Fantasy Book Review: The Maleficent Seven by Cameron Johnston

Fantasy Book Review

Title
The Maleficent Seven
Author
Cameron Johnston
Publication Date: August 10, 2021
Publisher: Angry Robot
Genres: Epic Fantasy

It was an early review calling it a Kings of the Wyld / Suicide Squad mashup that got me excited for The Maleficent Seven, and I fear that comparison was a misdirection that led to disappointment. While it was a fitting description of the first third of the book, in which black humor and sarcastic repartee pair perfectly with violence and vulgarity, the rest of the book takes a sharp turn to grimdark, leaving most of the humor behind . . . and that's where the disappointment came in.

To his credit, Cameron Johnston does a super job of establishing a cast of characters, each and every one of them monstrous or mad. Amogg, the kickass orc leader, Maeven, the deceitful necromancer, and Lorimer, the old-school vampire lord, were the outstanding characters for me. I enjoyed the very formal sort of interplay between Lorimer and his aide, and I loved everything about Amogg and her gender-progressive clan of orcs. Tiarnach, the fallen, drunken God of War, was initially intriguing, and I liked where his arc seemed to be headed, but he lost my interest by the end.  As for Jerak, the mad alchemist, maybe it was a matter of just too much build up, but he never quite lived up to the horrors of his legacy, although I did chuckle at some of his monstrous inventions.

As for the plot, I loved the idea of angry, bitter, backstabbing villains getting back together after a massive betrayal to defend a small town against a holy army, and that part of the book was fantastic, but the twist betrayal that drives the last third was less interesting. I thought the spiritual component of good versus evil, light versus dark, Goddess versus Demon, had some real potential, and was looking forward to seeing how that played out, but it faltered in the end, with to many of those conflicts failing to find a satisfactory resolution.

The pacing is frantic, which is fine so long as you're reading, but as soon as you stop to think about it, the lack of depth or substance begins to eat away at the story. It's entertaining but, ultimately, I didn't find that I really cared about much of it. I was never invested in the characters or the outcome, and didn't really have any attachment to either side, which I think is the biggest problem I had with the read. Villains and anti-heroes can be a ton fun, but when they're taken too far, placed into a conflict in which there is no 'good' side for which to cheer, it's hard to care who wins. The lesser or two evils is not the heroic triumph I look for in my fantasy.

The Maleficent Seven was a fun first third, and would have been an amazing book if it had continued in that vein, but the sharp turn to grimdark, without any emotional involvement, had me skimming pages rather than devouring them. Not a bad book, not by any means, but I'm afraid false expectations at the start led me astray into a book that just wasn't for me.

Rating: ♀ ♀ 

My sincere thanks to the publisher for sending me an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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