17 June 2017

Review - The Seven by Peter Newman

Image from www.harpercollins.co.uk
The Seven (The Vagrant, 3)
Peter Newman
Harper Voyager, 20 April 2017
HB, 454pp

Source: bought from Waterstones (at the book launch -  see below!)

This is the final part of The Vagrant trilogy. Though I'd guess there could be more books set in that world, it's clearly not going to happen soon.

And it's a good ending, rounding off the story that saw a mute, would-be knight carry a famed sword out of Infernal-infested territory, protecting a young girl and a goat - and then followed her back to confront the Infernals, heal the Breach and save the world.

All that was ten years ago. Yet the land is still broken - and the remainder of the Seven, who should have defended the world from the demons, still sleep, sulking perhaps that they failed to play their part. Now that young girl - Vesper - is grown and she's fed up waiting for them to bring aid to the scattered communities, suffering from infernal Taint but more from the damage done in the wars.

And the Seven arise...

This was, I think, actually my favourite of the three books. A deeply human story, it brings out themes present but not explored in the previous volumes. The Seven are truly powerful and when They rise, all tremble. Yet They did not defeat the Infernals, They left that to Vesper, wielding Gamma's pillaged sword. Now, we learn something of Their history and creation, returning to the woman Massassi who made Them and built the Empire of the Winged Eye to stand against the Infernals. We see how that intention was corrupted, and how the Seven turned from the outside world.

We also see - and I think this is unusual in fantasy - what happens after the Great Victory. It's a scarred, battered world, uneasy, full of friction. Compromise is needed. Forgiveness. Mercy.

Yet now They arise, intending to purge the infernal taint from the world. While Vesper sees the value of mercy and compromise, the Seven want only an icy purity. And now they're safe from real harm, they can pursue it. When Vesper stands against Them, she is labelled a traitor.

The author at the book's launch
As ever in these books, complexity is piled on moral complexity. Vesper wants peace and compromise: to achieve them she must harm the Empire that gave her purpose and shelter. Her allies - the Infernals from whom her father previously rescued Gamma's sword.

The Man Shape.

The First.

The Backwards Child.

Nightmares from the darkness of the pit, all of them, yet now wanting to build lives alongside the tainted humans, all of whom would be wiped out by the Empire.

It's a taut, beautifully told story.

Again the Vagrant sets forth.

My signed copy!
Again, he's accompanied by a child - perhaps by two, there is the girl Reela, Vesper's daughter, and the sulky Jem, her lover. Jem is perhaps a bit of a manchild. I didn't take to him at first. he wasn't wholeheartedly for adventure. he told lies - and little lies at that! Not a hero, not even a villain. What was he doing in the book? Then, I think, I saw what he was: not a great warrior or leader like Vesper, just an ordinary man caught up in unimaginable horror. No, he's not likeable - he's definitely not good enough for Vesper - but he's a witness, standing alongside great events and showing their scale by his smallness.

And again, there is conflict and loss, dear friends killed, betrayal and a hopeless fight - all the more for the Empire, that ultimate refuge, now being the enemy.

(And yes, there are goats in this book. Perhaps less central than before, but as enduring, as obdurate. The goats, too, give events here a scale.  May there always be goats.)

I may be biased - see for yourself the nice message that Pete wrote in my copy of the book at the launch! - but for me this is a fitting completion to one of the most original fantasy trilogies of recent years, and it's a satisfying conclusion, a peace being hard won through suffering but much, clearly, still to be done to deliver harmony in Vesper's world.

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