Why You Need to Read: “Seven Blades in Black”

The Grave of Empires: Book One: Seven Blades in Black

By: Sam Sykes

Published: April 9, 2019

Genre: Fantasy

            “Galta the Thorn. Riccu the Knock. Zanze the Beast. Taltho the Scourge. Kresh the Tempest. Vraki the Gate. Jindu the Blade. Seven names. Seven out of thirty-three. It might have seemed small, maybe. But there was another name on my list that had taken a lot of bullets, a lot of blood, and a lot of bodies so that I could finally cross it out. I would have killed for one name. For seven? I’d burn the world to cinders,”(Nine: Lowstaff). 

            This novel only takes the idiom, “Hell has no fury like a woman scorned,” to the zenith, but it also puts revenge tales on the same level as Quentin Tarantino’s,Kill Billmovies. Sal the Cacophony is one angry woman and she’s on a journey to make sure those who have made her this way pay with their lives. She has a list with 33 names on it. The first book in The Grave of Empirestrilogy (or series?) focuses on seven of those names.

            Sal the Cacophony is a Vagrant—a mage who no longer fights for the Imperium—who is imprisoned and awaiting execution by the Revolution—a group of non-mages who oppose the dominance of the mages. She is questioned by Governor-Militant Tretta—a figure who is only concerned with earning a promotion so that she’ll become more noticeable to her superiors—who demands an explanation surrounding the disappearance of Revolutionary Low Sergeant Cavric Proud and the attack on one of the towns within the region known as “The Scar.” Sal accepts both the (multiple) charges and her fate and tells the Governor-Militant the recent events, which led to the disappearance of the Low Sergeant. Tretta—and readers—learn of all the events right up to Sal’s arrest. Sal tells of her last bounty job, which turned into the hunt for the names on her list, which uncovered a conspiracy, which became a rescue mission, which turned into a massacre, which led to her arrest. Along the way, we learn what happened to the devout Revolutionary Sergeant Cavric, and Sal’s girlfriend, Liette, who is a mage. Sal is a woman with many aliases, abandonment issues, and a lot of anger. And, it is ALL justified!

            The plot, as mentioned earlier, focuses on Sal’s revenge against those who wronged her. However, we learn of 7 of the 33 names and why she goes after those particular people first. Like many revenge tales, we follow the person who has been wronged while wondering whether or not the ends justifies the means. In the case of Sal the Cacophony, she has been wronged and she has every reason to be angry to the point where you can understand her murder streak. Yet, you wonder about the “after.” What will Sal do if she does cross out all the names on her list? How will this journey change Sal? The subplots include the world-building and the world’s history, which is mentioned by Sal through her story. Since Sal is retelling the events that led to her arrest, the plot moves very quickly, which is a good thing because a lot happens and we want to know what happens next, and we don’t need all the little details in order to get to the heart of the story. 

            The narrative is told in flashback from Sal’s point-of-view; and, given the state of Sal’s situation, it could be argued that Sal is an objective narrator, yet Sal is a character that allows for both Tretta and the reader to be empathetic towards Sal. Sal does admit to all of the crimes—and the heroics—she’s done, recently; but it isn’t until the novel’s end that you realize how truthful Sal has been to the Governor-Militant, to her friends, and to herself. Each chapter is labelled with the setting where each event occurs. This makes it easy to follow the narrative because the sequence of events follows Sal’s destructive path towards vengeance. The narrative clues you in to what happens next.

            The author, Sam Sykes, sets the tone of this humorous epic fantasy tale by giving his readers a cynical protagonist who drinks, curses and kills as a coping mechanism. Both the tone and the mood setup the grittiness of the location known as, “The Scar.” Sal’s exploits illustrate how everything can go wrong while accomplishing a task but completing it anyway. Readers have no choice but to laugh as each event occurs because you have no choice but to laugh. Sykes does an amazing job teasing some of the common fantasy and revenge story tropes in his dark comedy novel.

            The appeal surrounding Seven Blades in Blackwill introduce SFF readers who haven’t read Sam Sykes’ books before to him. The description surrounding this novel as a “blend of Kill Billand Final Fantasy” is very accurate. Fans of George R.R. Martin and Brian McClellan will enjoy this new series, too! Readers of epic fantasy will enjoy this story and appreciate the effort the author makes in clarifying both The Scar and Sal’s character. This has been one of the most humorous books I’ve read in a long time, and I’m already anticipating Book 2! Seven Blades in Blackis a welcomed addition to the speculative fiction genre. One more thing, if there was to be an adaptation, then an anime-styled animated series would be the way to go!

            I’m glad I received an ARC of Seven Blades in Blackbecause not only did it allow me to read a book by an author I had never heard of before, but also it allowed me to appreciate epic fantasy by providing a 704-page novel and leave me begging the author for a potential release date for Book 2! The protagonist is one who deserves our sympathy and will leave you hoping that she does accomplish her goals without destroying herself. I want to know what happens next!

