Seven Devils by Elizabeth May & Laura Lam

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

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Publisher: Gollancz

Publish Date: 4 August 2020

Page Count: 448 pages


I wasn’t going to review Seven Devils as this book wasn’t for me, and I didn’t think that I could write a useful review. However, I’ve decided to post one anyway, partly because I’m a weirdo and want to catalogue ALL of my reading via my blog, and also because I want to justify spending money on two different editions of the book.

I initially gave this novel two stars on Goodreads, but I’ve since bumped that up to 2.5, maybe just shy of three, since my expectations had been set sky-high by the book I read before it. Going from Essa Hansen’s rich and sensorial prose to ‘spaceship goes whoosh‘ and ‘gun goes bang‘ was a little jarring.

I’ll get on with writing my review with the assumption that you’ve already read some of the many 5-star reviews on Goodreads (see link above), so you can decide whether Seven Devils is for you. I would advise avoiding the book description, however, as it does give away a couple of interesting plot points.

In Seven Devils, the Tholosian Empire is steadily expanding throughout the galaxies, ruthlessly exterminating alien species and exploiting their planets for resources.

Led by a cold-hearted, centuries-old Emperor, Tholosian citizens are created in cloning vats and given an implant at birth so they can be surveyed, and even controlled, by the omnipresent AI named The Oracle (or One, when referred to as sentient rather than a program).

On the outskirts of Tholosian territory, the Novantae resistance recruits anyone lucky enough to be free of One’s programming, and fights their slow war against the Empire by stealing ships.

Clo and Eris are assigned by Novantae leadership to gather intel on a suspicious Tholosian shipment, an awkward assignment given that they hate each other. Their covert mission takes a dramatic turn when they find the crew of the Zelus murdered, and discover that they aren’t the only people to sneak aboard.

I think the primary idea behind this book was to have a kick-ass group of women saving the universe (according to the acknowledgements, the inspiration was actually Fury Road in space). This sounds like something I would enjoy, but unfortunately, I didn’t find it very well executed.

From the beginning of the story, Clo and Eris’ feud lacked plausibility for me, despite being central to the plot. I did enjoy the book more when the main characters are assembled, and some of their POV chapters work nicely together. Reading from each respective character’s POV, then seeing how other characters perceived them in such close quarters was a clever way to bring their personalities to life. 

Having said that, the characters are… not very nice people. For example, they force an abused and traumatised child to face her abuser repeatedly for the sake of their resistance. When the kid has a panic attack, the only genuinely kind character just tells her to keep her chin up.

They also make a hell of a lot of bad choices when they’re not being forced into doing things by other people. This is why I don’t understand why this book is specifically marketed as a ‘feminist space opera’. Beyond the use of female lead characters and the lack of focus on gender inequality (though it still exists in this universe, unlike other SFF books), I couldn’t find the message of female empowerment that this label promises. I know that characters can be realistically flawed and that you don’t need superheroes to represent feminism, but something about this book, or perhaps that marketing, feels off. If that’s my cis male talking, I’m genuinely more than happy for someone who has read the book to explain it to me.

Beyond the idea of an all-female sci-fi, the details of the story and worldbuilding lack consideration. I’m a fan of hard sci-fi as much as SF books that are light on technology and science, but I still need those stories be logical if not believable.

The Tholosian empire pumps out more and more vat-grown humans to staff their army and acquire additional resources. Firstly, how does a literal galaxy-spanning empire even have a lack of resources? Secondly, why not use robots as your soldiers, since Tholosians don’t have free will anyway? I imagine it’s more cost-effective, and robots don’t need the precious food resources that motivate the Empire’s endless conquest. In the initial chapters, I thought the book was going to be about an AI ruler who has achieved control over humanity ( I think ‘The Oracle’ and ‘One’ reminded me of The Matrix), which would have made more sense to me.

Other small oversights throughout the book bothered me, like a character growing out his hair in what I think was a matter of days, or when the crew is standing around in the ship’s cockpit while exiting a planet’s gravity and making a hyperjump, despite being strapped in and vomiting when they landed on the planet. I have a long list that gets more spoilery, but, you get my point.

Overall, my feeling is that this book contained some good ideas and some lovely character moments, but it needed more thought. Someone in a Facebook group described the story recently as a YA sci-fi/fantasy which I think sets a far more realistic expectation than an adult, feminist space opera.

The great thing about the blogging community is the dramatic variety of taste even within genre fiction, so I’d love to hear other people’s thoughts on this book.

Trigger warnings: Death/murder of family, child abuse, sexual abuse

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13 thoughts on “Seven Devils by Elizabeth May & Laura Lam

  1. For what it’s worth, I thoroughly enjoyed this. Eris and Clo were hard to warm up to, with Eris especially a challenge in that I came to admire her but never really liked her. It was Nyx, Ariadne, and Rhea who made the book for me.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m glad you liked the book! I really liked Ariadne and Rhea, but I thought their treatment of Ariadne was pretty awful. Nyx bothered me, I think because her moral dilemma about killing was very come and go.
    I wanted to like Eris, but didn’t really believe her decision to join the resistance instead of staying where she was to fix everything.

    Like

  3. Hey, not every book works for every reader. I just reviewed a book I didn’t like much that has a bunch of 4 and 5 star reviews on Goodreads, and I’m like did we even read the same book? Lol.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. It’s true! I felt the same with this one. Part of me feels like I shouldn’t review books on my blog if I don’t actually recommend them. But I put in the time and money to read it, so I want to have some content to show for it 😬
    I can’t recall seeing many negative reviews from you, Tammy!

    Like

  5. I’ve not read this one but I read Laura Lam’s Goldilocks and had some similar feelings about that one. Some good ideas, not particularly well executed.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I somehow managed to miss this review but, so glad I didn’t buy the book. I trust your judgement, and if it didn’t work for you, I know it probably won’t for me.

    Liked by 1 person

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