Reviews – Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha Lee (Plus The Battle of Candle Arc)

Sequel to Ninefox Gambit/Book 2 of the Machineries of Empire Trilogy

I thought Ninefox Gambit was brilliant and strange, if a little obtuse.  With all the strange technology and bizarre calendar tricks out of the way, Raven Stratagem feels like a chance for Yoon Ha Lee to cut loose and have fun.  True, some of the novelty of the setting has worn off, though the introduction of the Hafn and the utter confusion of the Hexarchy at the naturalistic based exotic technology mitigates the blow somewhat.  What it is replaced with however is a breezy sense of momentum, even as soldiers are massacred and empires destabilized.

This is not to say the book is dumbed down.  The story immediately subverts the ending of the previous novel, expecting you to keep up without missing a beat.  At the same time it mixes  political machinations with military strategy, giving us more incite into the political elite of the Hexarchy and the concerns of the people who rule an empire that literally runs on torture and murder.  Similarly, the characters are, if anything, more compelling than the previous book, from Jedao/Cheris through to an errant shoplifter.

Somethings don’t quite work – particularly Jedao’s almost supernatural ability to predict the Hafn behaviour, but these are minor nitpicks in a very fun book.

Ninefox Gambit was great, Raven Stratagem suggests that the Machineries of Empire will be great too.

The Battle of Candle Arc1

A novella depicting Shuos Jedao’s greatest victory.

This was recommended to me by Greg Hullender as a good introduction to the Hexarchy, and it certainly is that.  It gives us insight into Jedao’s character, including how he wins battles, and more importantly, it provides a very clear introduction to the interconnectedness of ritual, calendar and technology in the setting.  If you want to know if Yoon Ha Lee’s novels are for you, it represents a really good place to start, and yet…and yet I’m glad I read it after Ninefox Gambit.  Part of what I loved about Ninefox Gambit was the sense of discovery that came from being dropped in a world with rigid, yet different rules, and running to keep up: if I’d read this first, I would have found his first novel easier to follow, but less engaging.

 

 

  1. Available from Clarke’s World

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