Review: Seven Devils by Elizabeth May & Laura Lam

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.

Rating: 3/5

Review

I have been eager to read this book ever since I heard about it – I was sold on the concept of a queer, feminist space opera duology and then I learnt that the title was inspired by a Florence and the Machine Song (which reminded me of my fanfic-writing days, trawling through my music library for the perfect song lyric because I had no idea what else to use as a title and wanted to be ~poetic). In the authors’ defence, the lyrics suit the mood of Seven Devils perfectly:

Holy water cannot help you now
See I’ve had to burn your kingdom down
And no rivers and no lakes can put the fire out
I’m gonna raise the stakes, I’m gonna smoke you out

Seven devils all around you
Seven devils in my house
See they were there when I woke up this morning
I’ll be dead before the day is done

This book absolutely lives up to the queer, feminist hype: all five of the POVs are women, including black and brown women, and women who are bisexual, lesbian and asexual, as well as a trans woman in a position of power. For the most part, Seven Devils doesn’t explicitly grapple with feminist themes, but it was nice to have a book where all of the ‘heroes’ are women with their own roles and responsibilities within the crew, and no one bats an eyelid. One character Ariadne, is also portrayed as neuro-divergent, while Clo has a prosthetic leg. Oh, and there’s a (somewhat) explicit queer sex scene. Note: this is not a young adult book, and I’ll save my rant about it being classified that way for another day.

I loved all of the characters, though I had some particular favourites in Eris (the former Princess Discordia) and Rhea, a former courtesan for Princess Discordia’s brother, the awful Damocles. The POVs all felt relatively unique – a hard task when juggling five of them – and all the characters are given opportunities to be both strong and vulnerable. (There are no tropey badass warrior women here).

The plot is pretty much resistance fighters in space 101. This didn’t bother me – since women have so rarely gotten to tell and star in those stories – but may bother more hardcore science fiction fans looking for something unique.

Where this book fell down for me was primarily in the pacing: as well as experiencing all five POVs in present time, we get flashback chapters to explain how they meet each other and defining events that led to them rebelling against the Empire, and it’s a lot. The constant jumping around in time disrupted the flow of the narrative and often read more like info-dumps. There’s also a lot of world-building which comes at the expense of the characters: a lot of the word count is taken up explaining sciencey stuff or setting out the relationships between the Empire and various other races and planets)… often by telling us that the Empire destroyed a particularly place or group. The Empire is clearly evil, but you don’t get a sense of what that means emotionally because its worst atrocities are outlined separately from the main characters’ arcs. To fit all this in, some of the characters’ interactions are rushed – characters resolve their differences and fall in love a little too quickly.

I know duologies are becoming increasingly popular, but I feel like this book could have easily been the first of a trilogy that doled out the world-building and character backstories in slightly smaller doses and gave the plot and characters more time to breathe.

Overall, I recommend Seven Devils and hope the trend of diverse space operas continues. Now that the world is well-established, I’m looking forward to seeing what May and Lam do in the sequel.

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