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Seven Blades in Black by Sam Sykes

Seven Blades in Black by Sam Sykes
Book Name: Seven Blades in Black
Author: Sam Sykes
Publisher(s): Orbit (US) Gollancz (UK)
Formatt: Paperback / Audiobook / Ebook
Genre(s): Fantasy
Release Date: April 9, 2019 (US) May 2, 2019 (UK)

Seven Blades in Black is the first book in The Grave of Empires series. The central theme is the contest for power between mages—those with any magical or superhuman ability—and non-mages—regular humans. Before the events of this book, the Empress—a mage from a lineage of powerful mages—gave birth to her first child and heir, who was declared to be a non-mage. Almost instantly, the once unified empire broke into two-factions: The Imperium—mages who fight for the Empire; and, the Revolution—the non-mages who oppose the dominance of the mages. In the midst of these two main groups, there are smaller ones such as the Vagrants—mages who no longer fight for the Imperium.

Sal the Cacophony, our protagonist, is a Vagrant who is awaiting execution by the Revolution because of a rescue mission turned into a massacre. Before she’s to die, Sal is asked to recount the events that led to her arrest. As it turns out, Sal is on a quest for revenge against those who’ve wronged her, and to say that she is angry is a HUGE understatement. Sal is never without two items: her magic gun and her kill list containing 33 names. It is during Sal’s quest for vengeance that she uncovers a conspiracy by a small group of powerful mages. Sal diverts her quest (sort of) in order to stop their plans.

Accompanying Sal on her revenge/rescue mission are Liette—Sal’s on-again/off-again girlfriend—and Revolutionary Low Sergeant Cavric Proud—a devout Revolution soldier who becomes Sal’s hostage. In fact, it is Sal’s “association” with Cavric that postpones her execution. Governor Militant Tretta—someone who desires a promotion over the whereabouts of her soldiers—demands that Sal the Cacophony tell her what happened to Low Sergeant Proud. From there, the story takes off.

Many SFF books are set within their own worlds and Seven Blades in Black isn’t any different. Yet, it is these differences that make it standout the most. First, the narrative is told in flashback from Sal’s recounting of events. Second, these events are told where they occurred and how she ended up where the rescue, the massacre, and Sal’s arrest took place. Last, both the reason and the motivation behind Sal’s actions are revealed and Sal is one angry woman. Sykes presents a damaged, emotional, fearless and lucky antiheroine who leaves readers—and Tretta—in awe of Sal’s resilience. As you are reading this book, it is important to remember that Sal is a victim as well as a ruthless killer with a moral conscience.

One word can sum up my reaction to this book: WOW! Before reading, I’d never heard of Sam Sykes. Now, I’m craving not only the next book in The Grave of Empires, but also his other books that came before this one! Besides the characters and the conflict, the worldbuilding is essential for any SFF story to appear more realistic. The author presents his take on magic with a unique, but twisted approach. In addition, there is a gray area within this world, the Vagrants. Unfortunately, it appears that neither the Imperium, nor the Revolution want anything to do with anyone who is not devoted to their “side.” I found this to be both dauting and realistic.

Sykes presents his world of “The Scar” as a region that can reflect anywhere in the real world. Each town Sal enters is both similar and different from one another. At the same time, we learn how and why Sal’s reputation became what it is and how she ended up in her current predicament. Also, Sykes presents readers with his idea of retaliation. Whatever is done by an individual is repaid with compensation to match that action. This is presented not only with Sal’s motives for revenge, but also with the magic system of this world. Whichever type of magic gets performed the caster loses something of equal value. The author’s style of writing presents a harsh fantasy world with a rule system that guarantees a loss of self. It reminded me of The Code of Hammurabi. Unfortunately, it seems that Sal lost more than just her magic.

I would reiterate the description of Seven Blades of Black, “as a blend of Kill Bill and Final Fantasy,” with a dark magic system with an interesting insight into opera (for music lovers). It was a non-stop action read from beginning to end. Sal the Cacophony is an angry woman who is neutral in a civil war and is a hybrid of John Wick and Lara Croft.

My one issue with this book surrounds Sal’s list. Obviously, this is a plot device so readers will remember Sal’s endgame. However, we only get the names as Sal is about to encounter those individuals. While Sal is able to cross off several of the names from her list of 33 names, we do not know who (or what) else is on that list. This is a minor issue that builds on the curiosity of the reader, which is both brilliant and restive.

Seven Blades in Black is a brilliant beginning of The Grave of Empiresseries. Sam Sykes sets the tone of this humorous epic fantasy tale by presenting us with a cynical protagonist who drinks, curses, and kills as a coping mechanism! Yet, we are able to laugh at the common tropes found in many of the fantasy and revenge stories in this dark comedy. Anyone who reads this novel will be eager for the next book in the series!


One Comment

  1. Avatar Sam F. says:

    Really enjoyed your review. Can’t wait to read this book!

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