Book Review: Seven Sides of Self

“Perhaps mankind will learn something about itself by studying Aurillia. Maybe looking in this extraterrestrial mirror will show the stupidity of the artificial boundaries mankind has erected throughout the fibre of its societies.”

Recently published and written by former scientist-turned-artist Nancy Joie Wilkie, Seven Sides of Self is Wilkie’s first collection of short stories which examine how we seek to understand the world around us by exploring the various sides of oneโ€™s personality: the storyteller, the sceptic, the survivor, the saint (or the sinner), the scholar, the seeker, and the saviour. Through the lives of central characters such as Zarce Sun Deโ€™oggo, Sister Othrosa Vella, Jarka Moosha, and Old Mims, the stories explore themes of battling strong emotions, the lengths we might go to for self-preservation and self-sacrifice, the inability to accept things different, and taking responsibility for what we create in pieces that inhabit the worlds of both sci-fi and fantasy.

Rating:

Thank you to JKS Communications for a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Using seven separate parables to explore the different sides of an individual’s personality, Seven Sides of Self not only delves deeply into the human psyche, but it does so in a science fiction setting. Most of the stories have a subtle link through the use of this other-worldly premise, and it is this that gives the stories a more unique twist. The futuristic settings and descriptions of another planet are very interesting. They are full of brilliant ideas that suit the shortness of the stories well and is what I found to be the best quality of the book as a whole.

However, the links between each story could definitely have been used better to connect the stories in a more obvious way. Short stories don’t necessarily need this link, but it was so apparent for some of them and not so much for others, so it doesn’t always work. Whilst the first story is one of my favourites as I found it the most relatable, it is also the one that feels most out of place. Although it works well as a standalone short story, it doesn’t have the same science-fiction nature to it so it doesn’t connect with the other stories as well. It does, however, brilliantly capture the struggles of the creative writing process and the beauty of storytelling, so there’s certainly a lot to take away from it.

The stories also carry a spiritual theme, but this is probably the thing that I liked least about them. Some of the stories are very powerful, but it’s the ones that have more of a religious background that I found a little predictable. They didn’t feel as natural and instead made the stories feel less engaging, as they relied on these spiritual aspects rather than the more detailed character developments of the others.

Some of the allegories try to reveal a much deeper hidden meaning than others, although they don’t always quite make the point that you can tell Wilkie is trying to get at. “Of the Green and Of the Gold” explores the importance of a character being able to celebrate their differences and hints at the modern issue of transphobia. It definitely has great intentions but there’s something holding it back. It’s almost like the author doesn’t quite dare to say anything too controversial, so it ever so slightly misses the mark.

Seven Sides of Self is definitely a mixed bag of great and good, but the stories are easy to read and there is something to enjoy about each of them. Overall, it is a wonderfully written collection of stories and metaphors which is full of beautiful descriptions. There are some thought-provoking qualities, but it doesn’t quite have the effecting impact that you would expect such a personal and explorative narrative to have.

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About Charlie Morris

Proofreader and film blogger living in Cornwall.

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