(2022) Elizabeth May & Laura Lam, Gollancz, £20, hrdbk, 426pp, ISBN 978-1-473-23496-5
Seven Mercies is the second book of the 'Seven Devils' duology by Elizabeth May and Laura Lam. While it could be read on its own, it is better being read with the first half of the story.
Eris has left her position in the royal family leaving her father’s empire in the possession of her brother, Damocles. The artificial intelligence, known as the Oracle, wants her young priestess to come home to the temple. To this aim, she seeks to remove the violence of the people.
The rebellion, lead by the Seven Devils seek to overthrow Damocles and remove the threat to the minds of the people.
One of the quotes on the back cover says that Seven Devils is “A witty, fast-paced, feminist space opera”. I definitely agree it is witty, fast-paced space opera, but I am not sure about “feminist”. Yes, the primary characters are female, the main antagonist is male and it is written by two women. This novel is definitely progressive, female protagonists in military leadership roles. However, I do worry that “feminist” novels will become a new “chick lit” and be used to tell men that the book is not for them. Arguably, the book could also be described as military science fiction, although some who love that subgenre might be put off by the lesbiaη relationship between two of the characters.
There are variety of themes within the novel, the well-trod science fiction tropes of the AI turning against humanity and a small rebellion against a large space empire. It also asks questions about whether humankind will inevitably make war and whether it would be better to have peace at all costs.
The Oracle has two objectives, to increase their processing power and to control the warlike tendencies of the people. This is at first used to control those who would rebel against the Empire, but then might have wider implications even for those who remain loyal as there are few safeguards. The issues of individual freedom versus the inevitable lack of order is not solely the preserve of fiction, but very much a current one for modern society.
This theme is reinforced when we meet the Evoli an alien race who seek to join together in a collective consciousness.
Another theme in the book is the use of propaganda in warfare. How Eris is viewed by the population is the product of the portrayal in the Empire’s media. Earlier in her life shown by her father as conquering hero and later by her brother as a betrayer of all that is good. How Damocles uses the trappings of his position and using his power to show himself in a desirable light. The difference between “brave rebellion” and “insurgents” is often that of media perspective rather than a difference in the actions themselves.
In summary, these books provide an enjoyable, layered tale with much to engage the reader.
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