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The first installment of the trilogy, Ninefox Gambit, centers on disgraced captain Kel Cheris, who must recapture the formidable Fortress of Scattered Needles in order to redeem herself in front of the Hexarchate.

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.

384 pages, Paperback

First published June 14, 2016

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About the author

Yoon Ha Lee

176 books1,903 followers
Yoon Ha Lee is an American science fiction writer born on January 26, 1979 in Houston, Texas. His first published story, “The Hundredth Question,” appeared in Fantasy & Science Fiction in 1999; since then, over two dozen further stories have appeared. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,816 reviews
Profile Image for Rick Riordan.
Author 256 books408k followers
February 10, 2017
After reading the Ancillary Justice series, Ninefox Gambit was a wonderful complementary read. We are dropped into an interstellar empire called the Hexarchate, where six factions with different skill sets vie for power within the system. (Think Divergent on a galactic scale.) The ultimate power in the universe is pure mathematics. An understanding of number theory has to be agreed on and followed by everyone in the society, right down to the yearly calendar and how many days in a week. Within this mathematic "orthodoxy" the laws of physics work as you would expect, and all is right in the cosmos. But from time to time, mathematical heresies arise, like adding a day to the week or computing with a different base number, and the whole fabric of physics starts to warp. Weapons don't work they way they're supposed to. New technologies become possible that should not be possible. Our hero, Captain Kel Cheris, is a military commander who gets in deep trouble for unorthodox strategy, but she is given a way to redeem herself: Retake an important station that has fallen into the hands of heretics. To do this, she must use a secret weapon: She downloads the consciousness of a never-defeated general who has been dead for thousands of years. The only problem: this general was consigned to cold storage because he went mad and massacred his own armies. Can Kel control the new voice in her brain? Can she trust it, or keep from being taken over? And how will she defeat an unknown heresy? Once you get into the premise, this is a fantastic adventure with brilliant world-building.
Profile Image for Stevie Kincade.
153 reviews103 followers
June 15, 2017
Year of the Sloth

Month of the Candied Yam

Day of the Engorged Marsupial

Hour of the Mollusc

Dear Mr Yoon Ha Lee,

I was particularly excited to read your story “Ninefox Gambit” as it has outstanding reviews from many smart people who's opinions I respect. It is clear from your prose and concepts that you are a very good writer and had a clear idea of what you wanted to do, then you went out and did exactly that.

I have respect for the giant middle finger you waved at the “show don’t tell” school of writing by neither "showing" nor "telling". I admire the punk rock aesthetic of not bothering to describe almost anything or anyone. I kind of appreciate that far from hand-holding your reader - you left us alone in a dark room with a disassembled flashlight and no instructions. These were gutsy choices Mr Lee.

I like that people seem to think this is a Science Fiction book when we both know it is a work of Fantasy. Every time you say “mathematics” you really mean *wink* “magic”. Right?
I like how you made your universe work on the principle of “The Secret”. The magical thinking that if people believe in something really, really hard then it will become true. This made me imagine an army of Fascist Oprah Winfrey’s bludgeoning Heretics with magical weapons to maintain the consensus reality of “The Secret”. I must admit an army of fascist Oprah’s was a completely original idea no Science Fiction author has ever made me think of before.

To me your book is like a Sonic Youth album where they play amp feedback for 40 minutes instead of gritty pop songs or when Neil Young did that "animal noises" album. These are bold, artistic choices but not something I could get crazy about. The way you gave us a sweet blast of familiar pop in the last minutes of the album made the previous artsy part seem even artsier.

Best of luck with the Hugo next year,

Yours in cylindrical and calendrical heresy,

Stevie Kincade

So it is quite possible that I am just too dumb to "get" this book. Plenty of intelligent people I respect love "Ninefox Gambit". Plenty of smart people enjoyed "Uprooted" and the writers gave it the Nebula Award BUT they are all wrong and are horrible people for making me read it.

THAT said the one thing I can contribute is that if you were thinking of listening to this as an audiobook you should AVOID AVOID. This is a book that has been described as "impenetrable" by readers. Imagine how tough it is to listen to a book where almost nothing is explained or described, everyone has a weird name and the narrator is a very weak voice actor. If you are interested in this, get the book, take your time and hopefully you will enjoy yourself more then I did.

So this doesn't work as an audiobook for a number of reasons. Mostly Yoon Ha Lee wrote something that just will not work in this form. Characters and castes of weird names are introduced without reference, description or anything that would help you remember who they are. Unless you have pen and paper or a photographic memory and 100% concentration you are going to be lost. Even if you have all those things you are probably going to feel lost. And stupid.

You are not stupid.

Yoon Ha Lee is just too out there on the cutting edge to bother with old fashioned writing techniques like "exposition".

A better voice actor then Emily Woo Zeller would have helped. She was fine when narrating and as our protagonist Charis. (Cherryh?) Jadoa was her "male gruff voice" which while not terrible was not good either. The problem was that her voice for every other character was "gruff voice + teeth grit of varying degrees". I couldn't tell any of these mostly male characters apart from one another. They all had weird names and the author told me literally nothing about them. Zeller thinks military men all speak through gritted teeth all the time. So every time one of them said anything I was busy thinking "who is this guy and why doesn't he open his mouth when he talks" instead of focusing on the wonderful prose.

I was halfway through the book before I realised Zeller was saying "Calendrical Heresy" not "Cylindrical Heresy" which I assumed to be another mathmatical heresy involving the use of cylinders.

I thought it was a little odd that for a book with this much buzz that could use all the help it can get in conversion to audiobook they went for maybe the the 400th best available narrator.

