Written by Sophie

Ninefox Gambit, Raven Stratagem, Revenant Gun and Hexarchate Stories by Yoon Ha Lee.

I find it very hard to review this series of books because despite it being one of my favorite science fiction series, it is also one of the strangest. As in, the world created by Lee is so very incomprehensible at first: calendrical warfare, formation instinct, exotic effects due to a High Calendar, suicide formations, moth drives, black cradles, immortal beings with human hosts – it’s so much, especially in the first book, Ninefox Gambit, that it can and will overwhelm a lot of people. It overwhelmed me at first, too, but I was also intrigued (and stubborn) enough that I decided to start the book again and take notes.

And once I had decided to accept all the inventive strangeness at face value, trusting it would at some later stage make sense, it became such a fantastic read. This is high stakes political science fiction, with very long cons, where six factions tenuously balance each other out in the Hexarchate. Each faction has their own specialty (spycraft, engineering, warfare, torture, doctrine, and politics) and any rebels are struck down mercilessly in order for the High Calendar to be maintained and for everyone to keep enjoying their luxuries and special exotic effects.

Enter Cheris, a Kel (army faction) captain able to think outside of the box. After a seemingly pointless war maneuver she is tapped to become the host of Shuos Jedao, a notorious general known for winning every battle he ever fought – and then killing and sacrificing his entire army for no apparent reason. Jedao’s spirit has been kept alive and is occasionally called up when the Kel are in a proper pickle. Cheris/Jedao are sent off to deal with a significant heresy at the Fortress of Scattered Needles.

If you have followed me this far, you’re good for the entire four books. Because once you allow for Jedao, and immortality, and human hosts, everything else follows. You will be set for multiple timelines and points of view (different ones for each book of the trilogy), a thrilling political cat-and-mouse game, and some stupendous space battles. You’ll also find a thought-provoking theme on self-determination, how being kind and courteous to all your fellow beings is always a good idea, and how easily folks in the background are overlooked, especially by those who think themselves in power. You’ll also find gender-fluid characters in all books, new possibilities for what marriage and partnership might mean, and highly intelligent AIs obsessed with soap operas (this is a real thing in contemporary science fiction and I’m here for it!). And a stupendously high body count, while at the same time also honoring each death as an individual loss.

There’s simply so much here. I’ve read the whole series three times now and I’m still discovering new angles and options and ideas. And no, the strangeness still doesn’t make sense, but I think the point is that accepting it is enough.

P.S.: First published on Instagram