Book Review: Ninefox Gambit (Machineries of the Empire #1) by Yoon Ha Lee

Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee The Machineries of Empire

Rating:  ★★★★★

I bought this one awhile ago and kept putting it off because I was so intimidated by it.  After the confusion the was Gamechanger, and the debacle that was Dead Astronauts, the density of The Mirror Empire, I thought, what the heck, might as well throw another mind bender on the pile.

I don’t know if this one just felt simpler in comparison to those, or if it’s just not as difficult as reviews depicted it to be (it’s probably the first one).  Just keep this in mind: formations and equations = magic.  That’s it.  It’s difficult to picture sometimes, and I think part of the difficulty is in accepting something so very hard science as magic.  If you can accept that, you’ll be fine.

What I loved about this, in addition to the crazy new world and complex societal structure, was the characters.  Cheris is a young captain for the Kel (like the army/infantry division) of the Hexarchate (an Empire with six distinct divisions or schools of thought).  She finds herself promoted to Brevet General after a particularly difficult mission.  She’s very smart, with an eye for strategy, and an ability to compute complex mathematical equations under extreme stress.

But the true star here is Jedao.  I won’t spoil how he factors into it all (just remember- magic).  He is an 800 years dead general, that everyone agrees is incredibly brilliant, not to mention dangerous, and once suffered some sort of mental breakdown which resulted in him killing over a million of his own soldiers.  No one knows why he did it.  I should mention – Jedao is Shuos.  Another school of thought within the Hexarchate, that consists of assassins and infiltrators, people trained in mind games and trickery.

Jedao is playing the long game.   You never know where he stands.  You never know if he’s leading his team into disaster or victory.  You don’t know why he’s doing it.  You want to believe him – he seems to have noble intentions.  But you won’t.

I also loved the way this story was told.  The main character is Cheris, but Lee writes in little vignettes from soldiers in the heat of the action.  I thought it was a brilliant way to keep the pace and the suspense up since a lot of Cheris’s story is removed from the action as the acting General, overseeing things from the ship.

There are a lot of little details to remember regarding the different factions and terminology.  There isn’t a glossary included that I saw, but Lee made it easy to absorb by sliding little details in at appropriate moments, tying it into character histories or plot points.  He doesn’t beat you over the head with it, but slowly builds fuller and fuller pictures of each faction.  I still haven’t seen much of the Rahal, Vidona, or Andan, but I’m expecting them to come into play in later books.

All in all – a creative, unique story with complex world building and some wonderful characters.  If, like me, you’ve been putting it off because it felt intimidating, just go for it.  I had a lot of fun and I’m looking forward to reading the next two installments.