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October 30, 2020

Seven of Infinities by Aliette de Bodard ~ a Review

by MK French

Vân is a poor scholar, eking out a living as a personal tutor rather than trying to advance into the ruling class. This is largely due to the illegal memory implant she had created, so staying off the radar is paramount. Sunless Woods is a mindship in retirement from being a thief and master of disguise. She's drawn to Vân's integrity, and the two are bound together further when the stranger visiting Vân's student dies. Trying to discover what happened will expose all the secrets they tried to hide.

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Seven of Infinities
October 2020; Subterranean; 978-1596069763
ebook, print (176 pages); science fiction
As a novella within the Xuya series, you need to know some of the background. In this series, the Vietnamese imperial dynasty not only persevered but took to the stars and created an empire of numbered home worlds. There are many technological advances, including the mindship, a starship bonded to a person essentially since birth, so that they are the ship and can have an avatar that takes physical (human) form when they wish. People are aligned into strict social classes and can have small robots assist them with tasks or help connect them to the wireless network. Plain rooms, books, clothes, and even people can have virtual overlays adding to their decoration. Gene therapies and modifications are possible as well, and can drastically alter people.

Vân is caught up in a game far above her level, especially because she doesn't want her implant to be discovered. Memory implants are commonplace for the elite scholars, but they're replications of the scholars' ancestors. Vân created hers from discarded fragments of others' memories, creating a new background for herself that might not pass muster if poked at too closely. This is the fear she has to live with, and she isn't proud of her past actions; as a result, she tries to instill absolute integrity in her student and live by that code in the five years since she's had the implant. Mindships are nearly immortal if the ship is well maintained, so Sunless Woods is drawn to that. Vân is her opposite, and her retirement has left her bored. Initially, she wanted to keep Vân in the poetry club, not dismissed because she didn't have wealthy parents. The draw of a murder mystery pulls at Sunless Woods, bringing her out of retirement and back in contact with her unsavory but very loyal and capable friends.

I haven't read all of the Xuya novels, so I don't know if Sunless Woods figured in some of them or if her past exploits are just part of her history that isn't well explained. That history hints at wild capers and escapades, which Aliette states was inspired by the gentleman thief Arsène Lupin. I can definitely see that, and I love how Sunless Woods tries so hard to be aloof even when she flirts madly with Vân and protests too hard that she doesn't care. Aliette's language is very carefully chosen so that concepts which are part of Vietnamese culture are still easily understood by readers regardless of background. This also makes the story feel much bigger than it is, and part of a much wider epic. I would love to see future novels with Vân and Sunless Woods in the Xuya-verse because we need some happiness for them after the struggles they endure in this book.

Buy Seven of Infinities at Amazon

Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and a golden retriever.

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