If you have been hanging around The Quill to Live for a while you might know that we love Sebastian de Castell. Author of The Greatcoats and Spellslinger series, de Castell is a permanent fixture in our hidden gem recommendations. He has a swashbuckler charm that pervades all his stories with humor, drama, and emotion that make them stylistically unique and always fun to read. Well, he excitedly has a number of new books on the horizon and the first of these, The Malevolent Seven, is just around the bend. As the first book in a series about the destructive power of mages who pull magic from other realities, Seven is a good time despite its grimdark appearance.
Cade Ombra is a mercenary wonderist and a generally miserable person. His ability to rip magic from other worlds through the fabric of reality makes him a dangerous individual that few are likely to cross. On the other hand, his profession as a war-mage for hire means that he only seems to associate with other deranged mages or petty warlords who want to use them in their egocentric squabbles. It’s a life. Cade has been bouncing around between horrifying wars for a while and has found a few other mages he doesn’t want to kill on sight. But, when a deity from another plane offers him a team-up job too good to pass, Cade must decide if the fellow reprobates he chucks lightning with can be trusted– or relied on. Cade is taking on a suicide mission against the seven deadliest mages on the continent with the promise of untold reward, what could possibly go wrong?
Knocking the basics out right away, de Castell has always been amazing at characters, dialogue, and chemistry. This has not changed. Compared to his earlier work, de Castell is playing around with anti-heroes a lot more than he did previously and I find him stellar at it. He finds the perfect line between making a character likable and immoral and dances back and forth over it the entire story. Cade is a mysterious fellow that very obviously has a tumultuous past, and his skills as a pseudo-detective in the book make unraveling the mysteries very fun. The dialogue is punchy and funny with a number of very memorable lines without feeling stale. I laughed more while reading Seven than I have at a book in a while.
Seven is packed with drama and emotion that pulls you in and gets you very invested quickly. Previous de Castell novels were excellent at creating points of conflict that emotionally tore you, but Seven, with its focus on the morally gray characters, goes deeper and harder since it has a darker space to play with. The chemistry of the team-up is also fabulous. De Castell really knows what personalities to put in a room to balance one another. The back and forth is so fun that I often forgot that these mages are not heroes until they very unpleasantly reminded me–which is also a theme of the story that is nicely encapsulated in the experience.
While Seven is bursting at the seams with green flags, there are two beige ones I think are worth mentioning. The first is that this pacing in The Malevolent Seven is like being dragged behind a car–sometimes painfully fast. There is no cartilage on this beast, only muscle and bone. We move from intense plot point to plot constantly with almost no downtime. For some, this will be a positive. The story wastes no time on little things and is only big explosive moments. But, in a book with such good cast chemistry, I would have loved to see slower moments of interaction between the members. The second is that Seven can feel a little tropey in the beginning. While the back half of the book does a lot to distinguish Seven and its characters, I could sometimes feel like the cast was a little two-dimensional at first. However, by the end of the book everyone has carved out their own space and I cannot wait for the sequel.
The Malevolent Seven is a great time with bad people. The magic is fun, the cast is funny, and the quest is hopeless. I highly recommend you strap in and watch this diverse cast of rogues fall upward toward their goal with as much cursing and calamity as possible. I could not be happier to be back in one of de Castell’s stories and I can’t wait to see where it goes next.
Rating: The Malevolent Seven – 9.0/10
An ARC of this book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The thoughts on this book are my own.