As the second book in the Terra Ignota series, Seven Surrenders picks up
right where Too Like the Lightning left off. That’s hardly surprising, as
Lightning doesn’t conclude so much as it…
made it really easy to pick up, with the major aspects of the world mostly
fleshed out. There’s still plenty of complexity that needs clarification–it’s
just easier than starting from square one.
Author Ada Palmer nails down a bunch of details, once again smartly mixing
subtle clues with direct explanations from Mycroft Canner to their reader. And
of course, the events of the novel raise still more questions about how the
world works in the 24th century. What’s really enticing, though, is the mystery
from Too Like the Lightning which Seven Surrenders doesn’t address. I wrote
down my questions at the end of the first book (I had a lot), and I had to copy
a bunch over when I reached the end of this installment.
It’s a weird feeling of satisfaction that comes from not knowing something.
But when entries in a series link neatly from one to the next, the world seems
to expand and contract according to an arbitrary publication schedule. With its
series-spanning questions, Terra Ignota feels more like a best-effort attempt
to explain events that really took place (which happens to be the conceit of
these first two books–more on that in a second).
Seven Surrenders also inherits a lot of great stylistic traits. It’s full of
expressive analogies, starting from Sniper’s description of Mycroft’s scars in
the opening pages: “all layered on top of on another like a graffiti wall which
tempts you to add your own mark.” It continues to explore sex and violence and
religion, usually in some combination, and almost always with disturbing
effect. Unfortunately, the fantastical setting can make these topics tough to
take seriously. That’s most apparent as the narrator reveals more of their
backstory. Palmer encourages you to consider their morality, but you’re just as
likely to question the premise itself. Most likely the series has more to say
on the subject. In the mean time, though, it’s frustrating to feel distanced
from a central theme.
I was also disappointed to find fewer historical references in the sequel. Too
Like the Lightning regularly took time out to explain how historical figures
and movements inspired its events. Someone better-versed in world history might
have been bored by those sections, but for me, they added depth and were
engaging in their own right. Readers who feel the same will be let down to find
that Palmer doesn’t flex their historian muscles nearly as much in Seven
A more welcome surprise came in the form of some risky literary tricks. The
first involves Mycroft’s previously-established habit of conversing with the
reader. It’s very minor and very quick, but it’s also unique and effective. For
me, anyway. If it didn’t hit emotionally, then I’d probably call it gimmicky or
even presumptuous. The same goes for some light play with text formatting.
Whatever the effect, it’s great to read an author who’s willing to experiment
in the middle of a series.
The conclusion is somewhat neater than that of Too Like the Lightning, but
it’s still plenty alluring. For one, I’m a little concerned about the potential
for the deus ex machina trope (though honestly, Palmer seems way too
thoughtful for such banality). More optimistically, Seven Surrenders sets up
a novel (pun intended) interplay between the text and the narrative, and I’m
really curious to see if/how that’s developed. What’s more, we’re looking at a
Hyperion-Cantos-esque change in
I have no idea where that’s headed.
Too Like the Lightning set a high bar for Terra Ignota, and through its plot,
style, and experimentation, Seven Surrenders met it. I’m psyched to continue
on with the series because I’m convinced The Will to Battle will be just as
surprising (and just as challenging) as its antecedents.