“That’s the thing about lies. You can forge them hard as you can, polish them to a high shine, make them so sharp they could cut rock, but it’s still your hand that throws them. And every time you do, you risk missing.
And me? I’m a good shot.
But not that good.”
Synopsis: Alone, imprisoned, and condemned to death, Sal The Cacophony, our unreliable narrator, presents us with a lie so sharp it could cut God in this tale of operatic grandeur. In the hands of Governor-Militant Tretta Stern, Sal fights the passage of time ’til her inevitable execution at the hands of the Revolution. It is a tale laden with secrets…can we trust her word? Or is Sal playing a greater game?
I’ll preface this review by stating up front that I sincerely enjoyed everything about this book. Before I even read a word, I was enticed by the beautiful artwork of Jeremy Wilson; what a striking depiction of Sal! inside, we have a great little map of Sal’s world drawn by Tim Paul (a feature I tend to enjoy in my Fantasy novels; it helps me visualize things better). For those of you who take the “bang for your buck” approach to book-buying (I cannot claim to follow this school of thought), you’re looking at 661 wonderful pages for roughly 23$ CAD (that’s 17.99$ USD) in large paperback format; suffice it to say that this is an excellent value! My only regret is that I couldn’t get a sign/numbered hardcover.
For those unfamiliar with Sam Sykes, he has a very particular literary voice. At moments, he draws one in with a sincerity and gravitas suited to the greatest of epics; then, suddenly one finds themselves laughing at a passage of absolutely hilarious vulgarity. It is a strange and pleasing contrast. Seven Blades In Black is Sykes’ love letter to Japanese games and entertainment; similarities to the Final Fantasy world abound (the Revolutionaries bring to mind Final Fantasy VI, and the rideable birds certainly bring to mind Chocobos) and there are many callbacks to Anime such as Trigun (Sal, to me, is a gloomier and more erratic female “Vash The Stampede”). A sprawling world, larger-than-life characters, drama, immense stakes… all part of a great tradition of Japanese-style storytelling. The frequent appearance of Sykes’ quirky humor acts as a binder and palate-cleanser, preventing things from getting too heavy, too fast.
One cannot help but like the story’s tortured protagonist. Sal is a woman of great appetites: alcohol, food, men and women, theater, violence, and revenge are all consumed by her with gusto. She is a force of nature, leaving destruction in her wake. Sal is also a strangely vulnerable and troubled woman: she has been deeply wounded in the past, and her relationship with this pain is the crux of the story. This can get a bit heavy-handed at times, but one must remember that much of this story is told in the first person; we can forgive Sal for being a bit introspective!
This novel walks in the footprints of some pretty big names: the nested narrative style brings to mind “One Thousand and One Nights” (though Sal is certainly no Sheherazade) and the protagonist’s lust for vengeance certainly calls back to “The Count of Monte Cristo”. That said, the similarities are rather superficial and this text carries itself on its own merit. The delivery is on point, and I never found myself getting bored. Sam has done a great job building a world that is at once fresh and original, while simultaneously evoking some serious nostalgia.
This was definitely one of my top reads of 2019, and I sincerely hope you take the time to pick up a copy to read for yourself (I hear Sam lets a hostage go if you provide him proof on Twitter). Good news as well: the sequel, “Ten Arrows of Iron”, will be released August 4/2020.