About the Book
Title: Seven-Sided Spy
Author: Hannah Carmack
Length: 259 pages
Publication Date: 15 January, 2018
Publisher: NineStar Press
Categories: Suspense, espionage, LGBT
In the midst of the cold war, the CIA’s finest and most fatal female agent, Diana Riley, vanishes. Kidnapped by the KGB and taken to the backcountry of North Carolina, she and her team of unsavory partners are forced to undergo illegal experimentation.
But, when the experiments leave them horribly deformed and unable to reenter society without someone crying monster, the previously glamorous and high-maintenance spies must escape KGB captivity and avoid recapture at the hands of Nikola, a ruthless KGB agent with an intense and well-justified grudge against her former flame.
I’ll be honest, this didn’t end up being quite what I expected when I picked it up. When I think spy thrillers and espionage, I generally think James Bond-type stories, and I’m sure I’m not alone in that. This was much more character-driven than plot driven.
There’s a lot to like in here. I appreciated the way the characters on both sides were nuanced. There was really only one character I ended up labeling the true hero, and as expected, that’s the one who genuinely had a happy ending. Whether or not the others got what was due them is up to the reader.
While some people may struggle with keeping the characters sorted out, I had no trouble. Each one has two names, which feeds into the theme of people being multi-faceted. For something that could have been confusing, I think the author did a remarkable job of making sure we had the tools we needed to know who was who. The dual identities also serve to make each character sympathetic, regardless of which side they’re on.
That was another thing I liked. There are mostly no true good guys/bad guys. Although that element is usually firmly present in most spy thrillers, it’s not here. Over the course of the book, we learn how and why most of them became involved. Their motivations are varied and interesting. That’s probably the best part of the story.
I do have mixed feelings in other ways. For one thing, I never felt like some of the plot strands went much of anywhere. As interesting as the characters’ psychology was, I think I was looking for something with a more specific goal. There was no logic to why the spies were given the steroid that transformed them or what the plan was.
I also found it frustrating that most of the story takes place in the woods on a mountain. We see other places in flashbacks, but I’m not the sort of reader who wants my action stories so localized. It makes sense to the story, but it simply wasn’t my preference.
This definitely should not be tagged as “lesbian.” For one thing, neither of the two women appeared to be a lesbian. For another, their relationship was about the least fleshed-out thing in the entire story. I found the two men who had an ongoing relationship more compelling. This is a problem, making male love more interesting, deep, and well-rounded. It also feeds into some unpleasant stereotypes about women and cattiness. Some of the other LGBT content confused me, and frankly, I had some misgivings about Nikola’s and Hera’s characters in a number of ways.
I’m not sure how I feel about the ending. I don’t want to give any spoilers, but it didn’t leave me feeling entirely satisfied. There were some loose ends, which I did somewhat expect, but that wasn’t the problem I had with it. It’s hard to explain without giving everything away, but I finished the book feeling a bit like something was missing.
Overall, the writing is very good. If a psychological cross-examination of spies and the spies who love them is your thing, then this book will delight you. If you’re like me and want a bit more of a specific aim for your international espionage, then you might just as well go back to regular old James Bond.
For good writing and an interesting premise but a story that ultimately didn’t dazzle me, this gets 7/10 fountain pens.
What inspired you to write your latest story?
Seven-Sided Spy comes from a place of deep love. It’s this weird quasi-combination of “hip” media like X-Men:First Class and James Bond, and gritty literary pieces like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey and The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Though, more than anything, the characters inspired me. Once the story started falling into place I couldn’t seem to get it down fast enough.
Are there any common themes you see in your work?
Moral ambiguity! I didn’t set out with the intention to write about it, but if there’s one theme that is clear throughout everything I’ve published thus far, it’s that no one is all-good or all-bad. Most all of my stories will narrow POV down to two central characters. The reader can decide which is the protagonist and which is the antagonist.
What advice would you give someone starting out?
Get writing! You hear it everywhere you go, but I cannot stress enough how important it is to get butt-in-chair and hands-on-keyboard. It’s easy to think about what you want to write. It’s another thing completely to actually sit down and write it.
Are there any types of scene you find hard to write (action, love, death, etc.)?
Romance! After getting Seven-Sided Spy accepted for publication, I started working on a little anthology piece called Take Your Medicine. The biggest difference between the two was the romance! Seven-Sided Spy has a lot going on to prevent romance from popping up, but Take Your Medicine was written with a HEA or HFN requirement. It was a real exercise to switch between the two and I came out a better writer because of it.
Plotter or pantser?
Plotter, without fail. I think pantsing is fun for fast and loose writing, but if I want to tell a long-term story, I need a game plan.
What’s your favorite book?
Book of Lost Things by John Connolly. Fairytale retellings way before it was cool, thoughtful writing, commentary on mortality, and also pretty gay.
Do you have any body art?
I’m a tattoo fiend! I got my first tattoo –a Captain America shield with a puzzle piece instead of a star- in 2016. This past August I got my second tattoo. It’s a pastel colored mountain scene with the quote “The Stars Were Made for Falling,” (from an amazing song by Rob Cantor), which is a shout out not only to one of my favorite bands, but also to my novel Seven-Sided Spy. I’ve got a few lined up for next year, but we’ll see which one gets inked first!
About the Author
Hannah Carmack is a recent graduate of Northern Illinois University. She enjoys volunteer work and spends most of her time working for the organization STEM Read, connecting reluctant readers and bookworms alike to the world of literature and science. She has a number of poetry publications, all of which regard living with ulcerative colitis. Although living with an auto-immune disease is difficult, she finds power in using her writing as a way to convey the world that people with disabilities live in to people who may not fully comprehend it. Her debut novel Seven-Sided Spy will be hitting shelves this January with NineStar Press.