The Seventh Perfection by Daniel Polansky

Title: The Seventh Perfection

Author: Daniel Polansky

Genre: Fantasy

Year: 2020

The past is the past. Go digging in a graveyard, you’re sure to find a corpse.

Manet is an Amanuensis, a servant of the God-King who studied to master the seven perfections, developing her body and mind to the peak of human performance. She has perfect memory, a gift that will surely drive her mad as she ages. But when a mysterious locket is sent to her, she will scour the city to find out the truth about it.

What she finds during her search are secrets that put into question the stories around the ascent of the God-King, but also her own past. How much is she ready to sacrifice to get to the bottom of it, and will it be worth it?

A closer look

The Seventh Perfection is a fantasy novella that sets itself a simple goal: to tell the story of a young woman trying to solve a mystery. What sets it apart from many others are the stylistic choices of the author: the story is told in second person and entirely in dialogue form. Manat, the protagonist, is never introduced to us, nor does she ever speak a word. We are Manat, but we don’t see anything, nor do we speak; the other characters provide all of the dialogue, and Manat’s questions, answers, and actions are implied in their words.

The chapters are really short, sometimes only a page or two, and in each of them we meet a new character and we get some new information. Manat is sent from a place to the next, from one person to another, in a chase that seems endless and puts her and her position at risk the more she investigates. And while she searches, we are able to explore the world through the words of the characters.

This novella is the perfect example of how an experiment can be explored and stretched to its limits: there are no descriptions, no actions, not even full dialogues, but the world in which the story takes place feels no less real for that. By experiencing only the words of the people Manat meets, we are able to piece together a story, a city, and even the personality of all of the characters. We understand who Manat is, how she became what she is now, and the way people talk to her also paints a vivid picture of her as a character, despite the fact that we never see her, hear her speak, or have a glimpse of her thoughts. The world is incredibly vivid, even though we are experiencing it through such a limited device, and I’m still in awe of what the author accomplished.

And on top of that, if the result of this experiment was not incredible enough, the story addresses themes of truth, of revolution and revisionism. As Manet dives deeper into the mystery of the locket, she also starts unravelling the truth behind the God-King ascent, and how the facts have been distorted to provide the citizens with a legend of love, duty and honour.

I don’t want to say anything more about the story. Part of the appeal of this novella is the experience of piecing together everything, from the mystery to the world to the characters, and it’s so short that anything I say might be considered spoiler in one way or another. Just read it. It’s well worth the couple hours it takes to get through it.

This author had been on my radar for some time, but after reading this I’ll be sure to bump his other works a bit higher on my list. Once again, this novella is proof that you don’t need lengthy descriptions in order to create an interesting world or story: sometimes, you just need the right words.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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