Book Reviews, Science Fiction

Review: Seven Devils by Laura Lam and Elizabeth May

Seven resistance fighters will free the galaxy from the ruthless Empire – or die trying.

After Eris faked her death, she thought she had left her old life as Princess Discordia – heir to the galaxy’s most ruthless empire – behind. But joining the Novantaen Resistance, an organisation opposed to the Empire’s voracious expansion, throws her right back into the fray. Resistance fighter pilot Clo has been given a mission: infiltrate an Empire spaceship ferrying deadly cargo to gain vital intelligence. A task made all the more difficult when she’s forced to partner with an old enemy – Princess Discordia herself, Eris.

They discover more than they bargained for on the ship: fugitives with first-hand knowledge of the Empire’s inner workings. With this information, these women might just bring the Empire to its knees. But the clock is ticking: Eris’s brother Damocles, new heir to the throne, plans to disrupt a peace summit with the only remaining free alien people, ensuring the Empire’s total domination. Unless this band of unlikely rebels stops him, millions will die…

The Tholosian Empire has expanded to the edges of the universe, and the only things stopping their total domination are the Evoli Empire and the Novantean Resistance. Eris was once the heir to the Empire, grown especially with 99 others and trained to be hard and unyielding. She outstripped all of her siblings to become the General, but a tragic event forced her to confront the empire with its unstoppable will to conquer and destroy all in its path, and its AI engineered into all citizens at birth that renders them loyal, but takes away their choice. Since then she has worked for the Resistance, having faked her death, and her brother Damocles has taken over as General. He is even more ruthless and power hungry than their father, and Eris finds hints of a plan too horrible to comprehend when on an intelligence mission with fellow rebel Clo. Clo, once Eris’ friend, has hated her ever since discovering her true identity, but the two of them have to work together to complete their mission.

Their mission gets intercepted, though, by three women plotting their own escape from the empire: the young engineer Ariadne, the courtesan Rhea, and the soldier Nyx. This is when things get interesting and the group dynamic truly starts to form. I loved these five women and the way they brought their own joys and sorrows to the story. The three fugitives agree to help Eris and Clo complete their mission in exchange for safe harbour with the Resistance, and become more invested along the way. I won’t talk too much more about plot because this is a story that will sweep you along with it. I’ll talk more about the world-building instead, with a bit about the characters that doesn’t give too much away.

But the world building… it’s simply stunning. Lam and May have created such a cruel, shining, believable world and I was constantly putting the book down in awe at the fleeting mention of details that speak such volumes about the culture they’ve created. The Tholosians are descended from the people of the Old World – as they call earth – and have become the dominant species in space, killing any other intelligent life and building their cities out of the bones. The Evoli also come from the Old World but, after settling on the planet Eve, they engineered themselves to better survive the atmosphere and eventually developed different traits, making them a different race in the eyes of Tholos. The two have been at war for centuries, and the recent loss of a fertile Tholosian planet has driven the empire to even more drastic measures in recent years.

Part of the strength of the Tholosian Empire is the Oracle, their powerful AI planted into the heads of all but the royal and the slum-born, an AI that repeats a mantra of propaganda to each citizen, maligning the Evoli and teaching sacrifice for the empire. All expect the slum-born are also grown rather than naturally birthed, creating cohorts of different status and skill-sets, making it easier to embed the Oracle within them. The Resistance has to work even harder because they need to deprogram any defectors, and the Oracle is within all minds, all ships, and all buildings. It’s truly chilling, and very easy to imagine even in our age.

I know this review has consisted of a lot of exposition and world-specific jargon but, as I mentioned earlier, a lot of this is mentioned in passing or unravelled over the course of the story – the narrative itself is fast paced and very character focused, keeping the reader engaged and invested. It’s told from the perspectives of the five women and jumps between past and present to reveal backstories as well as key information. It’s astounding in its storytelling, truly. All five of the women are clear and distinct, and each bring something interesting to the table in terms of skill, secrets, and wit, and watching them become a little rebel family was beautiful.

I really encourage you to pick this up if you haven’t yet, and I am definitely very grateful to Gollancz for approving my ARC request of the sequel – Seven Mercies – on NetGalley, because I don’t want to wait to find out how this duology ends!

The US cover, also amazing

Book Info

Published: 6th August 2020 (UK) by Gollancz
Genre: science fiction
Pages: 458 (paperback)
Series: Seven Devils, book one
Narration style: third person past tense, multiple POVs
Format read: paperback
Content Warnings: language, violence, genocide, implied sexual abuse, torture

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