Seven Surrenders (Terra Ignota, #2)
by Ada Palmer
Review by Sam Lubell
Tor Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765378026
Date: 21 February 2017 List Price $26.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
The first book in this series, Too Like the Lightning, is a finalist for this year's Hugo Award. It also just won the Compton Cook award given by the Baltimore Science Fiction Society. In my review, I predicted that Palmer would become an important voice in science fiction. So far, she's making good progress on that.
Seven Surrenders is really the second half of Too Like the Lightning. Palmer wrote the two as a single book that Tor later divided into two. For this reason, more than most sequels, this continuation will be totally incomprehensible to those who have not read the first book--and even those who have should review that book before jumping into this one.
Summing up the plot of this book is extremely difficult as most of it revolves around revealing the truth behind the mysteries and secrets introduced in the first book. Unfortunately, the first few chapters appear to be fragmented in a way better suited for the middle of a novel (which this admittedly was) as a collection of unrelated incidents, religious discussions, and flashbacks. The book opens, after a quick note about censorship, with a chapter about his kidnapping narrated by Sniper, not Mycroft Canner who narrates the rest of the book. Then the book jumps to a discussion among the world's political leaders about the investigation into the Black Sakura Seven-Ten list and the secret assassinations performed by the Saneer bash (family) which serves to remind readers of some of the events of the first book. Then there is an elaborate religious discussion when Carlyle Foster is tricked into visiting Madame's brothel/secret religious order only to learn that Dominic is now Carlyle's sensayer (a sort of combination religious advisor/psychiatrist). Dominic uses 18th-century religious philosophy to expose and shatter Carlyle's religious beliefs to convince Carlyle to help Dominic take control of Bridger, the child who can work miracles.
A flashback shows Mycroft's trial for murdering the Mardi bash, revealing that he was saved through the intervention of JEDD Mason, then a child, who recognized that Mycroft was not able to do evil for evil's sake so was essentially benign. After Dominic captures Saladin, Mycroft's lover and partner in killing, Caesar forces Mycroft to admit that Apollo had predicted an inevitable war and was trying to launch it ahead of time so that its severity would be reduced. This was the true reason why Mycroft murdered the Mardi bash, leading to Mycroft becoming a Servicer, a servant to the political leaders, JEDD Mason, and the Saneer bash.
But the true virtue of the book is not the extremely complex plot, but the wonderful 18th-century style narrative voice. At some points, Mycroft, an extremely unreliable narrator, admits that he has been concealing the true sex of some of the characters. At other points, Mycroft speaks directly to the reader. "So I raced, and watched, and dispatched a silent prayer too... You may if you wish to aid us, pray as well, reader. The Hand that weaves Providence knows everything from creation to infinity, and takes account of the future when He plans the past; if prayer has any power to sway Fate then, even though, from your perspective, Carlyle was either saved or not saved long ago, it could still be your prayer, now, as you read, that swayed the Judge."
The world of Seven Surrenders is set in our future but a future with strong links to the 18th-century. The author, Ada Palmer, is a Professor of Early Modern European History at the University of Chicago and is also affiliated with its Classics Department and Center for Gender and Sexuality Studies. This series draws on all these aspects of her academic career.
A key feature of the book is that in this future, Madam has rediscovered the power of femininity and sex paired with religion to control others in a gender neutral world since people have not developed their resistance to these tactics through persistent exposure. Ironically, by trying the political leaders to herself, she also ties them to each other, postponing the conflict Apollo foresaw. But not all corruption stems from Madam's attempts to rule the rulers. The Sensayers have been corrupted by Julia Doria-Pamphili's campaign against the Mitsubishi family and the Cousins Feedback Bureau has been rigged.
This complex book really needs a list of all the characters (especially as some have multiple names), their Hives, and their bashes.
Like Too Like the Lightning, Seven Surrenders is an extremely difficult book. It is simultaneously political, philosophical, historical, and religious. There's little traditional action, most of the conflict takes place through conversations and through exposures of the truth. Readers who accept the challenge posed by this book will find themselves with a book that can affect how they think about the future, present, and past. This is not a beach book, but a rich and highly sophisticated novel that calls for repeated re-readings.