Review: Seven Devils – Laura Lam and Elizabeth May
by Laura Lam, Elizabeth May
Series: Seven Devils #1
Publication Date: August 4, 2020
Genres: Science Fiction
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
This first book in a feminist space opera duology follows seven resistance fighters who will free the galaxy from the ruthless Tholosian Empire -- or die trying.
When Eris faked her death, she thought she had left her old life as the heir to the galaxy's most ruthless empire behind. But her recruitment by the Novantaen Resistance, an organization opposed to the empire's voracious expansion, throws her right back into the fray.
Eris has been assigned a new mission: to infiltrate a spaceship ferrying deadly cargo and return the intelligence gathered to the Resistance. But her partner for the mission, mechanic and hotshot pilot Cloelia, bears an old grudge against Eris, making an already difficult infiltration even more complicated.
When they find the ship, they discover more than they bargained for: three fugitives with firsthand knowledge of the corrupt empire's inner workings.
Together, these women possess the knowledge and capabilities to bring the empire to its knees. But the clock is ticking: the new heir to the empire plans to disrupt a peace summit with the only remaining alien empire, ensuring the empire’s continued expansion. If they can find a way to stop him, they will save the galaxy. If they can't, millions may die.
Content warnings: View Spoiler »graphic violence (including dismemberment), forced prostitution (before book happens, off-page), sexual violence (before book happens, off-page), racism/misogyny/transphobia/xenophobia from bad guys, genocide, child abuse (emotional), brain control that removes person’s will « Hide Spoiler
Yes, this book does live up to the gorgeous murdery vibes of Florence + The Machine’s “Seven Devils.” These women are, in fact, here to burn your kingdom down, and there’s a lot of grappling around “evil hearts” and “evil souls.” It definitely gave me Rogue One and Guardians of the Galaxy vibes, in the sense of an unlikely group of rebels banding together in the face of near impossible odds. Also? That cover is gorgeous, and, shocker, each of the seven main characters are actually recognizable.
“So, let me get this straight. Your plan was to murder a Legate and his guards, commandeer a ship, and just . . . find the resistance?” Clo asked. “That’s not even a plan. Seven devils, that’s barely even a fraction of a plan. That’s like a note to self after a night of carousing.”
The Tholosian empire is, by any measure, evil. For starters, they literally build their buildings out of the bones of the various alien races they’ve exterminated in their drive to expand. Most people are vat grown and genetically engineered for various cohorts – soldiers, merchants, etc. – and all are controlled by an AI called the Oracle through implants and sleep hypnosis. It’s no wonder that a group of rebels seek to oppose them, though it is a bit of a miracle they’ve managed to survive so long. For two members of the Novantae rebellion, Eris and Clo, their new mission is simple – infiltrate a Tholosian ship and to figure out what its mysterious cargo is. Of course, they don’t expect to find all of the ship’s crew dead and three women running the bridge. What starts out as a heist with two reluctant co-conspirators soon turns into a galaxy spanning race to figure out what Damocles, heir to the empire, is planning next. But what can five women hope to do against the might of the whole empire?
“I don’t want to atone,” Nyx said, surprising herself. “I want to destroy the Empire.”
Clo’s hands closed into fists. “Yes.”
The others nodded.
“Then we do it together,” Eris said, gazing at each of them in turn. “Planet by planet. We burn the Empire down.”
There are five main characters that the book follows: Eris, the former heir to the empire and now the rebellion’s first choice for impossible missions; Clo, a natural-born hotshot mechanic; Ariadne, a girl raised from birth by the Oracle to be its programmer; Rhea, the favorite courtesan of General Damocles; and Nyx, an accomplished solider. While Eris and Clo get the most page time, all of the characters have at least a few chapters of POV. Each of the women is absolutely kickass in their own ways, and each are dealing with their own personal traumas, which inform their distinct and realistic relationships with each other. My favorites were between Eris and Clo (friends to enemies to ok-I-guess-we’re-friends), Eris and Nyx (angsty can-I-atone-for-all-the-blood-on-my-hands? soldiers), and Rhea and Ariadne (emotionally experienced vs emotionally stunted). There’s also a very sweet f/f instalove relationship, and the book as a whole is delightfully queer, since it also features trans and ace characters.
“Few people liked to acknowledge that it didn’t matter how good your intentions; in order to overthrow an empire, murder was a necessity. Someone had to do it.”
The world building is excellent. It’s vaguely Greco-Roman-inspired, from the ruler’s title – Archon – to the character’s names and some of the gods. The empire itself is extremely brutal – one of the main gods they worship is the God of Death – and at times the rebellion is forced to be just as brutal in return. Throughout the book the characters are forced to grapple with the moral implications of their actions, both what they chose to do now in service of the rebellion and what they’ve done in the past. The angst is at times as thick as molasses and I absolutely loved it. There’s a mix of present day and flashback chapters which reveal each character’s backstory. This does cause the pacing to falter a bit in the first half of the novel, but once everyone’s background is established, it moves much more quickly, culminating in an absolutely action-packed ending. It’s very much the first book in a duology, so while I found the ending satisfactory, there’s definitely a lot left unresolved.
“It’s like a surprise! Only the surprise is your death and how quickly it happens.”
“I shouldn’t have asked.”
Overall, this was even better than I expected and I will definitely be picking up the next book in the series. If you love women burning things down and saving the galaxy, I highly recommend you pick up this book!