My title is a pretty clever pun, but you won’t get it unless you read this book – which you should. Seven Blades in Black is the first novel in a new series by Sam Sykes. If you follow any fantasy authors on Twitter, you are probably at least aware of Sykes. He is a major personality online and can often be found by his hilarious tweets and loud voice about the genre. I enjoy his Twitter persona, but I had some difficulty getting into his first series, Bring Down Heaven, as it read too much like a transplanted Dungeons & Dragons campaign. Although his first books were funny, I found them a little shallow and quickly lost the interest to continue. However, I have wanted to give Sykes another shot since my first attempt, and his new series provided the perfect opportunity. Happily, this time I stuck to the book like glue on more glue.
My best description of this fascinating book is that it’s a cross between a western, Kill Bill, and a quest fantasy. The story is all about our protagonists, Sal the Cacophony (get the title pun now?), who is awaiting her execution. Before she gets murdered for her heathen ways, she convinces the inquisitor to listen to a last confession, during which she narrates her life that brought her to this moment. This includes how she burned down several towns, killed countless people, and was once a powerful mage. However, it is implied right from the start that her time as a mage is in the past tense, and something horrible happened to her that put her on a quest for vengeance. In line with this, we get to watch Sal hunt and murder a mysterious group of people she has on a hit list, slowly learning what they did to earn her ire as the book progresses.
The plot is engrossing, already addressing all the issues I had with the last book by Sykes that I read. Sal is an absolutely delightful character and it took me no time at all to get invested in her quest. She is funny, tough, emotional, deep, and shows clear growth throughout the book. On top of all of this, she has a kick-ass spell gun called “The Cacophony” that shoots walls of sound, fields of ice, and fireballs that had me dreaming of Outlaw Star. To top it all off, the two main supporting cast members are just as great. Liette is a spunky lady with a penchant for invention and the major love interest of Sal. Initially, I found the romance between Sal and Liette a little cliche – but at some point when I wasn’t paying attention, Sykes sunk his claws into me and I started really caring about their relationship. The final team member is Cavrac, an innocent do-gooder who you cannot help but love. His plotline is basically about him realizing the world is a lot shittier than he thought it was – but his exuberance and positive attitude are infectious and you can’t help but root for him.
On top of all of this, the entire thing takes place in a very well actualized and developed magical world. The most important things to know are that there are essentially two major warring factions in this story – the royal mages and the common working class. The concepts behind these two factions are ones I have seen many a time – a decadent and egotistical aristocratic group of mages tries to rule the world like asshole dictators and the magic-less working class rises up and forms a zealous communist militia to swarm them with numbers. However, while these are not the most unique political factions, Sykes’ interplay between the groups throughout the book is extremely satisfying and that is all that matters. Plus, his magic (which will go unexplained because of spoilers) is super cool. A lot of the magic system revolves around the costs of power and I really enjoyed it.
Although I loved the book, it had a few areas I felt could be improved. The plot felt a little convoluted by design – you constantly get the feeling that you didn’t have all the puzzle pieces to understand what was in front of you. However, while I get the sense that by the end of the series everything will come together it was a little frustrating when I finished the first book and didn’t have a great picture of what was happening and now have to wait possibly years to get answers. In addition, the middle of the book had some pacing issues. The front and end feel very directed and fast, but there is a large lull in the middle that could have used some tightening up.
Seven Blades in Black is funny, emotional, and transportive. Although the book could have used a little trimming to its 700 page count, the strengths of the book are enough to carry it through any of its shortcomings. The mysteries of Sykes’ world pique the curiosity and capture the imagination – this will be a series to pay attention to in the coming years. We at The Quill to Live definitely recommend Sam Sykes’ most recent book, Seven Blades In Black.
Rating: Seven Blades In Black – 8.0/10