Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Book Review: Seven Surrenders by Ada Palmer

Pros: brilliantly plotted, amazing world-building, excellent pacing, thought provoking

Cons: fundamentally disagreed with some of the philosophy, ending left me disappointed

Picking up immediately where Too Like the Lightning left off, Seven Surrenders details more of the actions of the heads of the seven hives, reveals the thief behind the seven-ten list, deals with the fall-out of the revelations that ended the first book, and paves the way for potential war.

I loved all of the politics, manipulation, and unclear morality of this book. This book has a LOT of political maneuvering and backroom dealings. It made me think about a lot of issues, even if my conclusions were different from those the book came to.

Mycroft remains an unreliable narrator at times, not always telling the truth and keeping certain things hidden until later. this helps with the pacing of the book, which I thought was great. The revelations come fast and hard, but enough is saved for the end to keep the reader guessing and turning pages quickly.

If the mix of sensual language and politics from the first book disturbed you, there are a few uncomfortable scenes in this book as well, mostly at the beginning.

One character is gendered as ‘it’, which may upset readers. We are told the character chose that pronoun, but in addition to being a gender neutral term, it’s also a term that reduces the person’s humanity. Given the nature of the character, both of those may have been intentional repercussions of that choice.

There’s a speech towards the end of the novel about gender that kind of irritated me. While I agreed with the ultimate point (or, at least understood where the character was going with the discussion), I’d understood this future to have done away with gendered pronouns as well as gendered clothing and expectations. And yet, this speech implied that children were still raised with the ideas that boys were more aggressive and girls more caring, etc, something I didn’t get from the books themselves. But what annoyed me was the assertion that some traits code ‘female’ and others ‘male’ and if you get rid of those terms, it just makes everyone more ‘masculine’ as if men aren’t inherently capable of being kind or considerate despite the book’s clear proof to the contrary (Carlyle, Bridger, etc. are men who obviously care about humanity, notwithstanding their being male).

The ending left me feeling unsatisfied. Yes, there are more books in the series which may overturn this, but with so many revelations I was expecting more resolution.

*** SPOILERS ***

These are major plot spoilers. You’ve been warned.

The character referred to as ‘it’ is Sniper. It’s revealed that they’re *intersex, possessing both male and female lower genitals. The revelatory paragraph is from their perspective, and explains how they wanted to be a human doll for their fans, and not disappoint fans of any gender. It’s left unclear if surgery was involved. Later on, as we learn more about the O.C. and what Sniper’s bash has been doing, it’s also clear that they’re not the most moral person, making the reader question their humanity in terms of principle as well as physicality. That two of their dolls are animated at the end - actual ‘its’, greatly effecting world events, makes me think the use of ‘it’ for Sniper was to get readers to think more about gender and pronouns, especially in a world where he and she are not supposed to be in use anymore.   

I was surprised by the lack of panic over using the transit network after the assassinations by the Saneer-Weeksbooth bash were revealed. Yes, the bash was replaced (though how quickly would the public be aware of this?), but I’d still be wary of getting in a car driven by someone else knowing they’ve been put to such use in the past and might be again.

Regarding the ending, it really annoyed me that Madame avoided acknowledging that the coming war was in large part due to her manipulations. I also thought Saladin should face some punishment for his part in the deaths 13 years prior. How they’ve allowed him to keep Apollo’s cloak, granting him invisibility, is beyond me. But these consequences may occur in the forthcoming books.

I also don’t share everyone’s assertion that J.E.D.D. Mason will be a good leader. The man believes he’s God. He doesn’t understand or care about the concerns of everyday people. And now he doesn’t believe life is sacred either. He’s going to be a monster. And even if he weren’t. Having one benevolent ruler doesn’t mean his successor will be as good as he is. Alexander’s empire collapsed upon his death and Rome had a number of horrible Caesars after Augustus. Madame’s insistence that he be named the next Emperor also confused me, as the reason he was named porphyrogene was because that made him legally ineligible to become Emperor. 

I found the final conversation around Jehovah’s bedside to be more emotionally impacting than the final chapter with Bridger. Because he factors into the story so little, I didn’t have the emotional connection to Bridger that this chapter depends on for impact. I also don’t think Mycroft had thought through the implications of immortality and resurrection on the world at large - population control, birth, etc. would have to be renegotiated on a global scale if no one ever dies and the dead are brought back to life. None of these issues are ever brought up and discussed, and I would have expected them to be, considering these are things Mycroft feels Bridger should be doing with his power.

* My apologies. I originally used the term 'hermaphrodite', which I now understand is stigmatizing. 

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