Laura Lam and Elizabeth May’s 2020 Seven Devils is the first book in their projected Seven Devils series.
Tholosians support their Empire because the Empire gives them no choice in the matter. The vast majority are programmed from birth to dedicate their lives to the Empire. The few who are not programmed are confined to slums. Despite this regimentation, the Empire has thus far failed to prevail in its five-century war against the Evoli.
There is a third faction in the conflict: the Resistance, who hope to overthrow the Empire and free its people.
An alliance between Evoli and Resistance would be a no-brainer, were the Evoli to agree. But the Evoli don’t trust anyone from the Empire, not even the Resistance.
The Resistance has only a few members … but they are highly motivated. One of them is an imperial princess. She was once a favored competitor in the fierce internal struggle to succeed the Archon; now she’s just Eris, an agent who specializes in skullduggery and action ops.
Another Resistance member, pilot Cho, suspects that Eris isn’t what she seems and is reluctant to work with her. Too bad. The two are assigned to what is supposed to be a quick infiltration and reconnaissance run. No such luck. They discover an imperial spacecraft filled with dead soldiers — and three living women: soldier Nyx, courtesan Rhea, and super-engineer Ariadne. The three claim that they are trying to defect to the Resistance.
The ship also contains a mysterious rock, one that will have plot consequences.
When Eris faked her death and joined the Resistance. her brother Prince Damocles became heir by default. His position is far from secure. His sister was respected as ruthless enough to rule; all he brings to the game is a vast sense of entitlement. But he has a plan for that! His plan will eliminate his father, disgrace his sister, and place him very firmly on the throne. The only thing between him and total victory: a handful of Resistance fighters.
I regret to say this, but I must. I had high hopes for this book after reading Lam’s Goldilocks, but it did not live up to my expectations. I was willing to cut it some slack for its scientific implausibility (space opera, Star Wars, genre conventions) but even then, my suspension of disbelief kept collapsing.
The authors failed to deal with scale. Both of the great powers span entire galaxies. Billions of planets, amirite? Yet the loss of a single world puts the Empire’s food supply in peril. Another world is valuable as a source of water. The authors seem to have no idea just how large a galaxy is (or how common H20 is, for that matter). When you rule a hundred billion systems, one planet more or less is inconsequential. When you consider how large the population of such an empire might be (billions of planets, each with billions of inhabitants), a Resistance that appears to consist of a dozen or so activists is absurd.
(If you do decide to read this, it may help to mentally replace “galaxy” with “solar system” as you read. If the setting were limited to a couple of small, adjacent solar systems, the plot would make a lot more sense.)
Then there is the overall lack of site security. Our protagonists appear to have no difficulty at all in infiltrating military installations and ships. Any security measures that might interfere with the plot are either absent or incompetently applied (something that is crucial to Damocles’ cunning plan).
We could retcon this as a side-effect of brainwashing your population with implanted software, which might dismantle any ability to spot blatant lies. After all, anyone who can recognize that an “inspector” is a Resistance Agent lying through their teeth may also be able to see through official proclamations. But from what we see of bloody intrigue in the Tholosian aristocracy, the Tholosians can be just as suspicious and cunning (and murderous) as any G.R.R.M protagonists.
It’s a grim setting. Nobody in the Empire gets to be happy. If you’re not a prole forced into a life of backbreaking labour, you’re an aristocrat in serious danger of a knife to the kidneys from an ambitious sibling.
The characters are stock types and not fleshed out all that well. I suppose it’s a pleasant change that stock characters now include women fighting against the evil patriarchy. The prose: competent at best. Narrative pace: not a page-turner.
I wish I had liked this as much as I did Lam’s Goldilocks.