My rating: MUST READ IT NOW! (5 out of 5). 

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TV Episode Review: “Deadly Class: Sink with California”

Note: There are some minor spoilers in this review. You have been warned. 

This season finale is separated into two parts. One, being Marcus and his crew invading Chester’s stronghold in order to stop him and his crew, and to retrieve Chico’s body. And two, Master Lin running from the Cartel with his daughter in tow. Marcus’ storyline follows the graphic novels, while Master Lin’s storyline allows viewers and fans to learn more about the Headmaster’s convictions. 

Marcus and his friends—minus Willie—attack the house but learn quickly that Chester and his crew are formidable forces. The fight scenes and the dialogue are straight from the graphic novel. However, Chester’s monologue with his camcorder allows Marcus and viewers to learn more about him…before he dies. Chester reiterates how society is to blame for his actions and his lifestyle (the same B.S.); yet, Marcus tells him that’s no reason to take his frustrations on other people. Ironically, when Chester is killed by one of his “friendly” dogs, it is safe to say that Chester’s notions got him chewed up by his same philosophy. 

The fighting isn’t just between Marcus and Chester, Maria and Saya have some words and strikes against each other about their actions and feeling towards Marcus. Maria still hasn’t realized how much her friends are risking because of her actions. Saya—while admitting to sleeping with Marcus—feels she doesn’t have to explain herself to someone as selfish as Maria. While this sounds like typical adolescent girls fighting over a boy, it is important to know Saya and Maria were brought to King’s Dominion for a reason. Saya tells Maria that she still hasn’t figured out what she’s supposed to do and decides to leave Maria to figure it out by herself. But first, she and Marcus will have to escape the Cartel.

Meanwhile, Master Lin continues to feel the wrath of the Cartel. Now, this doesn’t happen in the graphic novels, but it is interesting to see how and why King’s Dominion is run the way it is, and to learn more about any potential relatives Master Lin may or may not have. This storyline is obvious, Master Lin and his daughter run to avoid gunshots, Master Lin manages to fight off those on foot, and father and daughter make it back to the school, where his sister, Master Gao, notices the errors of her brother’s actions. Master Gao does what her brother should have done, send his daughter to the “Temple” for her training. Now, this choice is a reminder to what happened to both Maria and Saya when they were the same age as Master Lin’s daughter. However, Master Lin should have taken more precautions in protecting his daughter by training her himself. What happens to Master Lin and Master Gao at King’s Dominion will remain a mystery until Season 2—if there is one.

For viewers who enjoyed Sink with Californiaand are curious to the ending—where Chico’s father meets Maria and Marcus at Chester’s stronghold—then I should let you know that that does occur in the graphic novel. However, I won’t tell you what happens next. You’ll either have to read the series, or wait for the next season. As for Willie, I have no idea what’s going to happen to him.

This season final offers the end of the plot of Marcus attending and adjusting at King’s Dominion School of the Deadly Arts. Marcus made friends with several of his classmates, and they’ve entertained themselves by traveling to places any adolescent would go to if given the chance and killing people while they were at it. Marcus managed to end his feud with Chester and can go back to being a student and not a fearful homeless kid. Unfortunately, life doesn’t work out the way we want them to, and Marcus should know that better than anyone else. And, with the two cliffhangers, all we can do is wait and see how Marcus will survive these next obstacles.

Note:A review of Season One will be available soon. 

TV Episode Review: “Deadly Class: The Clampdown”

 Note: There are some minor spoilers in this review. You have been warned. 

            While Kings Dominion investigates the death of another student, the students are placed under lockdown. The lockdown is effective to the point where several of the students are shoved into random dorm rooms instead of their own. This is interesting because viewers see more interaction between the students who are not friendly with one another. At the same time, the cliques from the Pilotepisode is brought back in order to reiterate the reasons why these kids became students at Kings Dominion in the first place. And yes, while some of the students believe Marcus is the center of the conflicts at the school, the teachers and the administration know that Marcus is being labeled as a scapegoat. This is how rumors spread. 

            Marcus gets interrogated by Master Lin and Maria gets interrogated by Master Gao. And, while it is obvious that Master Lin and Master Gao want the same thing—to diffuse a potential race/gang war within the school—their methods demonstrate how these siblings remain at odds with each other. Master Lin believes what he wants to believe, while Master Gao knows the truth, but cannot prove it. Master Lin is able to stop the adults from interfering with the school, but Master Gao believes in “an eye for an eye” philosophy. It makes you wonder what could happen when these siblings work together instead trying to outmaneuver each other.  

