Seven Surrenders by Ada Palmer


Warning: this review contains spoilers.

Oh man does this book have a lot going on. Seven Surrenders by Ada Palmer is the second book in her Terra Ignota series. It is beautifully written, and imagines a futuristic world that is as close to a realistic utopia as I have seen so far, a world that I would choose to live in in a heartbeat--and then shows us it's rotten core, the ways in which we didn't really outgrow our issues with religion, gender, sex, power, and war, lets it tear itself apart in front of our eyes.

There's a lot that rubbed me the wrong way in this book; femininity used as an incredibly powerful weapon in a de-gendered world; religion used as a weapon in a world where organized religion has been banned; and both of those used in the pursuit of power for the sake of power. Even worse, our narrator is also neutral-to-impressed by these antics. However, our narrator is (as revealed in the first book) also a serial killer who believes that the murders that he committed were an attempt to stop the human race from going to war by focusing its hatred and violence in himself. There is plenty of room to peel back Mycroft's narration and consider how reliable of a narrator he really is. Especially in the case of Bridger, the foundling child that Mycroft has raised who can bring toys to life, I'm torn between accepting Bridger's existence as true in this world, and trying to take it apart and see it as some sort of metaphor. Mycroft is also revealed to be absolutely devoted to J. E. D. D. Mason, the person who ends up benefitting the most from the gendered and religious power plays that various people attempt in the book, so he can't avoid being biased on that score.

Honestly, I liked the worldbuilding better than the plot in this book, and there were definite times where I couldn't follow the plot through Mycroft's... opinions. I also liked the established rules of the world more than the seedy, sex-religion-and-power driven underbelly that swallows most of the world's elites. Still, I can't fault the writing, the richness of the world, or the new and interesting things that this book is trying to do. I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in uptopias, religion, and having their established ideas of what science fiction is challenged.

Though, you know, read the first book, Too Like the Lightning, first.

5 out of 5 stars on Goodreads.