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.

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Science Fiction Reads

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Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

This week’s topic is bookmarks, and while I can’t wait to see what you all use for bookmarks, the truth is, I use just about anything that’s laying around.  I do have a couple of actual book marks, somewhere, and they end up in all kinds of interesting places that usually don’t involve the pages of my book.

So instead, I’m dedicating this week’s T10T to Sci-Fi month, a post that on a SFF book blog is long overdue.  I’m going with books on my TBR, but I’ll include a few for recommended reading at the end.

Gamechanger L. X. Beckett

Gamechanger by L.X. Beckett – I’m reading through this one now and I don’t even know how to describe it.  Set in a world following the apocalypse, where the survivors of humanity are now very careful about how resources are used and reused.  The world is a fascinating mashup of virtual reality laid over reality, and people are judged socially on how kind or eco-conscious they are.  It’s pretty weird, but I’m mostly enjoying it.

Dead Astronauts Borne 2 Jeff VanderMeer

Dead Astronauts by Jeff VanderMeer – Gamechanger looks absolutely tame in comparison to VanderMeer’s new one.  Three “astronauts” are exploring the City where the Company is headquartered (the Company was first shown to readers in Borne, if you didn’t know), encountering all kinds of weird biotech.  The trouble is, they seem to be exploring it across multiple realities, and it’s confusing as all hell to follow.  Feels like a literary experiment gone horribly wrong right now.  I need a plot Jeff!

Golden Son

Golden Son by Pierce Brown – There’s really no excuse for me not having finished the Red Rising trilogy, never mind not being up-to-date on the series as a whole.  I loved the first book, it just took too long to get the second book in my hands.  Otherwise I’d be done with them by now.  So I’m hoping to buckle down and get them finished this month.

The Fifth Sacred Thing by Starhawk

The Fifth Sacred Thing by Starhawk – I read a couple chapters of this and was definitely intrigued, but got distracted by Gamechanger.  I also seem to have a running theme of cli-fi going this month, because much like that one, TFST is set in a world that has been ravaged by climate change.  Built on the old bones of San Francisco, this new city feels very utopian.  The problem?  The world outside the city is very much dystopian, scarce resources, slavery, violence, etc.. What happens when these two worlds collide?

Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee The Machineries of Empire

Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee – This one has been on my TBR for what feels like forever.  I think I own the whole series too, so I’m more than a little ashamed of the fact that I haven’t read it yet.  I’ve seen it compared to one of my favorites: Too Like the Lightning, in it’s complexity, and somewhat to Game of Thrones in it’s family dramas.  I think I’ve been subconsciously putting it off because I want to love it so badly.

The Menace From Farside by Ian McDonald

The Menace from Farside by Ian McDonald – Can I get a happy dance?  Happy book birthday to The Menace from Farside!  It releases today and I’ll likely have it read before the end of the week.  This is an offshoot of one of my favorite SF series: Luna.

The Strain by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan

The Strain by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan – I’m listening to this now, and it’s perfect.  I was a little skeptical at first, that a film maker put his name on a book (after all, why not make it a film?) but I needn’t have been.  A plane lands at JFK full of dead passengers, and nobody understands why or how… That is, until they all get up and walk out of the morgue.  This is scary in all the right ways, with just enough science to make it feel real, and I’m absolutely eating it up.

Micro By Michael Crichton

Micro by Michael Crichton and Richard Preston – It’s highly unlikely that I’ll get to anything beyond the first seven(?!) books I mentioned (and even that feels overwhelmingly optimistic) but I want to read this one soon.  I’ve just been in the mood for some jungle fiction, and that’s something Crichton seems to do very well.  The blurb describes it as a survival horror type story where nature battles technology.  I think typing that just bumped it up the TBR.

Recommended Reading:

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The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal – This was one of my favorite books last year, and covered so many topics from prejudice and racism, to sexism, and mental illness.  This is about a woman who dreams of being an astronaut, and has the ability and talent to be one, but is held back at every turn, by men who think women shouldn’t do “a man’s job”.

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New Moon by Ian McDonald – Described as “Game of Thrones in space,” that description isn’t too far off.  The Five Dragons of Luna, (that is, the five families that control almost everything on the moon) are warring over territory and new markets and politics.  The only thing they all agree on, is that nobody wants Earth interfering in Moon business.  This series is such a treasure for me, even if the books themselves can be difficult at times.  I wish it was getting a little more recognition in the SF realm!

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The Moon and the Other by John Kessel – This is another on that I wish was more widely read.  It’s a slower paced story, not as exciting or as flashy as New Moon (above) but a novel with a little more depth, that gives plenty of food for thought.  It’s about a matriarchal colony on the moon, fighting for independence among a sea of other more traditionally run colonies (not strictly patriarchal, but certainly not matriarchal).

Are you planning on reading anything for SF month?

Leave a link to your T10T posts below so I can see what you are using for bookmarks.  It’s gotta be petter than the crumpled post-it note currently holding my page!

Pride Month: Books on my TBR!

