Fiction Reviews

The Malevolent Seven

(2023) Sebastien de Castell, Jo Fletcher Books, £20, hrdbk, 373pp, ISBN 978-1-529-42277-1


This pulled me in from the first moments; it just felt like it was going to be fun - and it was. The first chapter is titled ‘Real Mages Don’t Wear Funny Hats’ and that about sets the tone; this is about ‘realistic’ mages, complete with all their troubles and tribulations.

The story follows the adventures of Cade Ombra, a war mage. Whereas the wizards of legends might wear funny hats, Cade wears a steel helmet - it wards off physical blows and you do not have to waste life-or-death moments summoning the right words. In Cade’s line of work, out there on the battlefield, surrounded by death and destruction (much of it at his own hands), such things matter. We join the story as Cade and his magical companions, wonderists as they are known, assist the troops storming the castle of Archon Belleda as their employer, the self-declared Ascendant Prince Lucien, has figured that a few wonderists will be helpful to his plans of overcoming and destroying his enemy. The defending mages (who wear long robes and funny hats) are far too nice a bunch for the murderous scum attacking them and they do not stand a chance, as Cade delights in explaining to us. Being written in the first person, Cade does a lot of explaining to us and most of it is pretty cynical - and very amusing.

The battle over and bodies everywhere, Lucien decrees that his troops should kill every one of the defenders, even though they had surrendered to him. Cade is far from impressed; he may be war mage whose only interest is the payment from his current employer, but there are still sort-of rules and some very vague sense of decency - the mass murder of the surrendered defenders is just plain wrong and needs to be stopped. However, before he can remonstrate with the Ascendant Prince, somebody beats him to it and Lucien suffers the appalling fate of being shredded by a summoned hellborn. The big problem for Cade is that his fellow mages think it was he that did it and are determined to hand him over to the Glorian Justicars before they themselves are associated with the ‘crime’. Fortunately for Cade, Corrigan Blight, a long-term fellow war mage and friend (an advisory term), realises that his best option is to save Cade and ditch the rest of their dubious group to the ‘mercies’ of the Justicars and so he initiates an obliteration spell. Those mages that survive it will face the Justicars whilst he and Cade will be safely a long way away.

Cade explains to us that wonderists such as himself are people who are in touch with alternative realities. Somewhere out there, for example, is a reality where thunder and lighting naturally appear from empty skies and all a thunder mage like Corrigan does is blur the lines that separate the two realities such that lighting will strike from their own empty sky. Each wonderist is born with their own, natural area of influence and power. Cade, though, has something extra - he deals with the demon Tenebris and, for a high price, has bought some really, really powerful spells.

Given their situation, Cade accepts Corrigan’s suggestion that they follow up a dubious job offer from far away, a job which will require them to build a new group of wonderists, seven being the required number. Accompanied by Galass, a surviving child slave from Lucien’s camp (and who proves to be developing into a powerful blood mage), and her pet jackal Mister Bones, Cade and Corrigan set off towards their next employment at the worryingly named Mages’ Grave. Following various skirmishes as they make their way, they boost their numbers with Aradeus Mozen, Shame, and Alice, who are a rat mage, an angelic, and a demon respectively. After several adventures they finally arrive at Mages’ Grave and discover that their task is simple - save the world as they know it. Oh, and they must step over the many bodies of those who have already failed to do so. And, of course, there are other interested parties and much proves to be not as it seemed, even at the highest level of the Lords Celestine and the Lords Devilish.

I really enjoyed this book, from the first page through to the end. I liked Cade’s attitude, which one comes to understand as one learns more about his very varied path through life (‘joining the other side’ hardly sums it up), and I found the characters to be interesting and the story continuously inventive. Good and Evil are almost redefined and Heroes come in many guises and with many attitudes. The author has written over a dozen novels in the fantasy genre, some of them for young adults, and I look forward to reading more. I find that there is something rather special and enjoyable about a hero who is not exactly clean-cut!

Peter Tyers

See also Ian's take on The Malevolent Seven.


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