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Seven Devils by Laura Lam and Elizabeth May (book review).

September 18, 2020 | By | Reply More

I try not to look at online discussions around the books I’m reviewing because I want to give my opinion unbiased by any politics or critical consensus. That said, even the most cursory search for ‘Seven Devils’ shows that it’s difficult for some people to separate the book’s premise from its content, so I’m going to address that here.

‘Seven Devils’ revolves around a crew of women that are drawn together as part of a resistance movement trying to overthrow a warlike, patriarchal dictatorship. Alongside its ‘smash the system’ message the book features lesbianism, gender politics, race issues, brainwashing and slavery. In short, it’s pretty much guaranteed to push the buttons of certain readers, though that is of course part of the book’s appeal for other people.

Speaking as a male, I didn’t encounter any issues with the book being resolutely focused on women taking on a male dominated society and certainly didn’t get the impression that the book’s message was as crude as ‘all men are bastards’. In effect, it plays out like any other ‘ragtag band of desperate rebels’ narrative, just with most of the main characters being female. That said, I did feel that the female focus gave the book an interesting and different perspective and I had the sense that if a group of blokes had been sent on the same mission it would have unrolled differently. Hell, even the sex scenes don’t play out as you expect.

‘Seven Devils’ sketches out the premise that humanity has conquered/butchered its way across the stars with the help of neurological programming by an AI that effectively brainwashes people into loyal citizens. The details of exactly how this works are a little loose, with the program sometimes able to assume direct control of an individual while others are able to resist its commands entirely. Nonetheless, the shadow of the AI hanging over things gives the setting an interesting surveillance state twist.

The plot revolves around the resistance finding something that the empire is trying to keep secret and then following a trail to work out what it is, where it comes from and what the empire is planning to do with it. Along the way, characters are rescued, atrocities discovered, spaceships stolen and high-class balls infiltrated. While there is a ticking clock element to it all, most of the tension is generated by each character’s secrets, fears and gradually revealed reason for wanting to bring the empire down.

The authors, Laura Lam and Elizabeth May, pack a lot of world-building into the narrative, but this is very much a ‘Star Wars’ perspective of events, following one band as they single-handedly take on a massive galactic empire. Thanks to alternate chapters jumping through each character’s backstory, we do get some insight into royal politics and life on a couple of planets, but this is a book about ‘now’, all immediate scrappy plans and desperate missions. The plot has several twists that I’m trying to avoid spoiling but on the whole this is a straightforward progression from ‘what’s going on’ to ‘how will they stop it’. The aforementioned flashbacks give the characters depth while keeping the action moving, but be warned this is very much part one of a series and so is all setup and no resolution.

Gender issues aside, for me ‘Seven Devils’ boils down to this: Read it if you’re looking for an interesting cast of characters and a female perspective on the rebels-versus-empire type of plot or avoid it if you’re looking for a story that actually concludes or a slower-paced, deeper exploration of intrigue and politics.

Stuart Maine

September 2020

(pub: Gollancz, 2020. 464 page hardback. Price: £18.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-147322-514-5)

check out websites: www.orionbooks.co.uk and www.gollancz.co.uk

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Category: Books, Fantasy

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