Ninefox Gambit (The Machineries of Empire, #1)

By Yoon Ha Lee

Rating: 4 stars

Captain Kel Cheris is to be disgraced for use of “unconventional” formations during a battle against heretics against the hexarchate. However, she gets a chance to redeem herself in putting down a major heresy at a nexus star fortress. As her major weapon, she chooses the undead general Shuos Jedao, who was imprisoned centuries ago for slaughtering his own troops, as well as those of his enemies. With such uncertain allies as this and her own chain of command watching her distrustfully, Cheris must wage her war.

We’re thrown into this book at the deep end, with Cheris in the middle of a battle and we have to learn what formations are and what relevance the calendar has pretty darn quickly. But Cheris is a great protagonist, sympathetic and easy to like and root for and it’s alongside her that we quickly pick up the structure of her society and military and start making headway into the jargon.

Jedao, the undead general who is Cheris’ (quite literal) shadow for most of the book is intriguing and he also gets a fair degree of character development. He starts off as a monstrous figure of legend, famous for never being defeated in battle, but turning on his own side for no apparent reason. As the book goes on, his conversations with Cheris reveal a complex figure

Although, to be honest, I never really worked out why he hates the hexarchate as much as he does.

EDIT: this is clearer on a second reading.

From fairly early on, this book made me think of Clarke’s third law (“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”). The technology seems to rely on a calendar and associated belief system: it quite literally goes full Tinkerbell, which is an interesting notion, albeit one I’m not hugely fond of, although I couldn’t tell you why I like this less than, for example, Vinge’s A Fire Upon the Deep, in which the laws of physics are different depending on where you are in the galaxy. I guess in that, it’s still about natural laws, while here, people can affect reality, which seems much more a fantastical notion than a science fictional one to me.

Still, that’s a moderately minor complaint. I enjoyed the book an awful lot. For a first novel, it’s very accomplished and I look forward to the sequel.

Book details

ISBN: 9781781084489
Publisher: Solaris
Year of publication: 2016

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