So the main bad thing in the universe is called "Callendrical rot". This is basically when Heretics start not believing in "The Secret" aka "the Calender". "Callendrical Rot" is like "Bad juju" or "the evil in the woods" it's something we definitely do not want. To stop this we have magic ships called "moths", various magic guns, magic spells called "exotics" and magic potions called "splinters".
All in various "mathmatical" guises. At it's heart we have a familiar story of a good person allying with a bad person out of necessity and trying to do as little evil as possible. I got that part. It was everything else I didn't get.

Most books go through the ordeal of character and world building. Then we evaluate the plot and motivations and criticise if there are internal inconsistencies. "Ninefox Gambit" doesn't have to worry about any of that. The universe works by mathmatical magic and so Duex Ex Machina's can be summoned at any time for any reason. They don't need to be explained at all. It's a much lower bar to pass. I wonder how much more I would have liked this book if the universe worked by mysterious alien juju that requires belief and ritual to work instead of mathmatics.

After starving us of information, near the end of the book in the middle of the BIG BATTLE one of the characters turns to the other and says basically "Hey would you like to hear some BACKSTORY"? Funny stuff Yoon. We get a couple more flashbacks at the end via magic potion that explain a *few* of the things we were wondering about . So as I alluded to the ending was a nice conclusion in terms of paying off all of the WTFness of the entire book a *little bit*.

"Cloud Atlas" makes the reader WTF but we are fed these wonderful clues that make us want to keep reading and then re-read it. I was lost at the start of "Too Like the Lightening" and felt like a dumbarse in parts. As we kept peeling back more layers of the onion I began to understand the things I didn't understand before while coming up with a bunch of new questions. It made me want to read it again with a full understanding.

While I fully admit I was lost through most of "Ninefox Gambit" and experienced it in the worst possible format - what I did get out of it doesn't make me want to buy the book and read it again to "really get it". I think this will be a book that people either love or hate. I was frustrated with it.

Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 5 books4,099 followers
May 15, 2017
Update 5/15/17 Re-read:
I got the ARC of the sequel and now that this novel has made it to the finals of the Hugos for this year, it behooves me to do a re-read since I enjoyed it so much the first time.

Does it hold up after a year and a re-read?

Knowing what's going to happen with all the twists I can expect does not reduce its enjoyment. Indeed, it only deepens it.

This is indeed a beautiful work of the imagination, running wild and free like a raven across the universe.

Yes, this is a Mil-SF novel, and yes, this is also a quantum-imagination novel, but it's also one hell of wild ride when it comes to all the intrigue and the bloodbaths and the sheer wicked delight I get in switching sides among the factions.

I totally recommend this to everyone who has even a smattering of interest in reading SF, least of all so you can see what a wild ride it can really become if we allow our writers to go the full distance, to push all the quantum envelopes. :)

Original Review:

I expected a deep-space and deep-time Space Opera, and I sure as heck got just that, but here's the great and wonderful exception: I also got a deep-character exploration of both Cheris, a mathematical genius and warrior, and Ninefox Shuos Judao, an imprisoned immortal General who also happens to be so quite excellent at killing that he's also considered insane. Fortunately, he's also the heptarchate's pet. Or is he? What's even more interesting is how these two interact, but saying much more than that is telling, and I seriously don't want to spoil anything. It's simply too delicious.

I should warn you all that there is a kind-of heavy learning curve at the opening, with lots of strange terms that seem like english, but have contexts and combinations that are very strange indeed. What's a calendar, you ask? Oh, it just happens to be a society-wide mental and mathematical consensual reality engine that requires, (I believe,) the rigid mindsets of all the people under it to alter reality. I had to figure that one out for myself. The author does *not* intend to pretend that you, dear reader, are dumb. Fortunately for a lot of us, we readers like challenges and like to work out so many, many terms. I mean, what's a cinderhawk, you ask? I can only give you a vague conceptualization, but it's one hell of a spaceship that can improve its reality-warping effects in conjunction with others like it.

So cool. The tech is pretty damn wild, and the world-killing tech seems to be even wilder.

So what could hold against such amazing weaponry? Oh, an entirely heretical calendar, of course, with all the people who believe that reality works a different way, and so it does.

Oh. My. Goodness. Well, I'm doing a little happy dance right now. This is WILD and FANTASTIC SF. :)

Didn't I mention that the novel holds together almost entirely through a few great characters? Oh, yes, I did. I'm going to be thinking about strategy and tactics for quite some time, and it applies to all game theory fields, whether we're talking space battles, long-games against entire calendars, or interpersonal manipulations and sweet, gloriously-satisfying endings. :)

I was never bored, but this book took me through some rather difficult times because it is so dense with information. Fortunately, with a close eye and a stout heart, it is very worth the read and most things become obvious in their nature or there's enough visualization and idea-building behind it that it all becomes clear later. I won't say this is a difficult book, but I will say that it is challenging and very, very rewarding, almost as if we're playing a long and impressive game with the author.

Which is fitting, since we're dealing with the Ninefox, Jedao. Can you guess who's gambit this is?

I think I'll be thinking about this book for quite some time. It's just that interesting and clever. It's also a great story. My only hate at this point is in waiting for the next book. I CAN NOT WAIT. There's a very long game coming, even if this one was very satisfying on it's own, and I am entirely hooked.

Thanks goes to Netgalley for the ARC

Update 9/20/16:

And since I'm also a big fan of recursive maths to go along with calendrical rot, I'm linking back to a Tor review that linked to me. :)

We're well on our way to establishing a consensual reality, here, folks. :)
Profile Image for William.
676 reviews336 followers
August 26, 2020
Final Review - - Rant Warning

Truly toxic in so many ways.

I found the perfect word for this crap: Logorrhea

This book is a painful and completely zero-star waste of time.

