Book review · novel

Book review: Raven Stratagem

Raven Stratagem (The Machineries of Empire #2), by Yoon Ha Lee

Please note that this is a sequel and you might get spoiled if you keep reading further and haven’t read the first book yet.

30691976._UY802_SS802_Description: (from Solaris)

War. Heresy. Madness.

Shuos Jedao is unleashed. The long-dead general, preserved with exotic technologies as a weapon, has possessed the body of gifted young captain Kel Cheris.

Now, General Kel Khiruev’s fleet, racing to the Severed March to stop a fresh enemy incursion, has fallen under Jedao’s sway. Only Khiruev’s aide, Lieutenant Colonel Kel Brezan, is able to shake off the influence of the brilliant but psychotic Jedao.

The rogue general seems intent on defending the hexarchate, but can Khiruev—or Brezan—trust him? For that matter, can they trust Kel Command, or will their own rulers wipe out the whole swarm to destroy one man?

Publication date: June 13th 2017.
A review copy (eARC) of this book was provided by the publisher through Netgalley. Some things might change in the final copy

Reminder that my review for the first book in the Machineries of Empire series is here.


So, Ninefox Gambit was an amazing military science fiction, quite dense but ultimately rewarding to finish. I was unsure whether to read the sequel but when I saw it on netgalley I though “eh, why not!” because the ending was incredible and did made me want to know more.

What a good decision I made here. It seems Yoon Ha Lee has decided here that we suffered enough and is now explaining things a bit further, or maybe the details given are more easily understandable now that we got through Ninefow Gambit. While it took me months to read Ninefow Gambit, because it demanded full attention, I read Raven Stratagem in a week and a half, barely. Saying I flew through it would be an exaggeration, but since I was working while I read it, it’s actually quite fast for me.

She wanted to close her eyes and await the inevitable bullet. By now she was old enough to realize that not all bullets were made of metal, or fired from guns.

This book contains political intrigue, military action, almost magical warfare science and weapons, a myriad of characters… There are four but the two main ones are Brezan – a trans man – and Khiruev – a dark skinned seventy-two years old woman with a lot of scars on her face. I grew super fond of Khiruev, and Brezan was also super interesting to follow, his path taking unexpected turns. Yoon Ha Lee know how to introduce us to characters, make us care for them, by showing us everything about them. Either by getting to know their day to day life, quirky habits and hobbies, and past traumas.

When I say that it’s more understandable than the first book, I’m not saying that suddenly we are explained everything about the technology or hierarchy, but we get to follow characters from different backgrounds and get a wider look at this world.

Raven Stratagem is set right after Ninefox Gambit and Cheris/Jedao’s escape. While we don’t get to follow them as much, it was a joy to meet them again. I grew to care for them A LOT in Ninefox Gambit and I would have miss them more if not for Brezan and Khiruev who were amazing sequel characters.

In what universe was keeping an insane undead general as an attack dog a good idea?

This book was amazing, as sequels go, this might be one of the bests. Second books are sometimes weaker, slower, a disappointment, but Raven Stratagem exceeded all my expectations. I was impressed by Ninefox Gambit, confused and left wondering about a million things, and Raven Stratagem delivered a great many answers, more questions, and a more in-depth approach to this complicated world. We learn more about Jedao and what happened at Hellspin Fortress, we get to follow characters higher up, kind of the behind the scene of what we witnessed previously. I’m awed really, at how much this book managed to add to Ninefox Gambit.

Still, a few things left me a bit uncomfortable. The main one being that Mikodez (one of the main characters we get to follow) seems to be asexual (he states clearly that he has no interest in sexual activities) and is characterised by the fact that he keeps eating and eating A LOT at all times. He also engages on sexual activity with his brother (who used to be his sister but changed his body to become his twin and maintain an appearance of being at several places at once or never sleeping) While this was also… weird (I mean, it’s incest!) I’m left kinda meh about the fact that a character who says he has no interest in sex is the one we most see performing sexual acts. It didn’t sit well with me. He might me demi or grey-ace, but then there is the fact that this is happening with his “twin brother”. So, yeah. Not my fave parts.
One could argue that this is to show how mentalities have evolved, this could disturb many readers.

“That could have gone better,” Mikodez said to his green onion. But he hadn’t hoped to fix four centuries of mismanagement in one conversation. It would have to do for a start.

Before wrapping this up, I’ll say another positive things so as to not end on the negative one above. There were SO MANY twists! One of them made me yell and pump my fist in the air because it was exactly what I was hoping for and waiting for. I’m still grinning just thinking back about it.
If you’re wondering whether I’ll buy this sequel and reread both these books, the answer is a big fat YES.

There is A LOT to say about Raven Stratagem. Super fun dialogues, great diversity of characters, amazing quotes (there are more than a dozen I wish I could put in here), complex and interesting use of pronouns… I’ll have to stop here because this review is already way too long. I’ll just stick with the fact that this was an amazing sequel that I highly recommend. If by any chance someone who had not read Ninefox Gambit was reading this: please read Ninefox Gambit so you can read this amazing sequel next.

Immortality didn’t turn you into a monster. It merely showed you what kind of monster you already were. He could have warned his fellow hexarchs, but it was going to be more fun to watch them discover it for themselves.


Trigger warning: incest (consensual), death of children


2 thoughts on “Book review: Raven Stratagem

  1. “It seems Yoon Ha Lee has decided here that we suffered enough and is now explaining things a bit further” : ha !
    Many thanks to answer my question before I ask it, very thoughtful of you ^-^

    What a fantastic review, bravo! (looking at you reading must be a lot of fun 3:) hé hé…)

    Incest between siblings doesn’t bother me so much if they are of age to understand it and embrace it. But you’re right, it was strange that the character was exposed as asexual. It seems to me that only sharing physical intimacy with one person, very much beloved and familiar, is very evocative of demi-sexuality (such a strange name, hyposexuality seems to me much more appropriate!)

    Allez hop, dans ma wishlist ! 🙂


    1. Haha I thought of you when writing that 😉 I don’t know if that’s because I was so involved with the story but I do think we understand way more in this one!

      Thank you 😀

      Yeah, it was consensual so at least there’s that!
      Exactly, while there are no labels used, he does say he doesn’t care for this but wants to make his brother happy, so?

      YAY j’espère vraiment qu’il te plaira autant qu’à moi!!! 😀


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