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.

 

Book Review: Atmosphæra Incognita by Neal Stephenson

atmosphaera incognita by neal stephenson

Rating:  ★★★★

Blurb (from GoodReads): Atmosphæra Incognita is a beautifully detailed, high-tech rendering of a tale as old as the Biblical Tower of Babel. It is an account, scrupulously imagined, of the years-long construction of a twenty-kilometer-high tower that will bring the human enterprise, in all its complexity, to the threshold of outer space. It is a story of persistence, of visionary imaginings, of the ceaseless technological innovation needed to bring these imaginings to life.

This is my first experience with Neal Stephenson. At a mere 104 pages, it was much less intimidating than some of his other very lengthy novels. The premise is very simple: eccentric billionaire wants to build tower twenty miles high. It moves at a meandering pace, going over everything from the tower proposal to purchasing the real estate to the actual engineering of the tower and the various obstacles they must face.

But the science behind building something so completely impossible was fascinating, and I didn’t mind the slower pace here. It’s obvious that Stephenson does his research and is very thorough about it. It’s incredibly imaginative and immersive. Little ideas kept popping up here and there like helipads and base jumping and they each put a smile on my face.

The characters were great. I adored Carl, which is truly impressive give that we never really meet him, and I liked Emma a lot too. Within the first few pages it occurred to me that she was someone I could have easily been friends with in real life, which I know sounds strange, but it isn’t a thought that occurs to me about fictional characters often.

It all culminates in one explosive ending which I won’t spoil. I very much enjoyed this and would recommend it to anyone looking for a quick break from their usual fare. Thank you to NetGalley and Subterranean Press for the ARC to review.

Atmosphæra Incognita releases on July 31, 2019 and can be found on GoodReads or preordered on Amazon.