Raven Stratagem: A must-read for fans of Ninefox Gambit

Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha Lee science fiction book reviewsRaven Stratagem by Yoon Ha LeeRaven Stratagem by Yoon Ha Lee

In the second installment of Yoon Ha Lee’s MACHINERIES OF EMPIRE series, Raven Stratagem (2017), Captain Kel Charis finds herself possessed by the 300-odd year old General Shuos Jedao. Naturally, Jedao’s existence isn’t good news for anyone nearby, which a Kel fleet soon discovers when Jedao (posing as Charis) takes command of the fleet for reasons unknown. Though Jedao has promised to carry out the fleet’s original mission, fighting the heritical Haftn whose exotic technologies mysteriously function in calendrical space, Jedao’s plans are never that simple. Who knows what a rogue traitor-general could do with a Kel fleet?

Raven Strategem is a sequel that (conveniently) doesn’t continue the flaws of its predecessors. As Stuart and I wrote in our reviews of Ninefox Gambit, book one is overwhelming because we’re thrown headlong into a complex, alien world with little to no guidance from the author. In Raven Strategem, however, most of the worldbuilding has already been done in book one, and Lee doesn’t greatly expand the world of MACHINERIES OF EMPIRE beyond what’s necessary for the plot. As a result, we’re much more comfortably settled into the Hexarchate and more prepared to focus on the rest of the storyline.

Machineries of Empire (4 book series) Kindle EditionI don’t have much to say about the storyline itself beyond what we’ve already noted about Ninefox Gambit: Lee’s plot in book two is full of the same politicking, faction warfare, and complexity that kept readers on their toes in book one. Raven Strategem is well-paced, action-packed, and neatly planned out on Lee’s part — I can say that the plot twist(s) were definitely unexpected.

Overall, the most important aspect of Raven Strategem is that if you were even a lukewarm fan of Ninefox Gambit, you’re guaranteed to be an even bigger fan of Raven Strategem. If it’s been awhile since you’ve picked up Ninefox Gambit, I’d recommend that you check out Lee’s handy-dandy refresher “Hexarchate Faction Cheat Sheet” before jumping into its sequel. Otherwise, I’m not sure why you’re not at your local library/bookstore trying to track down some more Yoon Ha Lee for your weekend…

Published in 2017. 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?

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KEVIN WEI, with us since December 2014, is political/digital strategist based in Harlem. Secretly, Kevin has always believed in dragons. Not the Smaug kind of dragon, only the friendly ones that invite you in for tea (a href="https://fantasyliterature.com/fantasy-author/funkecornelia">Funke’s Dragon Rider was the story that mercilessly hauled him into the depths of SF/F at the ripe old age of 5). Kevin loves epic fantasy, military SF/F, New Weird, and some historical fantasy; some of his favorite authors include Patrick Rothfuss, George R.R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, China Miéville, Django Wexler, and Joe Abercrombie. In his view, a good book requires not only a good character set and storyline, but also beautiful prose — he's extremely particular about this last bit. You can find him at: kevinlwei.com

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  1. Alex Marianyi /

    This isn’t the only place I’ve heard that people were turned off by Ninefox Gambit’s lack of explanation of a complex world. It is truly one of my favorite parts of that book, and it’s hard for me to imagine loving the book if Lee took time to explain beyond what he already does.

    • Paul Connelly /

      I’ll second that. Sometimes getting dropped into the middle of a complex “WTF is going on” world is invigorating. At least if the characters act like they believe what is going on makes sense. It’s a leap of faith where you put your trust in the author to eventually pull everything together in a way you can understand.

      The canonical example would be Gardens of the Moon, which is at least twice as complex as the Hexarchate novels. Many people seem to stumble with that one, so if you enjoyed that (and rest of the series), the Hexarchate books will present no problem.

      • These are good points. It might be more accurate for me to say that the lack of explanation is a turn-off for *some* readers but not a fatal flaw for people who like that sort of thing. In my mind, this series isn’t so much “worse off” for the complexity in and of itself – just less accessible (which is a flaw in my mind).

        I didn’t personally find it a huge challenge to figure out the Hexarchate but do think that a wider audience would find it harder to find their footing. Gardens of the Moon, as Paul mentions, I would say is likely a little less “mainstream” than it could be as a result of this decision.

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