The Seven (Vagrant Trilogy)
by Peter Newman
Review by Katie Carmien
HarperVoyager Trade Paperback / eBook ISBN/ITEM#: 9780008239060
Date: 03 October 2017 List Price $16.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Once upon a time, the girl who saved the world told a lie. She said that the angelic beings known as the Seven had spoken to her--but all but one of the Seven remained sleeping. In their name, with the help of the sword containing Gamma, also called the Malice, Vesper reshaped her home for good, breaking down xenophobia and extending the hand of compassion to the oppressed of the south, no matter how strange and mutated some of them might be. Now Vesper is a grown woman, a respected prophet with a husband and a daughter. But everything comes home to roost eventually: The Seven have awoken. The Seven are angry. And Alpha, in all his zealotry, is just as dangerous an enemy as any demon. Can Vesper and her allies stand against the gods she once pledged service to, and build a world free of fanaticism?
While a timeskip can be just as risky as switching protagonists (which I noted in my review of The Malice), the older Vesper here is both the same heroine readers knew and loved last time around, and a well-drawn older version of her--fully grown into her power, a confident leader with a vision, complex and flawed. The Vagrant is also back as a viewpoint character, which is a welcome return. Unfortunately, compared to these two and their supporting cast, the chapters flashing back to the empire under Massassi and the creation of the Seven are not, perhaps, as interesting as they should be--but it's gratifying to see the creation of Gamma, who will become the Malice, all the same, and to understand why the Seven are the way they are.
I continue to be impressed by Newman's deft rejection of the Good and Evil Empires. It's not so simple as switching the sides--the things out of the Breach have done real and lasting harm to the world and, by and large, the Imperial lands are generally a nicer place to live, or at least with a lower chance of being sold into slavery. Rather, the narrative makes it clear, in ways big and small, that good and evil are choices people make, actions rather than functions of biology or sides of a game board, and angel wings don't the side of right make. Newman handles shades of gray with a rare, refreshing nuance, giving each side complexity and understandable motivations. This world is messy, and more real for it.
Which is why his adherence to the trope termed "Bury Your Gays" by the internet annoyed me so much. Without getting into the territory of spoilers, within the first couple of chapters, Alpha of the Seven sends his loyal followers on a murder spree against the insufficiently pure, and … well. See above. This isn't fresh. This isn't new. It soured me on what is otherwise a very interesting book. I am just so incredibly sick of there apparently being no such thing as a happy gay couple in fiction. Oh, I can come up with a neat narrative justification for the death of the character in question--but I can come up with one for his survival, too. It didn't have to go that way. This is doubly frustrating because Newman is clearly very good at deconstructing tropes; it's not as if he couldn't have done a better job.
Though ultimately a good conclusion to the trilogy, The Seven suffers from a disappointing misstep.