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The Labyrinths of Echo, by Max Frei
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Alex Fuller
REVIEWER/PREVIEWER



"It's just that my feeling of contentment is only complete when I am slightly indignant about something. And praise be the Magicians when there's a reason for it, even the most paltry one."

Max Frei, The Stranger's Woes

Though presented as a self-narrated account of the life of author and main character Max Frei, The Labyrinths of Echo series is in fact written under the pen name by Russian author Svetlana Martynchik and translated into English by Polly Gannon. Each book is a collection of novellas, between two and seven each, with the first two volumes currently available in English under the titles The Stranger and The Stranger's Woes, and the third volume, The Stranger's Magic, set for English release in the summer of 2012. Taking place in an urban fantasy/another world setting, The Labyrinths of Echo follows the adventures of Max Frei, "a twenty something classic loser, an insomniac, a hardened smoker, a glutton and a loafer." With nothing going for him in our world in the few hours he does manage to sleep, he finds himself visiting the city of Echo. Finding himself instantly attracted to this world, it isn't long before one Sir Juffin Hully offers Max a job and way to travel to the 'dream city,' where he becomes the Nocturnal Representative of the Most Venerable Head of the Minor Secretive Investigative Force.

Created after a magical war roughly a century before Max's appearance in the world, the role of the Minor Secretive Investigative Force is to find and eliminate sources of high-level magic, which was banned following the war. Max immediately finds himself at home in the role, displaying an almost unnatural ability at learning magic and coming up with unique solutions to problems. The question of what is real, and whether the answer even matters, is one that runs throughout the first two volumes of the series and looks set to go on as the series continues.

The Labyrinths of Echo is a pretty lighthearted series for the most part, with the frequently jovial interactions between the members of the Minor Secretive Investigative Force always a pleasurable and uplifting read, although the series isn't afraid to bring in a mood whiplash now and again. A distinctive writing style helps to give further life to the series, although it may put some off, and the obvious love Max has for the new life he has found really shows through. It may be difficult to incorporate the unique qualities of Max's narrations into the game, but anyone taking up the mantle should ensure that the wonderful characters get the fully deserved chance to shine.

The series' main setting, the city of Echo, capital of the Unified Kingdom, provides a ready-made primary hub for the game. Such a hub lends itself well to a system similar to The Last Story or Dragon Age II where between various quests and story events players are afforded the opportunity to get to know the city of Echo and its inhabitants. This shouldn't preclude far-off adventures — it certainly doesn't prevent this in the books, and we might even be able to sneak in a visit to our world. Echo is home to some wondrous architecture and housing, Max's first house is considered squalid, containing "only" three baths! As such, it would seem to be a waste to not allow players the opportunity to create as impressive a lodging as possible.

In terms of the story, the current format of the series as more of a collection of novellas fits well into a questing system. The main story could easily be divided into a series of such novellas, with the opportunity for a rest to explore Echo and do some sidequests between each one. There is potential to incorporate the plot of the books into an RPG, with players able to take control of Max or possibly another member of the Minor Secretive Investigate Force, such as Sir Shurf Lonli-Lokli, the Master Who Snuffs Out Unnecessary Lives. However, I personally would like to see players get the opportunity to create their own characters, and bring themselves into the world in the same way Max did.

There are some difficulties in bringing The Labyrinths of Echo into the realm of RPGs. So far a lot of the world is yet to be revealed, for the English releases anyway, and there isn't a well-defined set of rules for the magic in series. On the plus side, this could be the developers' the chance to go nuts and come up with some entertaining and unique ideas. Almost anything goes in Max's world and it would be great to have the opportunity to further explore both the world and the theme of 'what is reality?'

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