AHA! Big Clue! - YHL went to college at “Cornell University, majoring in mathematics” [but no degree], and earned a master's degree in secondary mathematics education [to teach High School math] from Stanford University.

Perhaps YHL’s idea of math wasn’t disciplined enough in school? Lee's lack of any kind of discipline or skill shows repeatedly in the writing of this book 😢

At first, I thought the author was scamming readers on purpose with this confusing word-salad crap. But no, by the last half of the book, you realise: It's not a scam, the author really IS deluded and talentless.

1. 2-star: Some clever plot ideas and world-building imagination
2. 5-star: wasted potential
3. 5-star: verbal diarrhoea dialogue
4. 5-star: masochistic neologism overload
5. 5-star: a thousand dull, unsympathetic characters
6. 5-star: abuse of the words "science" and "math"
7. 5-star: factions "racism" throughout
8. 5-star: plodding pace
9. 5-star: who the f*** cares about this mess
10. 5-star: I only finished this upchuck due to actual in-person recommendations by two of my favourite (and famous authors) - I simply cannot believe they liked it! It is nothing (nothing) like the extraordinary quality of their own work.

*Godzilla Facepalm*

By the end of chapter 2, I realised either I was badly confused, or not paying sufficient attention, or the author was crap or worse. So I stopped, and yes.... I re-read Chapter 2 with the two arrogant blowhards, full of complete nonsense.

I advise others to skip the first half of chapter 2. It's crap constipated word-salad and 95% irrelevant. Even without chapter 2, the book so far is pretty dull politics buried in word-salad-abused info-dump. Ugh

Word-salad machine gun

There's no real math or science anywhere in this book. It's not science-fiction at all. Just fantasy spells-bullcrap and tedious dialogue dressed up pretentiously as math and science.

There is also a quite-repulsive and clichéd discussion and justification of Jedao killing a million people, and his morally bankrupt masters still keep him around, just like the Trump and the GOP. Pretty disgusting.

Did I mention Rant warning?

9.0% in. Wow, a thousand years in the future and men are still PIGS towards women.

30% in and so far I really hate this book. I honestly think the author is scamming everyone with confusing, masochistic-word-salad neologisms. Ugh. I'm told that Lee's prose clears up at the end (after getting much worse in the middle), including backstory, to give readers the giant end-of-word-salad, pain orgasm

Update: Nope. It gets worse and worse ALL the way to the end. Ugh.

I was going to recommend you keep notes on the characters and objects mentioned, especially those with several names, but why bother? YHL continues to spew new characters and places at an increasing rate, often for a single page only before discarding them, all the way through the end of this mess.

It seems the author here uses a random fake-word generator to blow smoke at you. I was sure YHL was intentionally making the book as obscure and unapproachable as possible. Lee often twists the meaning of words we do know in English into zombie pseudo-science soldiers of confusion. However, now, I just think the Lee is completely deluded and without skill.

It could be that this book is just a masochistic, word-puzzle pain-orgasm for some readers who enjoy that. I don’t enjoy jigsaw puzzles or fake word games much, card games or word tricks, but some people do. I understand the satisfaction of putting together the pieces of a detective mystery, just not trying to assemble pseudo-word puzzles and tongue-twister names into coherent sentences and thoughts that advance the very thin plot.

Also, the book is pretentious and pedantic again and again. Example: Why add the “...and twelve minutes” here? Jeexus!
... the fact that Hexarch Nirai Kujen’s silver voidmoth call indicator had been blinking at him nonstop for the past four hours and twelve minutes.

It’s like a gnurd bragging about Amazon phone tech-support hold times to his buddies.
* Facepalm *

A thousand years in the future, they can put General Jedao alive in Cheris' head, and they still use their eyes to read reports? * Facepalm *
"We spend most of our time destroying our eyesight reading reports."

Throughout the book, there is complex minutiae about pretentiously "clever" systems and events that are INFO-DUMPED without any explanation, ever. Make it stop, please! I’m told by a 5-star reviewer that this prose actually gets WORSE “and then better” once you figure out the cod-magic calendar psychosis. But no, I disagree, it does not get better.

If you look at the GoodReads quotations pages for this book, you will see not a single quote of any humane feeling or real value. Most of the quotes listed are just forgettable, inhumane crap.

And this book is NOT Science Fiction. It’s a hideously convoluted magical fantasy, pretentiously using the word “mathematics” instead of “spells”. The author blows lots of big Bull Sh’t at you to disguise the fact that Lee hopes his readers will not see the truth, and will struggle with this intentionally obscure crap for hundreds of pages.

55% through. My god this is dull. Page after page of crap like this:
“I need you, soldier,” Isaure said. “You’re a lousy excuse for a Kel, but you’re all I have left.”

74.0% ... interesting twist here, finally! We saw it coming half the-book ago, though. Now I bet there’s an intensification in the enemy’s (author's) machine-gun word-salad assault on us * Facepalm *

75.0% ... I was right. The plot twist was immediately buried under pages of blather, far too many new characters and places per page, etc. I’m sure this all makes sense in YHL’s head. Too bad the prose is crap.

Many reviewers say “the last 10% is so good” and we’ve been rewarded so well for our word-masochism for 90% of the book. And they then have some kind of orgasmic epiphany and suddenly award it 5 stars. Feels so good to stop bashing your head in with an iron bar, eh!

There is (falsely) claimed an orgasmic ending for this book, that this ending is written in clear, approachable prose and fully explained back-story and conclusions. This smacks of praise only for the cessation of pain, not for epiphany.

Besides, the end is just as bad as the rest. Worse, even. Ugh.

Oh, and "the end of the book" is not the end.

There's another book which picks up where this one "leaves off". Maybe more 😢


For more, please see my discussion with my very kind and indulgent friend, Lindsay. I am definitely not a “word puzzle person” and that is probably an insurmountable obstacle for me with this book.

