The Maleficent Seven (Book Review)
by Cameron Johnston
5 / 5
I received this book as an e-arc from NetGalley in exchange for a fair review. Thank you also to Angry Robot! This book is coming out on August 10, 2021.
While not for the faint of heart, this book is extraordinarily entertaining. It’s been a long time since I was dismayed when I finished a novel because I was so enthralled by it. If you’ve seen the movie The Magnificent Seven, or, its inspiration, Seven Samurai, this book takes the basic premise (hence the name). Johnston re-creates the “last stand” situation from the movies but in a fantasy setting where the seven village defenders are villains. These are not just morally gray people, but straight-up murderers and psychopaths. There is Black Herran, a demonologist (aka, a witch), Maeven, a necromancer, Captain Varena, a pirate lord, Lorimer Felle, a vampire, Tiarnach, a disgraced war god, Amogg, an orc warrior, and Jarek Hyden, an alchemist (aka the mad scientist).
Every single one of these people are psychopaths or sociopaths who treat others as expendable to further their own goals. Yet, Johnston intricately balances their terribleness with understandable motivations. We get them. We find them fascinating. Their actions make sense. They are all given a few lingering humanistic traits that keep us from hating any of them. In fact, some of the most interesting parts of the novel deal with these aspects. We also get a few side characters that help even out the madness. The main villain isn’t very deep, unfortunately, but he serves his purpose well, and I think it’s intended that we don’t sympathize with him in any way. We don’t really need a complex villain in this story. What’s also awesome about this novel is how old everyone is. Sure, some of them are immortal or at least semi-immortal, but half of the group are in their sixties and seventies. Black Herran is a grandmother. This aspect alone is worth picking up the book. The gender parity and jokes about traditional gender roles were excellent too. The world-building is a little light, but the focus of the novel is not a world conflict, but the defence of one small town. I wasn’t really sure how big the rest of the world is or whether there were other necromancers, for example, but that honestly didn’t matter to me. I loved how Johnston utilized parts of traditional myths surrounding the various villain archetypes and twisted or expanded on them for the novel. Lorimer having both traditional vampiric tendencies and also more shapeshifter/regenerative abilities were quite fascinating, as an example. I will say again - this novel is not for the faint of heart. There are numerous trigger warnings, such as mutilation, torture, animal cruelty (a small part), and death of innocent people, but like the nefarious natures of the characters, the novel balanced the gruesome aspects of the story quite well. It’s obvious the intention behind the novel is that it’s an over-the-top romp. It’s not quite the book equivalent of “extreme cinema”, but it’s violent and bloody and unapologetically so. It’s not a “serious” fantasy, I would argue. Were it so, it would be horrifying, but because the hyperbolic violence is self-aware or at least intentionally over-the-top, it’s lessened by that very fact. It’s almost silly at times because there is also a lot of humour in the novel. I laughed a ton. The book was an absolute riot. I adored it. I wanted more.
I recommend it to people who like their fantasy bloody, irreverent, and have a dark sense of humour.