BooksOfTheMoon

Revenant Gun (The Machineries of Empire, #3)

By Yoon Ha Lee

Rating: 4 stars

The final book in the Machineries of Empire trilogy sees the hidden hexarch Nirai Kujen download the remaining memories of Shuos Jedao into a new body and try to use him to reclaim the Hexarchate. Unfortunately, the reborn Jedao doesn’t have any conscious memories beyond that of a cadet, but he has to learn quickly if he’s to command the swarm that Kujen gives him and stay alive long enough to find his place in the world.

There’s a lot to enjoy in this third book in the trilogy. We see the return of Kel Brezan, now the titular president of a fractured part of the Hexarchate, and Kel Cheris, who holds the rest of Jedao’s memories, and we get some chapters from their point of view, but most of the book is narrated alongside the regrown Jedao as he discovers a world very different to the one he remembers, and as he discovers anew why he rebelled in the first place.

Spoiler
In my head, the moths (the spaceships that the Hexarchate use) were always artificial – just spaceships, and it was a quirk of the Hexarchate to call them all ‘moths’. This book states that they’re not only biological, but that they’re sentient. Lee drops a bombshell of an enslaved sentient race and then just leaves it there. Sure, the Revenant is important to the plot but that’s still a hell of a thing to just drop on us. And Jedao keeps it to himself. After all that drama about freeing the people of the Hexarchate, he’s just going to ignore an entire sentient race being bred and harnessed as a convenient means of transport!?

This book has a larger role for the servitors than previous books as well. We see a tiny bit more of their society, but like <*see previous spoiler*> it’s frustratingly not dealt with. Mind you, I suppose you could write an entire book, heck, an entire trilogy about both of those things and the changes that the revelations about them would have on Hexarchate society.

So a good book in its own right, and a fine conclusion to the series.

Book details

ISBN: 9781781086070
Publisher: Solaris
Year of publication: 2018

Raven Stratagem (The Machineries of Empire, #2)

By Yoon Ha Lee

Rating: 4 stars

The second book in this series starts pretty much from where the last one left off. Shuos Jedao, who has possessed the body of young captain Kel Cheris captures a Kel war-swarm and bends it to his will, with only the personnel officer Kel Brezan able to resist his influence. Brezan is immediately ejected from the swarm and vows to return to free his general, Kel Khiruev, from Jedao. Jedao, sworn enemy of the hexarchate, immediately starts using his swarm to, er, attack the hexarchate’s enemies. But what is his plan and will Khiruev and Brezan survive it?

Now that I’ve got over the, to me, very fantasy-ish idea of belief affecting the laws of physics, I thoroughly enjoyed this second book in Lee’s sequence. It’s fast-paced, we spend a lot of time inside both Khiruev and Brezan’s heads and the idea of trying to resist formation instinct and what it does to a solider is fascinating.

Another interesting facet of this book is how it makes us re-evaluate monsters. Another character we spend quite a lot of time with is Shuos Mikodez, the Shuos hexarch. This is someone who has had many people killed, both at his own hand as he rose to become hexarch, and by his people. And yet he’s painted in a moderately sympathetic way, with foibles, and as caring a lot about his family. We’ve already spent a lot of time with Jedao, someone who the hexarchate as a whole regards as a monster, and we also see some of Nirai Kujen, the undead Nirai leader who broke and recreated Jedao’s mind and who developed the FTL technology based on the high calendar that relies on ritual torture and murder to work. All these people are deeply unpleasant and yet Lee helps us to see them as people, not things. A lesson to remember in our fractured world.

So very interesting, a lot of fun and also thought-provoking. I look forward to the conclusion of the trilogy.

Book details

ISBN: 9781781085370
Publisher: Solaris
Year of publication: 2017

Extracurricular Activities (The Machineries of Empire)

By Yoon Ha Lee

Rating: 3 stars

This is a wee short story in Lee’s ‘Machineries of Empire’ series, featuring Shuos Jedao when he was still alive and a rising star in the military. The tone of this was somewhat odd. Much lighter than Ninefox Gambit, as evidenced by the opening, in which Jedao finds a box in his quarters. There’s a fair bit of sexual innuendo (and a smattering of actual sex) as well as references to differing sexualities and gender identities which is always pleasing to see.

I’d say that it doesn’t feel as polished as Ninefox Gambit but it’s still nice to get a glimpse of Jedao before his infamy. This story also adds to the worldbuilding of the universe as we get to see some relations with another culture.

Book details

ISBN: 9780765394460
Publisher: Tor Books
Year of publication: 2017

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

Spoiler
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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