My discussion with Lindsay towards the end of Comments on his fine review. Thank you, Lindsay.

See also reviews by my more eloquent and forebearing friends


Hexarchate faction cheat sheet
Hexarchate faction cheat sheet

Note: My IQ is rated at 140 - 150 and I spent ten years at MIT doing ground-breaking computer graphics and "humane, approachable" interactive systems research in the 1970s. I’m not stupid on anyone’s scale, I didn’t "misunderstand" this book.

This book is the antithesis of my whole life’s work.
Profile Image for Philip.
513 reviews684 followers
July 16, 2017

I never re-read books. I am not a fast reader and I have so many books I want to read that I simply don't have the luxury of re-reading. I was just so bugged that I couldn't figure this book out the first time I read it, I knew I needed to try again... Two months later.

Well second time's a charm in this case. The trick: taking a full two weeks to read it (a little every day) to make sure I'm getting everything. My first read went quick because I basically resigned myself to being too stupid to understand, so I rushed and lost a lot of content and basically ended up screwing myself over.

Going in the second time with exposure to the language helped (just as repeated exposure to any foreign language encourages acquisition) and I can now truly appreciate the innovation and talent on display here.

It's still not my favorite book. The middle third especially was rough going, but mostly because it's a boring siege and we get all sorts of uninteresting viewpoints from random characters. It felt completely unnecessary.

So while my original review is still very valid, I can honestly say I ended up enjoying this after putting in the requisite time and effort. I think I'll even continue with the series. Final rating: 3.5 stars.


2ish stars.

I'd classify this as 'hard sci-fi' not because of its scientific accuracy or technical detail, but because it's just hard work to read it.

The closest thing I can compare this reading experience to is trying to read in Spanish. My oral Spanish is proficient enough for me to carry on a conversation with a 5-year-old. Seeing it written, I can understand more than that. Honestly, I could probably get the gist of a simple novel if I had a Spanish-English dictionary to consult. There would inevitably be a lot of content lost on me but I’d understand enough to know whether it was a good or bad book. Reading in a different language is just hard work! Naturally, Spanish-language books are not written with the intent to accommodate non-native Spanish speakers. They are written under the assumption that the reader has a sufficient grasp on the language.

Unfortunately, the only apparent human native in Lee is Lee himself. Everyone else needs to learn quickly or give up. And there’s no dictionary.

The book was mind-blowing in the sense that my mind blew up shortly after starting. And I, without a mind, was thus unable to understand anything further.

It’s super cool. I can recognize that much. I love the parts with Jedao and his relationship with Cheris. They have some great banter. There are some decent revelations and payoffs at the end. The creativity and inventiveness is beyond impressive, the worldbuilding is all-encompassing. I can’t stress enough the ingenuity on display here. I respect it, I’m impressed by it, I can see why many people love it. I wanted to love it and feel slightly guilty that I don't. I just came away feeling like I didn’t understand enough to really enjoy it. Onto the “not for me” shelf it goes along with Uprooted and American Gods.

Posted in Mr. Philip's Library
Profile Image for Althea Ann.
2,233 reviews1,046 followers
March 17, 2017
One of my Hugo Award nominees, novel, 2016.
Intelligent, challenging Military SF/Space Opera.

I'd read a few of Yoon Ha Lee's short stories, so had every expectation of liking this debut novel - and I was not disappointed. (I'm fairly certain that at least one of the short stories is set in this universe, although I can't quite place which one.)

Captain Kel Cheris is a respected soldier in an extremely regimented, authoritarian and militaristic society. Her talent for mathematics - part of the underpinnings of how this world works - distinguishes her. But when she achieves a stunning victory by a not-by-the-book strategy, her unconventionality may be the end of her career. However, she proposes a shockingly bold plan to her superiors: she asks them to let her try to re-take a contested fortress by letting her team up with one of her empire's greatest generals and strategists of all time. The problem? General Shuos Jedao is imprisoned, accused of treason, and is possibly insane.

On the face of it, that plot setup sounds fairly straightforward. And on one level, it is. The military tactics and action progress in an exciting manner, with good character development and a really interesting dynamic between Cheris and Jedao.

However, the setting of the book has a whole other level, which is the nature of this world's reality. Everything here is 'calendrical,' meaning in the context of this book that it works based on advanced mathematical formulae. A calendar is like a computer program that determines the rules, physics, and nature of the surrounding reality. This is why this society is so strictly regimented: violating the calendar (heresy) can have severe, fabric-of-reality-affecting repercussions. Competing 'calendars' cannot be tolerated, as they cause something like 'bit rot' at the edges...

Of course, it's quite questionable as to whether of not Kel Cheris' Hexarchate is really the necessity it presents itself as. There seem to be plenty of heretics who disagree. (Like Ann Leckie's 'Ancillary Justice,' this is very much a "from within the Evil Empire" tale.)

The nature of this universe's physics is in keeping with some of Yoon Ha Lee's short works, in which, for example, art, or language, can affect the physical reality. Here, it's mathematics. It's still undeniably challenging for the reader to wrap one's head around at first. For myself, I found that everything went a lot more smoothly after I realized that, as physical as this world seems in its depiction, the way everything works makes perfect sense (and seems entirely possible) if you think of it as happening inside a computer-generated virtual reality.

Many thanks to Solaris and Netgalley for the chance to read this excellent book. As always, my opinions are solely my own
Profile Image for Khalid Abdul-Mumin.
213 reviews100 followers
September 13, 2023
Weird, different, brilliant!

Immensely enjoyable and fast paced but... lacking in something (?) more? I loved the concept of mathematical equations redefining reality with exotic effects.

