Book Review: Seven Blades in Black by Sam Sykes

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

Seven Blades in Black by Sam Sykes

Mogsy’s Rating: 3 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Book 1 of The Grave of Empires

Publisher: Orbit (April 9, 2019)

Length: 608 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

I don’t think I enjoyed this one as most others, but honestly, I believe it had more to do with my mindset going in than anything to do with the book. Seven Blades in Black is rollicking action-packed epic fantasy full of spellbinding magic, tantalizing intrigue, and bloody violent battles—in other words, pretty much everything an avid reader of the genre could ask for. That said, it is also a heavy clunker of a book and there’s a lot going on, resulting in plenty of highs but also many lows when it comes to the story’s pacing and interest.

The main setting of the novel is an area of the world called the Scar, a continent that has been torn apart by a brutal war against the Empire and the Revolution since time immemorial. At the center of it all is our protagonist, a feisty mage by the name of Sal the Cacophony. Sal is known throughout these parts as a quick-witted gunslinger who rides a giant bird, carries a thunderous sentient hand cannon, and wields a sword named Jeff. She’s quick at the draw and sharp as a blade, but she also has plenty of issues including a massive chip on her shoulder and a vendetta against the mages who betrayed her.

At the beginning of the book, we find out that Sal has been captured by the Revolution, robbed of her weapons and magic, and is awaiting execution. Under interrogation, she recounts her story, gradually revealing the sequence of events which led her to begin her journey of vengeance and how it ended with a trail of destruction and death left in her wake.

Sitting at over 600 pages, this is definitely a book that requires a substantial time investment and a fair bit of patience. Others have been able binge this one in a couple of days, but for me it was a struggle to motivate myself to even pick it up on most occasions. But like I said from the outset, this probably had little to do with the book itself and everything to do with me. My goal had been to find a fun fantasy to read for the purposes of unwinding and de-stressing, and when I heard about the swashbuckling action and witty humor in this, I thought it would be perfect. And to be fair, it did provide a fair amount of entertainment and excitement in a general sense, though as I soon found out after I started reading, the story was also a lot more complicated and not as easygoing as I had expected.

For one, the plot itself is fairly complex—gratuitously so, I felt at times. And while the time shifts were somewhat clever, there was also a forced quality to them, like I could feel the author’s hand in pushing the characters and events through to his desired storyline every step of the way. There were also numerous sections in the book that made me question whether they were really needed, like dense paragraphs of tortured melodramatic internal monologue or repetition of certain character or story themes. The thing is, lengthy books don’t typically pose a problem for me; usually when I find a doorstopper of an epic fantasy novel that is skillfully written and keeps me well engaged, I can breeze through them like any other. With this one though, there were certainly moments where I definitely felt the full brunt of its massive page-length and a mental countdown of how many pages I had left to go was on the back of my mind far more frequently than I would have liked.

Sal was also a difficult character to like. By design, she’s a cantankerous, belligerent piece of work. Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve certainly enjoyed my fair share of other “unlikeable” characters who come across endearing and charming even when they do nothing but act like jerks through the entire book. But something about Sal just rubbed me the wrong way. Her swagger, snark, and devil-may-care attitude seemed really artificial in the way she was written, and her anger and woe-is-me self-pity came across as overly dramatic. It made connecting to her nearly impossible, and once sympathizing with her became difficult, inevitably there also went much of my interest in Sal’s story or resolution of the conflict.

Again, I am very much a mood reader and I imagine I would have enjoyed this one a lot more had I been in the right frame of mind and more lenient towards some of the issues I mentioned. But as it was, I had expected a story line that flowed better and a more engaging conflict and main character. I will say however that the premise of Seven Blades in Black was unique, with a concept behind the main character that was solid and imaginative. The world-building was also phenomenal. For those reasons, I give this book 3 stars despite the weaknesses in the plot and story structure. To its credit, I do think that it managed to pull everything together for a great finale—perhaps not in time to wow me, but it did make me more open-minded to the possibility of checking out the next book (and I’ll know what state of mind to be in if I do)!

27 Comments on “Book Review: Seven Blades in Black by Sam Sykes”

  1. Well Mogsy this is a fantastic review that I will take my inspiration when I wull have to explain why a book which seemed perfectly enjoya le just missed that little something for me to really love it. Like you I am a moody reader and I stop reading when ut does not feel right at that precise moment for the mood I am in. Otherwise it ends up as a meh read instead of a great one and it is a disservice for the book and me.


      • Bwahahaha I used to be like you and soldier on Mogsy but now that I am blogging I don’t have the time anymore 😉


  2. Really generous review, Mogsy, considering your trouble with this book 🙂 I read a couple of critical reviews of it, which coupled with the horrid cover already convinced me I wouldn’t enjoy it – but your review sealed the deal 😉 It may be your mood played a part in the final rating, but the weak points you mentioned would certainly rub me the wrong way as well 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah I tried not to hold it against the book, not its fault that I just wasn’t feeling it 😀 Objectively I recognized it was pretty well written, but it just wasn’t my thing. And lol, I gotta admit you’re right though, the cover is pretty horrendous!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Aye, matey. This review was spot on. After reading this review, I went back and read me initial thoughts on the book to see what they were since some time has passed. In it, I said that I would be interested in reading the second book in the series because of the world building. But based on this review and me own thoughts this much later, I have to admit that I don’t think I would read it unless reviewers (like ye) read and adored it. Arrrr!
    x The Captain


  4. Great review! I totally see why this was not a perfect read for you! I will still have to check this out at some point!



  5. To be honest, the moment I saw the horrible cover I knew I wouldn’t be reading this book. Shallow but true! Although I have seen a lot of rave reviews, so I guess like you said it might be a case of being in the right mood.


  6. I really appreciate your candor with how you approached this book, too bad it didn’t work for you! I ended up loving it, though I fully admit there was some repetitive wallowing, especially in the first third of the book (I get it, you’ve been a horrible person in the past and you can’t be in a happy relationship).


    • Thanks, I can understand why you and others loved it though! It was pretty entertaining and action-packed for an epic fantasy, I think I just expected more in the rollicking/swashbuckling fun department, like something in the vein of the Greatcoats by Sebastien de Castell. And yeah, there was the issue of my mood at the time, which couldn’t be helped!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. With such a premise I would have indeed expected a more engaging book, but I understad what you mean when you mention moods and the way they affect our reactions to any given story. Still, I’m intrigued, and this author is on my list of next discoveries… 🙂


  8. There was something about this one that made me hesitate a lot and ultimately led me to skip it. A bit unfortunate that your mindset played a pretty big role in your enjoyment though. I’ll definitely be cautious about picking this one up in the future as well. Especially with that length! Wonderful review as always!


  9. I have yet to read any of Sam’s books. I think I’d like them, because if they’re like Sam then they’re probably a lot of fun, just haven’t gotten around to any yet. Sorry this one wasn’t a total hit for you. Great review!


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  11. It kind of makes you feel bad that your mood can affect your reading but obviously it’s going to do so. I still haven’t read this author and I don’t think this will be the place to start tbh.
    Lynn 😀


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