Science Fiction

Raven Stratagem – Yoon Ha Lee

5 Stars

I was given an eARC by NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. 

Prepare for your eyeballs to be replaced by question marks. Raven Stratagem, the second in the Machineries of Empire duology(?) by Yoon Ha Lee is just as confusing and satisfying as the first book, Ninefox Gambit, was.

NetGalley’s synopsis:

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?

Well, those first three words do sum up the novel quite succinctly.

Despite reading the first book only weeks ago for the Hugo ballots, I was unprepared for Raven Stratagem. I thought I had finally grasped the terminology and concepts introduced in Ninefox Gambit – calendrical warfare, rot and swords, heresy, the broad strokes of the societal structure. That was just the 101. Raven Stratagem lobs even more terminology and complex social structure at the reader. I found myself rereading sections over and over again to parse their meaning. But despite having permanent question marks for eyes while reading, I didn’t want to put the book down.

Ninefox Gambit ended with such a twist that I fully expected that to be the case here and I was not disappointed! I was expecting a twist and even though I was looking for clues, I was still surprised when it happened. Once the twist(s) were revealed, a number of details added up and I saw the trail of breadcrumbs Yoon Ha Lee left for the reader to find.

I found the characters to be really compelling and well developed with strong individual personalities and motivations. Yoon Ha Lee doesn’t spend a lot of time spelling things out for us as readers, which does lead to some confusion on a conceptual scale, when applied to characters he does an excellent job of showing us why characters behave the way they do.

Even in novel about war Yoon Ha Lee finds the space to be inclusive. The society he’s built has a fluid relationship with gender and pronouns and sexual identity. Family structures aren’t limited to one or two parents – they’re open to any number of parents of any combination of genders.

Ninefox Gambit and Raven Stratagem are books I can see myself rereading again and again, while I look for clues I missed the first time around.

Raven Stratagem is the second book in the Machineries of Empire series and was released June 13, 2017. I believe it is the final book.

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