Highly recommended. I do hope I get to the second one real soon, too much to read. Too few neuronal interconnectivity!
Profile Image for Mogsy.
2,071 reviews2,633 followers
June 12, 2016
3 of 5 stars at The BiblioSanctum https://bibliosanctum.com/2016/06/12/...

I’ll admit, I was somewhat torn on this one. On the one hand, there were parts in this book that gave me a real struggle, but on the other, there’s no doubt Ninefox Gambit is one of the most fascinating sci-fi novels I’ve ever read.

Step into the incredible universe of Yoon Ha Lee’s Hexarchate, a civilization whose way of life is entirely dictated by an intricate calendar system. Mathematics is king, the governing force behind everything in this reality including physics and warfare. However, there’s also another side to this— and here’s where the lines between science fiction and fantasy start to blur—because in order for the calendar to function, the Hexarchate also requires belief. Throw enough calendrical heretics into the mix who observe a slightly different calendar, for example, and reality can suddenly go all awry. Say, the people might start acting erratically. Or your weapons might not work. As a result, the Hexarchate enforces its calendar with the utmost ruthlessness, bent on preventing such unpredictability from wreaking all kinds of havoc.

Thus explains how a Kel soldier named Cheris receives her next assignment. Expecting to be dismissed after a misconduct on the battlefield, Cheris is instead given the mission to recapture the Fortress of Scattered Needles, a star base recently taken over by a population of heretics. To aid her in breaking the siege, Kel Command has extracted the digital ghost of a brilliant general and tactician named Shuos Jedao, grafting his consciousness to hers so that the two can work as one to deal with the situation. The only problem is, in life Jedao was a madman, recognized for his victories but also notorious for having killed more than a million people including his own soldiers. While the general has never lost a battle, can Cheris really trust this manipulative genius not to make her his next victim?

First, just let me first state unequivocally that this book contains some of the freshest, most inventive ideas I’ve ever encountered in sci-fi. Story concepts rooted in mathematics are often tricky, and they’ve never really been my strong point. But when your math is virtually indistinguishable from magic? Then yeah, I can definitely get behind that. Ninefox Gambit is no doubt breaking new ground in combining elements from multiple genres, and it is extremely clever.

However, I also mentioned feeling conflicted about the novel, and this is in large part due to its inconsistent pacing. In the beginning, the reader is dropped into this strange universe and left to flounder, and it’s easy to become confused and overwhelmed if you’re not paying close attention. It makes this one a rather challenging read, especially since the story goes nowhere fast. After all, we are talking about a siege here, and the fact that it happens in space doesn’t change the basis of this long and drawn out process. Still, bursts of action occur do here and there, probably just enough to keep me going, so that in the end I found myself in the awkward position of alternating between not wanting to put the book down and wanting it to be over already.

Still, irked as I was with this book at times, I have to say both Cheris and Jedao were brilliant. In my opinion, their relationship is where this novel shines, and not least because of their unique psychic connection; both characters come from interesting backgrounds, and their combined strengths and talents make them a force to be reckoned with. However, by that same token, their individual foibles also result in multiple clashes. As a Kel soldier, Cheris has been trained from the start to follow her “formation instinct”, an urge that encourages obedience, loyalty, and conformity. Giving up that compulsion in favor to another authority like Jedao is a challenge to everything she feels is natural and right, and it’s a struggle that gradually threatens her sanity.

Then there’s Jedao, whose mind I find both alluring and downright frightening. It’s no surprise that the story got interesting as soon as he entered the picture. He may spout things about war that make a lot of sense in a twisted and horrible kind of way, but that doesn’t change the fact he’s a merciless, stone cold-hearted bastard. And yet, despite being a complete psycho, the general’s character is also delightfully intriguing and complex. Many of my favorite scenes involve the conversations between him and Cheris, and perhaps against my better judgement, I wanted her to let him in.

Overall, I think I would have enjoyed this book a lot more if the beginning had eased me into the setting more gently, as opposed to throwing all its confusing concepts in my face. While I enjoyed the story itself, my patience was also tested by the pacing, which was all over the place. These issues aside though, I have to applaud the fantastic world-building and character development. Both these aspects were extraordinarily well put together, not to mention the concept of a Hexarchate that uses mathematical calculations and a calendar to govern itself is one of those things that make you gawp in wide-eyed wonder at its ingenuity. Ninefox Gambit might not be an easy read, but there’s also a lot to like if you’re willing to invest in it. As such, I probably wouldn’t recommend this book to everyone, but if you’re a sci-fi fan interested in something more innovative and unusual, then this might be exactly what you’re looking for.
Profile Image for Acqua.
536 reviews192 followers
June 1, 2019
Ninefox Gambit is my favorite book.
It's the kind of novel I could reread over and over and still get something new from - this was the sixth reread in two years for me, and I'm still discovering things about this world.

But let's get to what Ninefox Gambit is. This is a story about sieges: Cheris' siege of a space fortress, and Jedao's siege of . And it is, in fact, a very twisty book, without needing that many shocking plot twists - just layers upon layers of mind games present and past, slowly unraveling towards a partial truth.
I say "partial", because this book will almost never straightforwardly reveal that a certain character was lying in a particular moment, which, in a book in which most non-PoV characters are often at the very least lying by omission, makes for an interesting exercise in ambiguity. You know some of them are liars. Being able to tell when they're lying - well, that's not always as easy, and a few things are left for you to interpret.

I often see people say that this book is hard to get into, because "it doesn't explain enough" - which is said both about the way it relies on hints and subtext and about the worldbuilding, which is, admittedly, one of the most unique (read: outright bizarre) I've ever read. I strongly disagree. I really appreciate when a book trusts its reader to keep up, to figure things out on their own. Maybe it will take more of my attention, and it won't be an easy read, but I'm glad not to have to wade through infodumps every time I reread. It's a graceful writing choice, in my opinion.
(Also: if a 17-year-old ESL speaker made it, you probably can too.)

