Thursday, June 13, 2024

Seven Blades in Black

Seven Blades in Black
is the first volume of The Grave of Empires series by Sam Sykes. A scarred, gunslinging bounty hunter with a magical sentient gun seeks the vengeance on the seven mages that betrayed her in the war-torn landscape of a country caught between two powers. 

The plot and some aspects of the setting certainly have a classic Western feel to them (and perhaps a bit of Kill Bill), and the guns and devices (including tanks) employed by the Republic have a Steampunk feel to them. For me, what it has the feeling of more than any Steampunk novel, however, is anime. This is mostly in certain aesthetic details. The gun employed by the heroine, Sal the Cacophony, shoots shells of various magical effects like the caster Gene has in Outlaw Star. The mages are classed by the type of magic they employ, and these tend to work like super-powers or special abilities rather than spells. Then there are little aesthetic things: Sal has a signature long scarf. The wind mage has tall spikey hair when "powered up."

Another thing that might be borrowed from anime is the very cinematic approach to action, which there is a lot of, and I think, very well done. This is the heavy worldbuilding sort of fantasy with a glossary in the back, but the setting is well realized, and a lot of interesting details are dropped. Despite my pointing out references or inspirations above, the setting has a number of unique elements. For instance, mages can hear "the Lady's song" when other mages employ magic--the mysterious voice of the goddess magic is derived from. When a mage dies and the Lady takes them, only ashes are left, which are harvested to make magic items like powerful healing spells.

There is a touch of the, well, Whedonesque to the proceedings. Sal's snarky, first-person narration might grate on some readers, and the telling the story to an interrogator frame could feel a bit precious. Both were deficits to me, but more than made up for by the book's strengths. I intend to continue with the series and perhaps seek out other books by Sykes.


Joshua Macy said...

The name Sal the Cacaphony sounds directly inspired by the most famous super-powered gunslinger in anime, Vash the Stampede from Trigun.

Trey said...

Good point! Can't believe I forgot Vash.