What if wizards weren’t always wise? What if they didn’t guide young protégés on fateful quests? What if they were selfish, bickered amongst themselves, and would do anything for a quick buck? What if seven of them had to get along for long enough to complete a job? A job that would yield a reward of an immensely powerful magic object. All those what-ifs collide in Sebastian de Castell’s The Malevolent Seven.
What Is The Malevolent Seven?
Cade Ombra is a battle wizard. He casts spells, but he does not wear a pointy hat. The Malevolent Seven is a novel that wears its anti-hero credentials proudly on its sleeve. From the beginning, we know that Cade is mad, bad, and dangerous to know. He and several other wizards are in the employ of a sadistic general. Having succeeded in bringing their paymaster victory, the wizards are preparing to finish things off on the battlefield in an effective but distasteful display of strength. When their employer dies an unexpected, violent, and very magical death, all fingers point to Cade. Only he says he didn’t do it.
His escape from what could topically be called a kangaroo court precipitates a chain of events that will bring the very fabric of existence into question.
Cade’s only friend, Corrigan, who mostly seems to want to kill him is a Thunderer; a wizard who can harness electricity and lightning. Cade himself, is a slippery customer. He uses deceit and misdirection to conceal that he can summon demons, a form of magic frowned upon, even in the crazed backstabbing world of wizardry found in Sebastian de Castell’s novel.
Yet Cade is not all bad, indeed the more we see of him the more we feel he might be redeemable. Cade travels northwards with a rag-tag group of sorcerous misfits, attracting more as he goes. When they reach 7, perhaps then they’ll be able to take on the job they’ve been hired to do. Yet none of them have any idea what they’re up against or how much victory might cost them.
Why Read The Malevolent Seven?
It took me a while to feel my way into this one. Novels with anti-heroes can be difficult to attune to. Anti-heroes, by their nature, can be very annoying, meaning the author has to do a good job to make the reader want to learn more about them. Overall, Sebastian de Castell succeeds. Cade has an intriguing character with an interesting backstory. A backstory that locks into the novel’s world-building too.
World-building in the novel is one of its strongest assets. Again, it’s all well and good pointing out the clichés of swords and sorcery magic, but if you’re going to do so, you have something interesting to replace it with. The Malevolent Seven definitely manages this. De Castell’s magic system(s) are varied and well thought out. Towards the end of the book, when the “big bads” appear, things veer towards the metaphysical but the author holds it all together.
Whilst The Malevolent Seven could have turned into a spoof or pastiche novel, one that merely inverted the genre’s tropes, de Castell manages to make it so much more than this. The quest, which starts out seeming perhaps a bit silly, and certainly nothing more than a job with a decent payout, becomes significantly more than that. It also has the effect of binding the disparate bunch of wizards together, seeing them earn a grudging trust for one another.
In many ways, this overcoming of suspicions, and laying aside animosities, make the novel stronger than your standard, “group of people go on a quest and eventually win,” stories. (For a start, you can’t actually be sure that Cade and his crew actually will win, or even whether you want them to.) The group has to overcome real personal battles just to work together, let alone succeed. This binding process makes The Malevolent Seven feel a lot more realistic in terms of characterization than other fantasy novels.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed The Malevolent Seven. From a fairly slow start, everything builds to an impressive crescendo. Often I find with novels, my enjoyment peaks and troughs, with this book each chapter kept getting better and better until it reach a thumping finale and thoroughly satisfying denouement.
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I received a copy of this book in order to write this review.