Confessions is the theme for The Clampdown. Maria confesses to killing both Chico and Yukio; Marcus confesses to knowing about it; and, Saya confesses that she sees Maria as a friend even with all of the tension breaking out between the Cartel and the Yakuza. And, while it seems that the conflict between the two gangs is over for now, Marcus’ confession to his friends about his past reminds everyone what is really at stake, the existence of Kings Dominion to the outside world. 

In all, The Clampdown presents which of the students are willing to do help themselves versus which students are willing to help each other. It becomes obvious that Marcus trusts his friends more than his roommate and that Maria and Saya trust each other more than their fellow members. Silly as it may sound, this friendship is what will bring about a very entertaining season finale. 

TV Episode Review: “Deadly Class: Rise Above”

Note: There are some minor spoilers in this review. You have been warned. 

            This episode is about revelations. Viewers learn about what happened to both Marcus and “F**kface” at the shelter, Maria’s “ranking” within the Cartel and how her troubles are not over, and Master Lin’s (family) secret. While the conflicts involve the outside world, everything still revolves around Kings Dominion. Marcus, Saya and Billy hunt for “F**kface” with one of their teachers; Maria continues to play her role within the Cartel by pretending to grieve for Chico and following his father’s quest for vengeance; and, how and why Master Lin kept his family hidden away from his sister. 

            Readers and viewers are treated to another motion comic about Marcus and “F**kface’s” relationship and why Marcus made his decisions when he escaped. However, things did not go as planned and Marcus is still dealing with the consequences, which have carried over into his school. The motion comic serves two purposes. One is to limit the live action violence. And two, to provide content from the graphic novel, directly. Readers get the “straight from the pages” content and viewers get more of the artistic style and the narrative structure of this series.

            The consequences of Chico’s murder are split into twofold. Marcus, worried about what his former roommate will do, puts together an excursion with his friends and his teacher in order to track him down, which they do. However, and for TV purposes, “F**kface” escapes, but knows he’s being hunted. At the same time, Maria continues to lie to save herself. Unfortunately, she is unable to let her schoolmates, who are not members of the Cartel, know what is going on. So, her actions by the end of the episode will single her out due to all the secrecy. Finally, Master Lin is avoiding his familial responsibilities, with good reason. He allows his emotions to cloud his thinking and his sister discovers Master Lin’s life outside of Kings Dominion. 

            Rise Aboveis an interesting buildup to the upcoming season finale. And, while it’s obvious what is going to happen with one of the storylines, it is difficult to imagine how the other two conflicts get resolved by then. Revelations and its consequences were central to this episode, but that doesn’t mean that it stops within this episode. Outside groups are interfering with the structure of Kings Dominion, so it’ll be interesting to see how the school responds to these outsiders. 

Why You Need to Read: “Vicious”

By: V.E. Schwab

Vicious: Villains: Book 1

Published: September 24, 2013

Genre: Adult/Science Fiction/Fantasy/Paranormal/Superheroes

            Victor had set the deadline to rattle him, put him on edge. He was disturbing Eli’s calm, like a kid dropping rocks into a pond, making ripples, and Eli saw him doing it and still felt rippled, which perturbed him even more. Well, Eli was taking back control, of his mind and his life and his night. (Part 2, Chapter XXII).

            V.E. Schwab’s first adult novel is part X-Men, part The Count of Monte Cristo, and part Frankenstein. Let me make this clear: in my opinion, those popular works influence this story, but this novel will grasp your attention from its opening pages. By the time you finish reading this book, you’ll be a fan of V.E. Schwab!

            The plot is centered on an upcoming showdown between two former college roommates turned frienemies: Victor Vale and Eli Ever. However, this showdown is not focused on who is more powerful, or who is the “true” criminal, it is to settle their college rivalry once and for all! Yes, Victor Vale and Eli Ever display the worst toxic masculinity I’ve ever read in a book! And, both men have NOT seen each other in a decade, yet one never forgot the other. 

            The narrative has multiple P.O.V.’s across the events of the past and the present. Readers learn about Victor and Eli’s relationship, their current companions and how they all met, and the concept of EO’s and why those who identify as EO’s are “changed individuals.” While the narrative is broken into fragments transcending time, the method works because it connects the past to the present in order to understand the motives and the traits of each character. In addition, it allows for the reader to understand why the series is titled Villains.

            The characters—Victor, Eli, Serena, Sydney, and Mitch—are the focus of this novel. It is important to know that Mitch is the only one of these main characters who is NOT an EO; and yes, that is relevant to the story! Victor and Eli are former college roommates who became EO’s deliberately, while Serena and Sydney Clarke—yes, sisters—became EO’s after an accident. Ironically, the Clarke sisters meet up with Victor and Eli, placing them on opposing sides of the “villains” spectrum. One side believes they are “heroes” and the other side knows they are the “villains.” Their pasts and the interactions with each other explains the pathology of the characters which tells the readers that EO’s aren’t terrifying, but malicious people who happen to be EO’s are the actual villains.

