The finale to Yoon Ha Lee’s MACHINERIES OF EMPIRE trilogy, Hugo-nominated Revenant Gun (2018) tells the story of what remains of the Hexarchate ten years after Kel Cheris/Jedao threw it headfirst into civil war. On one side of the war, the Protectorate attempts to reunite the former Hexarchate and restore its violent calendrical (magic) system. On the other side of the war is the Compact, Cheris’s newborn state founded on a completely different calendrical system that simultaneously ends the gory human sacrifices of the Hexarchate and grants its subjects a higher level of individual choice and control over the system’s calendrical effects. As the conflict has waged on over the past decade, Cheris/Jedao has vanished on a secretive mission, their existence a mystery even to their strongest allies in the Compact.
Revenant Gun is a fundamentally different novel from either of its predecessors. Whereas Ninefox Gambit is driven in part by its intricate worldbuilding and Raven Strategem by its political machinery, Revenant Gun is primarily character-driven. Lee opens book three with Hexarch Nirai Kujen’s creation of a new, younger Jedao in a process that sounds almost like the restoration of computer data from a backup.
Young Jedao’s voice is extremely well-done, hinting at a sense of innocence through Jedao’s flippancy, initial panic, and an emotional state as close to humility as a Jedao can ever come close to. His development throughout Revenant Gun is highly enjoyable to watch, especially when we see the schemes that he begins to cook up — after all, Jedao wouldn’t be Jedao if he didn’t have a master plan behind the scenes.
The creation of young Jedao immediately invites comparison to Cheris, who hosts within them an older version of Jedao. Lee’s juxtaposition of an inexperienced Jedao with an experienced one casts the civil war in the light of an intrapersonal conflict between the two Jedaos.
Both Jedaos, in addition, have consciences, and we see the younger Jedao in particular question his own decisions at every turn. The Jedaos’ preoccupation with being ethical and doing good introduces a stronger moral compass into the world of the Hexarchate than was present in either NInefox Gambit or Raven Strategem. As a result, I was continually intrigued by the subtle interplay and contrasts between the actions and decision-making processes of the two Jedaos.
Turning to Revenant Gun’s storyline, I found the plot to be less action-focused than in the two earlier books, which as I mention above really accentuates the strength of Lee’s character development in book three. The plot of Revenant Gun occurs in multiple threads that are deliberately disconnected and take place in very different parts of the universe; there are few unifying themes at the beginning of the novel. Due to the spatial separation as well as the contextual contrasts between the disjunct plotlines, the plot feels very much like a set of puzzle pieces that don’t quite fit together. This initial sense of not-quite-coalescing, however, quickly evaporates near the end of Revenant Gun when Lee brings the plotlines into a satisfying conclusion.
Yoon Ha Lee’s resolution flows well and is seamless — the aftermath of Revenant Gun plays out in a way that feels natural for each of the surviving protagonists. In addition, one aspect that Lee has retained from the works preceding Revenant Gun is an ability to surprise the reader, and the plot twists in the finale are similarly unpredictable but highly logical.
All in all, Revenant Gun is by far the most enjoyable read of the trilogy, and it more than makes up for the flaws of Ninefox Gambit and Raven Strategem.