Title: Seven Blades in Black
Author: Sam Sykes
Series: The Grave of Empires #1
E.S.C.A.P.E Score: 51
(see breakdown below)
I received a free eARC copy from Gollancz , via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
Sam Sykes returns with a new fantasy that introduces to an unforgettable outcast magician caught between two warring empires.
Among humans, none have power like mages. And among mages, none have will like Sal the Cacophony. Once revered, now vagrant, she walks a wasteland scarred by generations of magical warfare. The Scar, a land torn between powerful empires, is where rogue mages go to disappear, disgraced soldiers go to die and Sal went with a blade, a gun and a list of names she intended to use both on. But vengeance is a flame swift extinguished. Betrayed by those she trusted most, her magic torn from her and awaiting execution, Sal the Cacophony has one last tale to tell before they take her head. All she has left is her name, her story and the weapon she used to carve both.
Vengeance is its own reward.
Oh how do you objectively review a book that you devoured whole heartedly with glee? I have actually read this book twice. I received an ARC and was blown away, struggling to assess my thoughts and write this review, I then listened to the Audiobook (which in itself is fantastic) and this allowed me to finally get some thoughts down.
This is a complete delight. A sassy, action packed, laugh out loud romp though a deep and detailed world, both complex and lighthearted. It is fantastically female dominated with strong powerful women on all sides of warring nations.
The narration is fantastic! We follow the jail cell confessions of Sal the Cacophony, a vagrant mage, to her jailor, the ambitious Governor-Militant Tretta Stern. What makes this special is how the narrative changes as the time spent telling her tale to Tretta, staving off her execution. She starts of cocky, confident and teasing but as she delves into her deeds. Then as she follows her story to its conclusion she mellows, gets darker and becomes more of a reliable narrator as she shows the emotional impact of her deeds. This is punctured with Scenes in the prison between Tretta and Sal, some very humourous, some with more leavity and some from the perspective of Tretta exploring her ambition and what she is hoping to get from hearing Sal’s story in full.
This complexity is bolstered by the sheer deapth of the worldbuilding and I am pretty sure we are only just scratching the surface. The magic systems were extensive, with links to music, weather, spirits etc. The video game influence is apparent with the different “classes”, from mages, to soldiers (from many different camps) to Freemakers (an engineer/scientific class) and mystics/spy characters. All have interlinked backgrounds to societies, governmental machinations that run through the background of the tale, building both the history and the future for this series. I get the impression we are only just scratching the surface.
This story itself twists and turns, through Sal’s attempt at romance, her quest for vengeance, her reluctance at accepting help and even more at being heroic. Sykes kept me guessing. I had hypothesise of how the ending may go, while I was right in some respects I couldn’t have even though of others and the ending managed to leave a creepy chill that made me want the next book immediately.