Ninefox Gambit is deceptively short. It's barely longer than 300 pages, and yet it's one of the few books that managed to convince me that there's an entire universe of things happening outside the Scattered Needles siege, an universe with a complicated and often ugly history, and I love how wide it feels, how high the stakes are at the end.
It mostly follows two characters, whom I love with my whole heard, even though they're terrible.
🦊 Kel Cheris, math lesbian and professional trouble magnet, narrates most of this book. She makes friends with AIs ("servitors"), joined the military faction because she wanted to fit in, and got caught up into a scheme that led her to be anchored to Jedao's ghost and leading the swarm (space fleet) in the Scattered Needles siege. Deserves a nap. Unlike many of the characters, she still has a somewhat functioning moral compass.
🦊 Shuos Jedao, bisexual disaster, was a general who lived centuries before the siege, and he is well known for never losing a battle and for having slaughtered his own army during his last one for apparently no reason. He's not the kind of person you think of when you think about mass murder - he's charming, far from unfeeling, likes talking to people, and is mostly a pleasant person to be around. Until he's not. With every reread, I realize more and more how much of a manipulative bastard he is - this is one of the few books in which the manipulative character not only was actually good at manipulating, but the book made me believe he was.

And the Cheris-Jedao dynamic? So fascinating. It reminds me of how much can be done with relationships that aren't romantic in the slightest when you develop them enough.

There are other relevant characters I love, like Hexarch Shuos Mikodez (the morally messed up and aroace highlight of book two), and Hexarch Nirai Kujen, the evil scientist who reads like the sci-fi version of a fae (cruel, beautiful, impossibly ancient). A few chapters are told from the PoVs of minor characters to show what's going on while Cheris and Jedao's ghost are in the command center. And even those characters left an impact on me, and that's not easy to accomplish.

I also, of course, love the worldbuilding to pieces. It's Korean-inspired space opera with a math-based magic system that is affected by people's beliefs and by the system of timekeeping they implement. It's fascinating and not easy to understand at first, but I loved it for its beauty and weirdness - for a bloodthirsty space dystopia where war and ritual torture are the norm, the Hexarchate is beautiful in an unsettling way. And it's also very queer; this book has an all-queer cast, and it's the demonstration that you can write about queer people living in objectively horrible places without writing queer trauma porn (there are no homophobia or sexism in this book, and it's still very much a space dystopia.)

And one last thing, before I turn this review into a book in itself: I love how this novel plays with ableist assumptions. The amount of people who don't try to dig deeper in the circumstances around Jedao's mass murder and take "madness" as a reason for what he did is... oddly realistic. As this book says, as straightforward as it ever gets, that's not how things work.

Trigger Warnings, if you need them - I think it's better to go into this prepared (they're not actually spoilers, but if you want to go into this without knowing anything more, don't open this):
Profile Image for Rachel (TheShadesofOrange).
2,206 reviews3,211 followers
October 9, 2022
4.5 Stars
This was easily one of the most complicated and confusing science fiction books that I have read to date. Yet, despite that, I realllt liked it. 

I am not always a fan of military science fiction, so I was admittedly nervous how I would get along with those aspects of the story. However, I was pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed reading about the military tactics. I probably did not fully understand all the details, but I was still fascinated by the strategies used. The military technology involved the intersection between geometry and calendar systems, which was incredibly unique. These discussions of mathematical computation went a bit over my head, yet I still loved reading those sections.

The dead general was easily the best character in this novel. He was very moral grey, sometimes leaning towards moral blackness. I loved the complexity of his character and found him to be incredibly intriguing. He was certainly not likeable, but I was fascinated to learn about his past and his moral principles. The female protagonist was strong, yet emotional, with a dark past of her own. I loved the interplay between these two characters as they attempted to work together towards their goals.

While the main characters present themselves as cis individuals, the author still managed to being in his own trans experience into the story. The way that the male general was tethered to the female officer allowed for a unique perspective of gender identity as these two minds grappled to share a gendered body that did not necessarily match their personal identities.

The ending to this one was very strong and satisfying, but I highly rexommend continuing on with the series because I thought the second and third books were even more brilliant.

I would highly recommend this one to seasoned science fiction readers looking for a complex military space opera that is like nothing they have read before.

Disclaimer: I received a copy from the publisher, Rebellion Publishing. 
Profile Image for Lindsay.
1,275 reviews228 followers
June 24, 2016
I don't think I've read an SF novel quite as inventive as this one since the last time I read Hannu Rajaniemi.

The Heaxarchate is an interstellar empire that makes use of exotic physics enabled by broadcast nodes seeded throughout their empire. The exotic physics are enabled by "calendars" and are referred to as "calendrical effects", and a key part of them is that they are directly affected by the belief structures of the people living within the areas covered by the nodes. So for instance, there are remembrance days throughout the year where the horrific ritual torture of prisoners is a required facet of maintaining the Hexarchate's calendar. Individuals living in this society have religious rituals that must be performed to maintain overall calendrical integrity.

So minor things like political opposition actually have major effects on the reliability of technology within the empire and are ruthlessly put down. Ideological differences are actually referred to as "calendrical rot".

In this setting we have Kel Cheris, a military commander with a strong affinity for mathematics. Strong enough that she can modify her tactics mid-battle to make use of heretical calendrical effects, which puts her in a difficult situation with her Hexarchate commanders. Some of them appreciate inventive thinking though, and they deploy Cheris against a massive heresy in a huge calendrical node called the Fortress of Scattered Needles enlisting the help of an undead military genius named Shuos Jedao. Jedao's major claim to infamy is that he's never lost a battle, but his last battle as a living human he killed everyone ("omnicide" as the book calls it), both the defending army and everyone in his own army other than himself.