Last week in celebration of Pride Month I talked about some of my favorite queer characters in fiction.  This week I want to talk about some of the books on my TBR featuring more LGBTQIA+ characters.  I’m going to start with a few that have already been released and I’m hoping to catch up on, but I also have some exciting future releases too.

Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee (and the rest of The Machineries of Empire series):  I am really scared to start this because I feel really confident that I’m going to love it and it will end up a new favorite read.  I am also scared to start this because I have a tendency to form expectations and then let myself down.  It’s supposed to be super complex and I’m hoping to see some elements that remind me of another favorite series, Terra Ignota.

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The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling:  My favorite genre mashup of all time is always going to be Science Fiction and Horror, and The Luminous Dead looks like the perfect combo of both.  I think space lends itself so very well to all kinds of horror situations.  Whether you’re just trying to survive the freezing desolate landscape of an undiscovered planet, being chased by alien creatures, or you’re adrift in a derelict space ship with no one to call for help, chances are, things will end badly.  I already have a buddy read planned for this one in September and I can’t wait!

Annex by Rich Larson

Annex (The Violet Wars #1) by Rich Larson:  This is a YA book about an alien invasion that somehow or other, leaves the world without adults.  At first, Violet and her friends think it’s pretty great to have so much freedom… but then the invaders come back.  One of my regular buddy readers enjoyed it and said it has trans rep (and that the character was one of her favorites), so I’m very excited to check it out. (PSA: this is currently $1.99 in the US Kindle Store as of 6/13.)

Love beyond body, space & time anthology

Love Beyond Body, Space, and Time Anthology edited by Hope Nicholson: This is a collection of indigenous short fiction all featuring LGBTQ+ characters.  It’s a pretty quick read (125 pages according to GoodReads) and I picked it up on sale awhile back.  Indigenous authors seem to be severely underrepresented in not only speculative fiction but fiction in general, so that makes this doubly exciting.

The Girl in the Road by Monica Byrne

The Girl in the Road by Monica Byrne: Meena lives in futuristic Mumbai, but feels she must return to Ethiopia, her birthplace.  She’s not sure what’s waiting for her there, but she decides to cross using a forbidden energy bridge that spans the Arabian Sea.  Mariama, a girl from another time, is fleeing to Ethiopia from across the Saharan Africa in hopes of finding a better life.  It’s described as melding the influences of Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, and Erin Morgenstern, and it’s been on my TBR for way too long.

The Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch

The Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch:  This is a Joan of Arc retelling in a dystopian, post-apocalyptic landscape.  Do I really need to say more?

The Monster of Elendhaven by Jennifer Giesbrecht

The Monster of Elendhaven by Jennifer Giesbrecht (releases September 24, 2019): I talked about this one not too long ago, but I love the idea of lovers being villains together.    This is quickly becoming one of my most anticipated fall releases.

Overthrow by Caleb Crain

Overthrow by Caleb Crain (releases August 27, 2019): I stumbled across this on Edelweiss, and everything about the description had me falling in love.  The blurb is too long to summarize here, but buzzwords that caught my attention: telepathy, tarot cards, poets, the 1%, and utopian spirit, all featuring a m/m relationship that will be put to the test in a dystopian world that sounds similar to Orwell’s 1984.  Viking denied me the ARC, but luckily, August isn’t that far away.

Scavenge the Stars by Tara Sim

Scavenge the Stars by Tara Sim (releases January 7, 2020):  A gender flipped Count of Monte Christo retelling with Ace and Bisexual rep in space.  I have a feeling this will be huge when it finally hits shelves.  Right now, January feels very, very far away.

The Seep by Chana Porter

The Seep by Chana Porter (releases January 21, 2020): The Seep is about an alien invasion that brings new technologies, dismantles hierarchies, destroys capitalism, and introduces utopia.  The story follows a trans woman after her wife, seduced by Seep-tech, leaves her.  I really wish utopian stories had the same popularity as dystopians.  Mostly because I’m curious what others imagine utopia to be and how human society could ever get there.  I’m super excited for this, but have been holding off reading it until closer to release day.

Lady Hotspur by Tessa Gratton

Lady Hotspur by Tessa Gratton (releases January 7, 2020):  I am reading The Queens of Innis Lear now, sheerly in preparation for this book, which I added entirely for the title without realizing that Hotspur is a character in Shakespeare’s Henry IV.  Fiery lady knight falls in love with a female military commander known as the Wolf of Aremoria?  I need this in my hands like, yesterday.

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir (releases September 10, 2019):  From GoodReads: “Gideon has a sword, some dirty magazines, and no more time for undead bullshit.”  To that I say, sold!  I’m already in love with the personality of Gideon from that one line alone.  Necromancy is usually not my thing, but if a character is well written I’ll read just about anything.  It’s already getting rave reviews and thank goodness I don’t have to wait until 2020 for this one!

That’s it!  I’ve already seen a few Pride Month TBRs floating around in the blogosphere, but please let me know if you have any additional recs- I’d love to hear them!