            The style of Viciouswill remind you of either a graphic novel/comic book, or a thriller story. Schwab builds suspense by having the characters recall the events of the past, which are the reasons the opposing pairs are determined to faceoff against each other. The author goes even further with the concept of EO’s, one must survive a near death experience, but he/she/they lose something else in return. In other words, an individual survives death, gains an ability of some sort—“good” or “bad”—but that person loses something in return as a grotesque payment. The four main characters were already damaged individuals before, but now their natures have become reduced even more because they became EO’s. 

            The appeal surrounding this novel is interesting. Vicioushas a cult following that’s lasted these past five years, and it’s a shame because I realized (and I could be wrong) many people still have not read this novel. I want to say that it is because of the cult following, not the mainstream publicity, that Schwab is able to craft both books to her liking knowing her fans will read them no matter what, and she is right! 

           The sequel, Vengeful, was released in September 2018 both to critical acclaim and to ardent readers. Vengefulwon the “Goodreads Choice Awards 2018” in the “Best Science Fiction” category. Congratulations to V.E. Schwab on the win!

            If you read my Why You Need to Read: These Books While Waiting for “The Winds of Winter” post, then you already know that I highly recommend this novel! This dark paranormal novel takes all of its influences and takes it to a whole new level. And, the author goes into why rivalries—friendship and family—can become toxic to the point of obsession. If you are looking for a recent speculative fiction novel that stands apart from others in the genre, then pick up Vicious!

My Rating: MUST READ IT NOW!

Knowing What to Love on Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is supposed to be a day about (courtly) love. However, it started off as an acknowledgement to a man who—during the Roman Empire—was jailed for performing forbidden marriages. In other words, Saint Valentine of Rome was jailed for performing acts of rebellion that he believed was the right thing to do. How many other people in human history have died for the same thing? Please note that February is Black History Month.

Today, a shooting in Denmark occurred because there Lars Wilks, a cartoonist from Sweden—who depicted a parodied version of Mohammed—, was attending a forum about free press. Today’s Denmark shootings are a reminder of what occurred in France 3 weeks ago! Apparently, al-Qaeda has a “Most Wanted” list which Stephane Charbonnier, Terry Jones, and Salman Rushdie are on, which is why this shooting occurred. It makes you wonder if Trey Parker and Matt Stone have a secret to all the mocking and avoiding they’ve done over the years.

This year for Valentine’s Day, in addition to reminding ourselves of who we love, we should also take time to recall what we love. At the moment, simple joys of life are costing us simple joys of love. Freedom of religion, press, and happiness are being taken away by a few who believe that one group deserves more than another group. Parodies and insults have existed for millennia, but societies forget how to take a joke, or even when something needs to be mentioned through comedic jokes. South Park and Family Guy are still on T.V. for a reason. Humor cartoonists and comedians are a necessity that we forget we need until something tragic happens. Practicing one’s religion in peace is a given right, but there is more about the few who causes harm while claiming that it is what their religion preaches.

Earlier this week, madman Craig Stephen Hicks shot and killed three college students in North Carolina “after a dispute over a parking space.” Just like the victims’ families—and to the rational mind—no one actually believes that is what happened. Those innocent people were killed because they were practicing Muslims. There is a federal investigation taking place, but who knows what conclusions will be revealed. At the same time, there has been no recent news about John Crawford and/or Tamir Rice. And, several States are attempting to overturn gay marriage.

I think it is time to look again at what is happening in the world and remind ourselves what would happen if we did not have the rights that everyone throughout the world is trying to hold on to. Yes, the world wants to fight ISIL/ISIS and their extreme radical notions, but in the United States, we are killing and segregating people due to their religious beliefs and/or physical appearances. Yes, the Islamic faith does not believe in there being a physical depiction of their prophet, but death threats and assassination attempts are not the answer. Then again, the scandal surrounding #GamerGate has not faded from media coverage.

In the United States, it seems no “minority” is safe whether Indian, Black, Muslim, or LGBT. The U.S. got to add Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha to the “victims’ list,” which already had Trayvon Martin, Medgar Evers, Harvey Milk, and Addie Mae Collins on it. These United States citizens were either living his or her life or trying to make life better for others like themselves. However, people forget that terrorism exists in the United States, too.

So, like the legacy left behind by Saint Valentine, let us remember the different types of love we enjoy in our everyday lives. We get to love each other. We get to love the freedoms—press, religion, and happiness—that are still being fought for each and every day and have cost the lives of so many. Remain vigilant and hopeful! Vigilantism does not and should not involve innocent lives! Remember who and what you love!