This is an amazing view into what may be the oppressive empire I've seen in fiction along with the sort of structure and thinking that would be required to maintain it. The nature of this empire pretty much dooms them to eternal war, both inside the empire to deal with heresy, and at the borders of empire to maintain their calendar and technology. The empire society is based around this with whole sections of their society devoted to the military, military intelligence and re-education.

At the heart of this is Cheris and Jedao. Cheris is a brilliant mathematical thinker who as a Kel has been mentally conditioned for loyalty and she is deliberately connected with the supposed madman Jedao who's motivations and machinations make a corkscrew look straightforward. Their relationship and characters are a delight and make the story sing even when they're largely off-stage (most of the middle part of the book). That's fairly important as much of the book is structured as a siege, which can get very dull.

There's also lots of interesting stuff here that's not said about sexuality and gender. The only relationship that Cheris has is with a female and Jedao had relationships with both male and female while alive. All of it is unremarked on. When a female body hosts a male intelligence later in the book there's absolutely no hesitation from the people dealing with that in referring to the combination as male as an acknowledgement that the sentience is what's most important. All very seamless and a lot more subtle than in the Leckie Ancillary series. Powerful though.

This first installment of the trilogy is very satisfying and I'm really looking forward to the rest of it.
Profile Image for Henk.
875 reviews
February 2, 2023
Innovative world building and ways of government, but I was not fully invested in the main character nor did I find her general very brilliant
All communication is manipulation

The world Yoon Ha Lee sketches is interesting: we are immediately dropped into a war, following Kel Cheris, a captain fighting wars through mathematics, as an orthodoxy needed to perform military formations with flawless precision. Besides the bullets, explosions and blood this is all rather ethereal and hard to follow. Our main character is then tasked to capture a space fortress and we slowly learn more about her government, the Hexarchate.

I expected a lot, and at times this was a twisty, engaging read. At other times, even though being a ardent science fiction enthusiast, I was lost and not super invested in the whole minutiae of mathematical space calendars, which could trigger stuff as wide ranging from fungal spore infections in space (interesting with no means to propagate the infection) to glass pillars throughout a whole fleet. The saying that a sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic certainly feels warranted but also gives incredible leeway to the author to just pull solutions from the proverbial high hat.

In depth thoughts
Still better to be shooting than not to be shooting is something Kel Cheris thinks, befitting her role in the imperialist military of not a triumvirate but a Hexarchate of distinct factions governing a space empire. Think Divergent factions but then on a galactic scale.
After the daunting first chapter (with words like desynchronising) we turn to politics and overt power struggles between factions. How good you haven’t been assassinated is a mild greeting.

The factions are during the course of Ninefox Gambit a bit more fleshed out, with Cheris forming part of the Kel (lower caste military, coupled to but also looked down upon by the higher caste intelligence/espionage oriented Shuos.
From every spark a fire is the motto of the Kel, which sums up their hive mind determination.
"Calendrical rot" is shown to have been undermining the central fortress of the Hexarchate.
Information is a weapon like any other, and in this case the information and knowledge is gained from a mad general, who is revived in a way uncomfortable for Charis.
This Shuos coaches her well in ascending the hierarchical ladder Nothing kills respect faster than pity but is also terrifying and unfathomable.
My guess could be wrong but you’re thinking with your face applies to the too readable Charis, but definitely not to our general.

A conflict slowly comes into focus, involving a faction of ethicists and philosophers who where wiped out.

Hawks - Army (Kel), Foxes - Intelligence (Shuos), Moths - Transport, engineering and science (Nirai), Stingrays - Re-Education and social programming (Vidona), Rose - Finance, diplomacy and culture (Andan), Wolves - Doctrine (Rahal)
Flame - Philosophers and ethicists (Liozh)
The world building is fascinating. And some same sex representation in a tightly regimented space caste system is innovative and a nice touch as well.

Overall the battleplans of the general didn’t impress me that much (using some emerging AI was actually Charis her idea for instance, with And fear of a weapons was a weapon in itself not really being anything Sun Tzu couldn’t have said in the abstract).
The means available are quite unclear (what, besides a weapon of mass destruction is a winnower and why not “just” use a neutron bomb which is already in our current day capabilities) as are the general circumstances the Hexarchate finds itself in.

How does a empire keep a galactic war in one of its core regions seemingly secret? Are there aliens invading? How far has technology advanced if AI is still not much more than emergent? For what (besides material gain) is the Hexarchate fighting and against whom? All these things could have been more clear and compelling in my view.
I also don’t understand anything on the goals of the rebellion (and hence totally didn’t feel invested in their cause) and the whole flashback at the end takes seemingly forever during a full on emergency.

Still the writing in itself is really good, with quotes below.
I just expected more upfront of this book than 3 stars.

The problem with authority is that if you leave it lying around, others will take it away from you. You have to act like a general or people won’t respect you like one.

If you can’t go through a problem you go around it

Now you are reacting, not thinking

Your people do loyalty well

All communication is manipulation

Did I gave you permission to think?

And a mediocre plan implemented quickly was better than excellent plan two hours late

She was Kel, her life was a coin to be spend

I’m here to do despicable things so you don’t have to

I don’t get tired so I don’t need to relax

Face it, if not me, who?

Friendship doesn’t mean anything for the dead

I expected better of you.
You should never expect better of anyone.

Well shooting people could be relaxing, if you shoot the right ones
Profile Image for Julie.
950 reviews248 followers
June 23, 2017
2017 Hugo nominee for Best Novel -- and sigh, I have a lot of words. I know this book has gotten a lot of gushing 5-stars, so fair warning that I am not going to be as positive!

