, with people developing technology and techniques that neutralize bending or achieve similar effects. The advance of technology becomes a disruptive, even revolutionary, force rewriting the balance of power. Lomax’s world is just beginning this process, with Giantkiller exploring the attendant problems and potential of combining magic with technology, complete with a corrupt politician developing Magitech weaponry.
Alongside the expansion of her world and mirroring its transitional state, Lomax continues to delve deeply into the identities of her protagonists. Building on the foundation laid in Beanstalk, each character finds themself torn between aspects of their identity. Jack Farris, both Beanstalk and Giantkiller, vigilante and Leagueman, struggles to reconcile his past with his present. Grey is faced with conflicting loyalties between the family that raised him and the family he claimed for himself. Laney grapples with a legacy left behind by her brother even while building her own, and Rupert slowly discovers that there is much more to himself than a spectacular understanding of paperwork. Newcomer George the Dragon Slayer seamlessly melds with the cast, balancing her sense of duty against her dreams and morality to create a stunningly well-thought out and thoughtful character.
The result is, in many ways, a coming-of-age story. Their individual discoveries and demons tie intimately into their relationships with each other, forcing them to lay personal priorities against the priorities and histories of their companions, and thus reach a new, deeper understanding of themselves and each other. The character development throughout the novel reminded me of a quote, I believe from John Green: “Literature is in the business of helping us to imagine ourselves and others more complexly, of connecting us to the ancient conversation about how to live as a person in a world full of other people.” Giantkiller shows that even the people we know best, who we imagine we have an accurate template of expectations for, most likely hold depths we haven’t yet imagined. How we react to the reveal of a new facet is vital to our continued growth.
Giantkiller is as easy to sink into and read as its predecessor, combining poetic description with moments of fast-paced action. There are several twists to delight in, with the final page introducing a spectacular hell of a cliffhanger. Though genre-savvy readers might suspect the ending in advance, the thought of watching the mystery and ensuing character tension play out in Remember the Dust is sure to have them salivating for its release.