An explosive space opera: Seven Mercies by Laura Lam and Elizabeth May

Seven Merciesthe second novel collaboration between Elizabeth May and Laura Lam, is the conclusion of the space opera duology that began with the 2020s. seven demons. A small band of ragged rebels stand against the might of a murderous empire and the mind-controlling AI of its citizens. The results are explosive.

Each of the POV characters is deeply affected in their own way. And there is no shortage of point-of-view characters: Eris, former heiress to the empire, haunted by the atrocities she committed in his service and by her rivalry with the new emperor, her brother; Nyx, a former super-soldier, now dying of a terrible disease and forced to learn to rely on more than her physical abilities; Kyla, the rebellion’s commander, a former Imperial soldier whose brother was taken over and mind-controlled; Clo, a mechanic who has been part of the rebellion for many years; Rhea, Clo’s lover, who was genetically altered to have psychic gifts and who escaped sexual slavery in the heart of the imperial court; Ariadne, a teenage girl who was raised to be the engineer whose hands and eyes sustain the AI ​​whose influence pervades all of Imperial society but who wanted more – love, a family, freedom – and Cato, a pilot with the memories and skills of a doctor, who still has the whispers of the AI ​​in the back of his brain.

I loved seven demonsbut I also found it unsatisfactory. Seven Mercies is enjoyable and unsatisfying in equal measure, though it’s well-paced, entertaining, and explosive enough for a space opera clearly operating in Star Wars lore. Reflection leads me to realize that one of the things I enjoy most about science fiction and fantasy, especially large-scale (epic? epic) works, is the detail of the setting, the systems that make up the world, the sense of history, and the overlapping layers of accretion, change, and loss that make cultures distinct from peoples who started in the same place. Give me a small treatise on agriculture in snatches between planning a rescue, a digression on the treatment of waste water, asides on ecology or the different treatment of the dead, a diversity of myths and rituals and approaches the world: characters with hobbies and interests that involve more than ever displayed on the page. Absent that layered depth of detail – and for many people, distracting and unnecessary – I find myself less engrossed, less constrained, less satisfied.

In Seven Merciesa sin seven demons, Lam and May are more about emotion and character than about systems. The frame, aside from its broadest features, is more of a backdrop for sentiment than anything else. There isn’t much room for all seven POV characters to have very well-developed arcs, but three have very well-developed ones: Rhea has to deal with infiltrating among people who could very well l welcoming her into her home for her psychic gifts, and choosing what kind of home, what kind of freedoms she appreciates the most; Ariadne comes to terms with what her choices as a mind-controlling AI engineer have done and recognizes her future; and Eris must come to terms with her brother, whose rivalry and lust for power have helped shape her entire life, and against whom – as opposed to whom – she defines herself.

Thematically, Seven Mercies gives the impression of not having particularly interesting arguments. Its central concern is freedom from very literal self-effacement – the subsumation of self into, essentially, an AI-controlled hive mind or psychic connection to a larger group identity – but it does not dive in the nature of freedom or constraint. Eris and Ariadne are the only characters who, despite being groomed from birth for their roles, really had a lot of options to make choices in their service to the empire. (No wonder they’re my favorite.) Seven MerciesLike seven demonsis less interested in questions of complicity and identity, of ethical choices in a broken world, than in action and explosions.

May and Lam are very good at action and explosions. The action and explosions are delightful. I love to read about them. However, there is a gap between what I want in a space opera and what Seven Mercies gave me, from its dizzying opening to its explosive climax and every confrontation in between. It’s not Seven Mercies‘Failing that what it offers and what I want most from a novel are different things: it’s in many ways compelling, and it’s definitely a fun and entertaining adventure.

Seven Mercies is available from DAW.

Liz Bourke was grumpy. Now they are just tired. She holds a PhD in Classics from Trinity College Dublin. Their first book, sleep with monsters, a collection of reviews and reviews, was published in 2017 by Aqueduct Press. It was a finalist for the 2018 Locus Awards and was nominated for a 2018 Hugo Award in the Best Related Work category. Find it on Patreon Where Twitter.

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