Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee
This is a spoiler-free review.
This book was shortlisted for both the Hugo and Nebula awards this year, and it’s easy to see why. Ninefox Gambit is an incredible feat of science fiction — Lee manages to create an incredibly intricate and complicated, yet entertaining world. Ninefox Gambit has a high barrier of entry, but it’s worth it to stick with it.
To win an impossible war Captain Kel Cheris must awaken an ancient weapon and a despised traitor general.
Captain Kel Cheris of the hexarchate is disgraced for using unconventional methods in a battle against heretics. Kel Command gives her the opportunity to redeem herself by retaking the Fortress of Scattered Needles, a star fortress that has recently been captured by heretics. Cheris’s career isn’t the only thing at stake. If the fortress falls, the hexarchate itself might be next.
Cheris’s best hope is to ally with the undead tactician Shuos Jedao. The good news is that Jedao has never lost a battle, and he may be the only one who can figure out how to successfully besiege the fortress.
The bad news is that Jedao went mad in his first life and massacred two armies, one of them his own. As the siege wears on, Cheris must decide how far she can trust Jedao–because she might be his next victim.*
The book is pretty complicated; it requires some time to fully get into it. The society revolves around a high calendar. Sounds simple enough, right? But when I say it revolves around a high calendar, I mean everything functions off this calendar, down to the weaponry. You have heretics trying to overthrow the governing force, the hexarchate, and implement their own calendar, then there’s calendrical rot (I’m not 100% sure what the consequences of such a phenomena are). There’s invariant ice shields, black cradles, and, well, an undead general’s consciousness grafted onto our hero’s. The world and technology that Lee creates are absolutely stunning and unique. I particularly loved the differing factions within the hexarchate and the implications that go with each one. Because Cheris is Kel, we get to know their faction best, but I hope we get a look into the other five in the following books.
The two main characters of the novel are wonderfully complex. Kel Cheris is the kind of female character that you rarely see and rarely see done well. She could easily be swapped for a male character and it literally wouldn’t make a difference. I absolutely loved this — she didn’t need to lean on her femininity to make her a compelling or sympathetic character. She’s not a female military officer, she’s just a military officer. I really liked the way she handles her rather unfortunate situation in the novel — she’s tethered to a madman and struggles with the dangerous command that she has been given.
Shuos Jedao is also a fascinating character. We know he’s a famous traitor, a brilliant general who turned on his own men. I won’t go into his character too much, as much of it is revealed throughout the course of the novel, but he only becomes more complex and interesting.
Ninefox Gambit isn’t a book I’d recommend to sci-fi newcomers. If you liked Ancillary Justice or The Three-Body Problem, you should absolutely sink your teeth into this book. I’ve seen it recommended to lovers of mathematics and I’d agree with this. Don’t let this scare you off though. I’m in no way a mathematically minded person and I enjoyed this book immensely. My only tip is to not try to understand the finer points of the society or technology. Just follow the plot and let the rest wash over you. I’ve never read anything like Ninefox Gambit before,
Have you read Ninefox Gambit? Are you looking forward to the Hugo announcements? Let me know!
*Copy courtesy of Goodreads