REVIEW: The Malevolent Seven by Sebastien de Castell

The Malevolent Seven by Sebastien de Castell is a dark, comedic and bleak fantasy that paints a vivid and miserable picture of a world beset by warring angels and demons. This is as dark as it gets, with grisly deaths and despicable acts littering the pages. The aforementioned angels and demons cannot physically exist in the mortal plane, meaning their wishes are carried out by representatives. This struggle is the main thrust of our plot, which is breakneck and filled with twists and turns.

Cover for The Malevolent Seven by Sebastien de Castell It has to be said, I don’t think I’ve read a book recently that embodies grimdark as strongly as The Malevolent Seven. Some of the deaths are truly jaw-dropping in their creativity and De Castell plunges some of our characters into depths of suffering so low that your heart can’t help but cry out for them. For readers of De Castell’s famous Greatcoats series (starting with Traitor’s Blade), his ability to make his characters suffer will not surprise you. But in the Malevolent Seven he takes this suffering to new levels, all while our main characters crack joke after joke.

Speaking of the Greatcoats series, in those books our main characters are fallen magistrates bound to ideals of honour and duty, concepts they fully embody. This time round, our protagonists are about as far from that as you can get. They are the bad guys and they wander the world taking jobs from dictators and autocrats who pay them to use their devastating magical abilities to fulfil some pretty evil ambitions.

Money, war and sex. These are the concepts that the wonderists in The Malevolent Seven are bound by and Cade Ombra, the narrator of this tale, isn’t much better. He leaves us in no doubt about his thoughts on honour and valour and readily accepts being a villain rather than a hero. The Malevolent Seven follows Cade and his friend Corrigan, a homicidal thunder mage, as they carry out a suicide mission to kill the seven deadliest mages on the continent. Cade is in the business of selling himself to the highest bidder but he knows that there is more than meets the eye with this mission and a big chunk of The Malevolent Seven is him trying to work out what exactly he and his crew are getting themselves into.

It’s important to mention his crew as he and Corrigan spend a lot of time fulfilling ‘side quests’ to recruit the five other members of The Malevolent Seven. Without going into too much detail, we see a lot of hi-jinx and a lot of things go wrong as the crew belatedly come together. There is death–so much death–and we see some pretty cool elements of the world de Castell has built, including pleasure barges, rat mages and his take on the underworld. Their mission inevitably takes a turn and we end up with a pretty epic conclusion, one that promises a very exciting next installment in this series.

However, I think that’s where my issue lies. The events of the ending rendered much of what happened in the Malevolent Seven obsolete and I can’t help but thinking we could have got there a lot faster. This is effectively an origin story for the crew and though De Castell does a good job, it’s inevitable that the journeys of some of the seven characters feel a bit forced and poorly paced. A lot of the moments aren’t given enough time to breathe and we seem to jump from scene to scene at a breakneck speed. It feels at times as if de Castell tried to simply fit too much into this relatively short novel.

Plugging the gaps in worldbuilding is Cade and his narrative where he tells us in great detail about various magical concepts and explains the politics and structure of the world. I didn’t love this. Cade was undoubtedly entertaining at times but the constant breaking of the fourth wall definitely took away from the stakes and I struggled to get properly immersed in the book. There were a few occasions where concepts were just explained to the reader in the form of Cade’s slightly condescending, ‘too smart for you’ tone. This kind of narrative can undoubtedly work–some of my favourite books have proven that. However, I think we had a bit too much info-dumping throughout.

Overall, however, De Castell is one of my favourite authors and this is a pretty solid start to a series that has a lot of potential. The ending left me genuinely excited for what’s to come and the breadth of de Castell’s imagination is truly incredible. The Malevolent Seven is definitely one that grimdark fans will not want to miss. It’s been a while since I’ve read a book so unapologetically gory and over-the-top with its killing.

Read The Malevolent Seven by Sebastien de Castell

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Chron is a suffering journalist by day and loves to lose himself in magical worlds at night. Chron loves everything epic and has a soft spot for incredible warriors with even more incredible reputations (Hi Vaelin Al Sorna). He also enjoys a cheeky criminal caper and bleak fantasy where our heroes have no chance.

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