Seven Blades in Black by Same Sykes has built a dark but witty world that is rife with a Star Wars like Imperium verse Revolutionary war. In its midst are vagrants, mages, mercenaries and their loyal followers. Sal the Cacophony- named so after a gun that shoots magical bullets (yes, the bullets, when they meet their mark cast magical spells of mayhem, suffering and catastrophe), is more than a vagrant- a mage hunter.
Thank you to Orbit Books and NetGalley for an Arc in exchange for a fair review.
While scouring the desert for these Imperium deserters, Sal also takes an Arya Stark approach to life. She has a list of thirty people who have wronged her. And she has no zero qualms taking them out along the way. At the start of the story, Sal is in a precarious position having been caught by the Revolution. She is being interrogated as to what has happened to Cadric.
There so much about a book that I love that this review was really hard to write, mostly because I was torn over thing things that really took away from it, as well. Let’s start with what I LOVED.
As much as I giggled, laughed and cackled reading Sal’s adventures and enjoyed knowing that she was driving the Governor-Militant bat shit crazy with these brilliant tales. Knowing that she wasn’t ever getting to the point while constantly alluding to, or saying she was just getting there. I, too, found myself finally yelling… WHERE IS CADRIC??! However, that is part of what ends up being brilliant about this story. Because when you get to one the brilliant twists at the end (no spoilers…), you realize your screaming is what makes the book fantastic… Sykes gets you right in the gut and he had you the whole time.
About Sal the Cacophony- LOVE HER. Her narration, ingenuity and personality are what kept me going through Seven Blades in Black even when I wanted to DNF it. Her internal dialogue is witty, snarky, self-depreciating and full of you’ve gotta be kidding me moments. Her dialogue with other characters is just as charismatic and you root her on when she knowingly frustrates, outwits and outmaneuvers all around her.
Don’t let that fool you. This is no comedy. It is dark, violent and mysterious. It is set in seedy towns inhabited by seedier personalities. The fight scenes are yield gruesome deaths via guns, knives, magical guns and… well let me not spoil all the fun.
“You’re going to tell me what you’re going to tell your peacekeepers when they ask you who did this.”
Last thing you do if you want to know what a ma is made of, you look him dead in the eye and listen when he says your name.
“Sal the Cacophony”
I put my weapon away, pulled my scarf back up over my head, and made my way back out into the storm. There were going to be a lot of people here before too long with a lot of questions. I didn’t have time for that.
I had a mage to kill, after all.
Sykes’ world building is unparallel. There were so many different areas to keep track of but even without a map to guide me, Sykes’ vivid descriptions made it easy to tell one area, one township from the next. Through the characterization of the geography, the inhabitants, their behaviors, actions and day-to-day lifestyles. He is through and enthralling.
When it rains in Cathama, the pampered Imperials crowd beneath the awnings in their cafes and wait for their mages to change the skills. When it snows in Haven, they file right into church and thank the Lord for it. And when it gets hot in Weiless, as you know, they ascribe the sun to an Imperial plot and vow to redouble their Revolutionary efforts.
But in the Scar… Rin’s Sump, as you can guess by the name, was the sort of town where rain didn’t bother people much. Even when lightning flashed so bright, you’d swear it was day, life in the scar was hard enough that a little apocalyptic weather wouldn’t hinder anyone. And as the streets turned to much under their feet and the roofs shook beneath the weight of the downpour, the people of the township just tucked their chins into their coats, pulled their hats down low and kept going about their business.
So here is where I’m torn with Seven Blades in Black. First there are side characters (I don’t want to say who because… spoilers) that come way to far at the end of the book. They should be introduced up front and developed more. Even if they don’t interact with Sal until later in the book, it would help to know more of their story. Plus, it would bring more weight, a lot more weight, to what happens when they do connect and what takes place at that time.
Secondly, and this goes together with the above, I felt like I was kept without too many of the missing pieces for too long. Yes, a mystery is great, and it is suspenseful and thrilling. It can get to be too much when you more than half-way through the book and it becomes more frustrating and confusing because you still feel like you are completely lost to the point that you can’t even fathom and educated guess (even if you are completely wrong).
Lastly, the first 40-45% moved like the wind. The last 70ish%-till the end moved at light speed. In between those two points? If it wasn’t for the amusement of Sal I would not have plodded through. And even that almost didn’t do it. The book didn’t need that middle piece at all. Take it out and this book jumps to a 4/4.5 star review.
I would be interested in the second book in this series. Being this is only the first book I’ve read by Sam Sykes, I don’t know if all of his books follow this formula with the middle of the book being more unnecessary or if they are usually more tightly structured. However, as much as liked other key components I would definitely be interested to see where it goes next.