Book Review: Seven Devils by Laura Lam and Elizabeth May

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Title: Seven Devils

Author: Laura Lam and Elizabeth May

Publisher: Daw

Publication Date: Aug 4, 2020

Genres: Science Fiction

Shelves: Female-authored, Female-fronted

Damn, but this was a hell of a lot of fun! Seven Devils is exactly as advertised, a feminist space opera about women supporting and loving one another while kicking the patriarchal empire’s ass. Laura Lam and Elizabeth May have crafted a sweeping epic that feels as significant as it is spectacular, and I’m already anxious for the as-yet-untitled sequel.

Admittedly, I wasn’t so sure about things at the start. Eris and Clo are hard to warm up to – there’s so much tension there that bad blood is dripping off the page. The bickering and sniping at one another was getting on my nerves and I was pretty sure I couldn’t handle a whole novel of that. But then we meet up with the women who will round out their crew – Nyx, Ariadne, and Rhea – and the depth of sisterhood between them completely turned my emotions inside out. I still found Eris to be a challenge, a woman I came to admire but never really liked, but that was much less of an issue when surrounded by the larger cast.

Royalty, soldier, mechanic, hacker, courtesan – a more diverse group of women you couldn’t ask for. The sense of found family is such a huge part of what makes their story compelling, with women healing and supporting of one another, and the sweet, slow-burn romance between two of them was one of my favorite things about the book. Oh, and I’d be completely remiss if I didn’t mention Kyla, the transgender rebellion leader who joins them to get her hands dirty in the latter portion of the book. She’s secondary to the crew in many respects, but I loved how perfectly she embodied the themes of freedom, autonomy, and transformation.

I’ve seen some reviewers lament the pacing and the use of flashbacks but, for me, they were what made the book. The present-day story is a pretty simple bit of space opera rebellion – infiltrate the ship, steal the superweapon, sabotage the evil empire, save the day – but it is the women who make it compelling. Understanding who they are, how they suffered under the empire, and why they came to join the rebellion is what allows us to sympathize/empathize with them. There were moments where I didn’t want to leave those flashbacks, where I either wanted to know the rest of the story or just spend a little more time with them.

On the dark side of the story, we’re faced with an Evil Empire that deserves full capitalization. It’s a patriarchal, militaristic, genocidal culture that uses a truly invasive AI entity to control thoughts and emotions, and which treats those outside the One’s reach as either disposable or deplorable. There’s been a trend in the last decade to paint heroes and villains in shades of grey, to leave readers questioning rebellions and their motivations, but there’s no such doubt there. By the end of the book, we don’t just want the Eris and her crew to succeed because we like them, we need them to succeed because the empire needs to fall!

I went into Seven Devils with hopes and I can honestly say it paid off in every respect. It’s well-written, engaging, fast-paced, fabulously feminine, and fiercely feminist. The technology, the science, and the alien biology are all fascinating, and there’s genuine scope to the universe as well as the story. As Lam herself noted, there are elements of Rouge One, Fury Road, Firefly, and Guardians of the Galaxy here, but the whole of the story is so much more than the sum of its parts.

Rating: ♀ ♀ ♀ ♀ 1/2

My sincere thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review.

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