Ten years after being stricken with the Blight, Hynd Perrent lives in relative isolation from the world. His scars and the threat of the illness that caused them have made him a pariah to all save for a few friends and family. Hynd ignores his loneliness by immersing himself in researching the Seventh Dragoons. Thirty men of the Seventh were lost a hundred years previously under damning circumstances. Hynd hopes to solve the mystery of their disappearance and complete a scholarly work encapsulating their history. He never considers having an assistant on the project until he meets Julius Ocere.
The first meeting between Hynd and Julius is disastrous. Julius sees only Hynd’s scars and reacts poorly. Though he is quick to apologize, it takes time to repair the damage and Hynd keeps Julius at arm’s length. But he and Hynd have a vested interest in discovering the fate of the Seventh and this helps to cultivate their new friendship.
As Hynd and Julius delve ever deeper into the mystery of the Seventh, they also confront their growing feelings for one another. Hynd is hungry for a relationship, but doesn’t believe anyone can love him. And Julius must overcome his fear of the Blight in order to become the man that Hynd deserves.
Seventh is a wonderfully compact tale that allows two great characters to explore and unravel an interesting mystery. Though the plot feels a little rushed by the end, it is generally well paced and the action unfolds naturally. The mystery surrounding the Seventh isn’t terribly complex, but it blends well into the wider narrative and is satisfyingly resolved. Seventh reads as something of a historical fantasy set against a very relatable backdrop that feels Regency in style. There is enough exploration of the world to provide a solid context for the action and to raise the reader’s interest, without info dumping or getting bogged down with information that doesn’t move the story forward. The author has done a wonderful job of providing a strong plot that rarely feels lacking in depth.
The characters are equally well rendered. It is easy to feel sympathy towards Hynd, given his tragic background and his quiet loneliness. But he never seems desperate or becomes an object of pity and that makes him genuinely likable. He is still gentle enough to have his feelings hurt but does not allow the fear of rejection or embarrassment to cripple him. His focus on the Seventh Dragoons was a passion that spoke volumes to me. I think most historians have one story or battle or person with which they are obsessed. So that particular aspect of Hynd’s personality really rang true.
Julius is a little less well defined than Hynd. He seems desperately shallow for a large portion of the story, but most of that is his response to the Blight. When he finally sees past Hynd’s scars, he reveals himself to be an intelligent and thoughtful man. Once he commits himself to Hynd he does so completely, which validates him and shows the kind of realistic growth I like to see in characters.
The real villains of Seventh are the Blight and the narrow-minded society that penalizes the victims. This disease has left its sufferers horribly mutilated and living in some measure of ongoing pain. It spreads easily from person to person and, in their fear, society lashes out at the survivors. People cross to the other side of the street to avoid Hynd and they are reluctant to even speak with him. He must actually carry a certificate of health with him to prove his disease is in remission and to prevent the authorities from forcibly institutionalizing him. This collective form of social ostracism is fully realized and an integral part of the story. It feels painfully real and I applaud the author for being able to convey the complexity of the Blight and its ramifications with such deftness. This crushing social pressure makes the relationship between Hynd and Julius all the more gratifying. They have managed to overcome and break the bonds that have been placed over them and I was really cheering for this couple by the end of the book.
Honesty I would love to see more of these characters and the world they inhabit, as I’m reluctant to let Julius and Hynd go so soon. Seventh was an excellent book and I highly recommend this one for anyone who enjoys a satisfying plot and rooting for the underdog.