Ninefox Gambit (The Machineries of Empire #1), by Yoon Ha Lee
Description: (from Solaris)
To win an impossible war Captain Kel Cheris must awaken an ancient weapon and a despised traitor general.
Captain Kel Cheris of the hexarchate is disgraced for using unconventional methods in a battle against heretics. Kel Command gives her the opportunity to redeem herself by retaking the Fortress of Scattered Needles, a star fortress that has recently been captured by heretics. Cheris’s career isn’t the only thing at stake. If the fortress falls, the hexarchate itself might be next.
Cheris’s best hope is to ally with the undead tactician Shuos Jedao. The good news is that Jedao has never lost a battle, and he may be the only one who can figure out how to successfully besiege the fortress. The bad news is that Jedao went mad in his first life and massacred two armies, one of them his own. As the siege wears on, Cheris must decide how far she can trust Jedao–because she might be his next victim.
This is a debut novel, which might come as a surprise if you learn that after reading the novel, because w o w. I am impressed. This is an amazingly intricate story which does not give itself to the reader easily. You have to earn it, to understand it on your own. It has not the kind of worldbuilding where everything is explained to the reader as if on a touristic journey, it does not take you by the hand and walk you along everything. You’re the one who has to figure things out by yourself, the slang, the technology, the specificities of the war and of the different sides.
It gets even more difficult when English isn’t your first language. It’s an issue with every SFF books because I never know if this or that word was invented for the novel or if that’s one I didn’t know yet, but in this novel it was even more confusing than usual.
But once I slowly came to understand things, it was very rewarding. I felt like an explorer, like a scientist who had to grapple for every bit of knowledge. Of course there were times when I was deeply confused and almost stopped reading, but the world was so imaginative and like nothing I had read before, I really wanted to keep going.
To be honest I put down the book for a few weeks, because that’s a book you need to invest time in. I’m the kind of reader who read everywhere and anywhere, for long hours or only for some minutes; this book was one that I felt I should have read in one or two settings, not reading it bit by bit every time I had a moment. Since it wasn’t doable at the time I started it, I chose to put it down until I could get it the attention it deserved. It really is a book that needs you fully immersed, not one I could easily read with noise around, while on the public transportations or a queue.
What helped me get in the novel was the main character, Cheris. She was awesome. I definitely wouldn’t call Ninefox Gambit a character-driven story but it was for the characters that I really wanted to keep reading. She is a part of the army of a totalitarian government, a Captain that her squad respects, with amazing mathematical skills. The science being so advanced it almost felt like magic! She’s also a nice and funny person, who loves to watch dramas on her spare time. That was something that really made me smile. She was also brainwashed, like everyone in the army, her loyalty enhanced, but she’s aware of that. She doesn’t make any friends during the novel, she mentions her mother and her ex-girlfriend at times but otherwise she really feels like someone detached from everyone, but while still caring deeply for people’s life.
“Well, shooting people could be relaxing, if you shot the right people.”
While leaving me confused for a big chunk of the novel, Yoon Ha Lee managed to made me care deeply for the characters, to even worry and empathise with a mass murderer (BUT IS HE??) while doubting everything he said. This mass murderer being a thousand years old mad tactician transferred into Cheris’s head to help her win a war. They really are a duo I rooted for, even if I wasn’t sure I should have or not!
Yes, the novel is confusing, and add to that that you don’t know if you can trust the characters, this leads to terrible trusts issues haha. But it is fascinating to read about, it makes you think, makes you mind twirl around for a long time, even days after finishing it.
“All communication is manipulation”, Jedao said.
This is a military SF novel (part of a trilogy), not a genre I like to read usually, which explain why I didn’t love love it, but I now totally understand why so many people recommended it. I do not regret for one moment buying and reading it. It was a unique experience and I might even pick up the next instalment, because the end was crazy. While the novel in itself was a confusing, inventive jaw-dropping story, the end made me care for the characters and for the fate of their world greatly .When I closed the book, I really wished I had Raven Stratagem (the sequel) next to me to discover what would happen next.
Unexpectedly, he said, “A million people dead four centuries before you were born, and you care about them. It speaks well of you, even if it doesn’t speak well of me.”
While the last part of the novel was the one that made me really want to pick the next book up, it was also the hardest (emotionally) to read. I saw a lot of people recommend this novel but I didn’t saw anyone address the trigger warnings people might need beforehand:
Trigger warnings: (highlight to see) rape, mention + intention of suicide and self-harm
On a side-note, I’m pretty sure people who loved Ancillary Justice would greatly enjoy Ninefox Gambit.
Pictures of the book I posted a while ago on IG! (Yes this review is very late and I should have written it weeks ago but better late than never I guess!)
🍂I'm really liking Ninefox Gambit so far, even if it's quite difficult to follow! The worldbuilding is really dense and complicated and not really explained but it is part of the appeal. We're dumped into this society with rules and ways to think that are really different than ours and it's awesome to slowly understand how everything works. Plus I really like the character that the story focuses on so far, Cheris, who is very good at mathematics (or kind of mathematics). We also learn in passing that she had a relationship with another woman👍 . . I've also two episodes left to watch on the Netflix Brazilian show "3%". The dystopian world isn't revolutionary, kinda like divergent meet hunger games, but I was really interested in finding out what would happen to the characters! Plus, watching a dystopian story that is not set in America or not with an almost exclusively white cast is refreshing!