Mark Siegel, Echo and Narcissus (Aardwolf Press, 2003)

Echo & Narcissus tells the story of Echo and Max, two young musicians of extreme talent. Echo is the singer for the band Echo & Narcissus. Actually, calling her a singer is a massive understatement; she has a wide vocal range, and she seems to be able to use her voice to draw or generate energy. By energy I mean the magical variety. Max is a guitarist of comparable abilities. The band is Narcissus, but Max himself is also Narcissus in a sense. Self-centered and hedonistic, the only person he cares for to any degree seems to be Echo, and he cares for her enough not to take her as a lover. He attracts love, but doesn't want it. Max also embodies some aspects of Orpheus, in that his music is capable of whipping crowds into a frenzy.

Max and Echo meet in New Orleans, where they are employees (property) of a crime lord. There they are both cursed by a voodoo queen — Max to love no one, and Echo, like her namesake, to be unable to speak for herself, but only repeat the words of others.

They flee to Los Angeles, living in a seedy neighborhood, where Max sinks into drug addiction. Nearby, someone named Bakas throws huge raves called Bakanas. Bakas distributes a new drug, E2, touted as a new form of Ecstasy. E2 has an ugly side effect; it removes one dimension from the user, leaving only a two-dimensional silhouette on the floor.

A series of bookings in Las Vegas establishes the band as up and coming talent, and they rapidly rise to the commercial top. Also while in Las Vegas, Echo learns about the power her voice can muster when she either banishes or guides home a being from another dimension.

Finally achieving fame and fortune, the pair find happiness to be elusive. They go their separate ways, until coming together again in Los Angeles to confront another extra-dimensional being. This one is unquestionably malevolent, and the fate of the world at stake.

Siegel seems to be striving for some parallels to classical mythology. Echo is the most obvious, and the characters Juno and Bakas ape their namesakes to some degree. Bakas might be considered a non-character, since we never meet him ... or do we? There are hints that one character, some sort of wizard or houngoun, might be Bakas, but that never was clear to me. Combining the classical myth with voodoo is an interesting concept, but it isn't done smoothly. The two threads seem to be less interwoven than side by side, not connected.

Most disappointing, though, is the treatment of music as magic and power. Echo discovers that she has this ability, then doesn't use it; not for good, not for evil, not even to practice and develop her skills. This should be central to the plot, but it's more of an incidental.

I'm sorry to say that Echo & Narcissus is a story with potential that it never quite lives up to.

[Tim Hoke]