I already knew that I was on rocky terms with Lee's writing, having read a couple of his short stories and been ambivalent about one, and outright hated the other ("Combustion Hour" was literally the only story I wound up skipping in the 2014 Tor anthology). But I was hoping that with a longer pagecount and thus more space for him to set up his worldbuilding & ideas, that it would make more sense.

Not so.

Philip and Ashley have eloquently described the disorienting and alienating experience of reading this book; it genuinely feels like reading a foreign language due to how obtuse it is. I like to consider myself a pretty canny reader and have a quick grasp of new, unfamiliar terminology and technology/magic -- I've often said that I prefer when authors respect their readers by tossing them into the water and trusting them to catch on, not hand-holding with long dull exposition about "this is our world, and this is how it works".

But the thing is, you gotta strike a balance. In books that successfully toss you in the deep end, you might take a little while to learn the terminology, but you're not left questioning the basic fundamentals of the world you're in. Whereas Lee never gives the necessary context for the most foundational things -- e.g. how in the world does the calendar change reality? how does calendrical rot work? how the hell is math used in battle? what is invariant ice and how does it work? what exactly is corpse-glass? for that matter, is the Fortress in space or floating in air? the sheer description was so vague that I never had a good mental image of the place where all the action took place. I didn't realise that there were even civilian homes and shops inside the Fortress until over halfway into the book!

Of course you can handwave the window-dressing (I didn't care about the technicalities of the thresher winnower or amputation gun, for example), but your world has to make sense. It has to feel real. But this place never felt more than vaguely-sketched out to me. I kept reading because I hoped something would click, that by the end I'd have a fuller picture of how everything worked, but that never happened. Instead there are constant nonsensical word-dumps of mathematical terms that make it sound Very Smart, but it's just gibberish, impossible to follow and thus impossible to care about. This is billed as military SF, but I couldn't even be interested in the military clashes, because I couldn't at all visualise what was even happening. I can only imagine how exponentially more confusing this would've been as an audiobook.

In the end the only way I forced myself through this was by resigning myself to the fact that I wasn't going to understand anything, and hanging on for the few segments that did interest me (and which is what earned the book its second star from me), namely:
• Cheris and Jedao's conversations, once they got away from tactics. I did like the concept of their collaboration and unique cooperation, and the gender-bending fluidity of their merged identity (and both their fluidity of sexuality, even).

• The servitors! Let me just read an entire book about quiet little AIs scuttling around in the background with their secret parliaments tbh.

• The epistolary letters between the heretics. As few as they were, these letters had so much more personality than Cheris herself.

As hinted above, in addition to the worldbuilding bafflement, I have issues with the characters. Jedao seems more fleshed-out, but Cheris herself seems like a collection of traits more than a person. I can name you some things about her -- she likes romantic dramas, she's good at math but mediocre at dueling, she's kind to the servitors, and she's into women -- but that's all; I can't wax poetic about how she behaves, what she would do in a situation, what she believes and cares about, because I have no damn idea. She is literally a vessel to be possessed by Jedao. She's v. passive/reactive, only performing her duty and reacting to what's thrown at her, never taking a step to advance the plot, which I think is in large part why I didn't care about her.

There are some interesting ideas here -- I genuinely liked the different factions of the Hexarchate, the personality differences between them, and I was intrigued by formation instinct -- but the execution is just not my cuppa.

The last 10% was the strongest part of the book imo, but I also have problems with the ending.
Some spoilery discussion: [/spoilers]

In closing: In Puffs the Play (a Harry Potter spoof that I love dearly and have seen 3 times), one of the characters is a mathematical savant excited to start MIT at age eleven, but he finds out he's a Muggleborn wizard and has to go to Hogwarts instead. Academics completely reset. He doesn't know any of the history, he can't cast spells, and keeps getting shunted into remedial magic classes. When he fails casting a spell for the nth time, he bursts into tears, sobbing "I'm a smart person! I'm a smart person!"

That is how I felt, reading Ninefox Gambit. I'm a smart reader. I swear I'm a smart reader! And I know that others have loved this book a lot. So: let's just shelve this series under "not my cup of tea" and call it a day.
Profile Image for Tatiana.
1,404 reviews11.7k followers
April 21, 2018
This was some dense, hard sci-fi. Dense like I remember Dune being dense, when it had taken me 200 pages to get a grip on it. Same thing with Ninefox Gambit, and frankly I’d be lying if I said I knew what the whole calendar thing was all about. So I simply accepted it as something people fought over and moved on to the story. Which is essentially a Star Wars scenario with intergalactic battles and political schemes. All of this though was made interesting by the main characters. A young rising military star and her ghostly mentor/mass murderer. They are a dynamic duo, and I was fascinated by their personal journeys and the way they worked together as a team.

Yes, the book was totally incomprehensible at times, but also totally worth all the hard work.
Profile Image for Kitty G Books.
1,563 reviews2,937 followers
March 15, 2018
So I picked this one up after hearing so many things about it. This is a military SF book (not my usual go-to I have to admit) which really throws you straight into the action. There's a world set up already, but the story just begins right in the middle of it and it's up to you, the reader, to figure it out.

As a concept this book is super cool. Some of the world is really exciting and seems very advanced and full of life. Other times I felt like we were lacking a lot of the world-building becuase although we know there is a world (or many as they are in Space after all) we actually don't have many descriptive scenes that detail it for us.

What I most liked about this story was the characters we follow and their moral struggles. We pick up the story by following Cheris, a Kel commander who is aiming to lead her swarm to success and fight a good battle. This she does, and so she is quickly recruited for a top-secret mission to destroy even more bad guys. Whilst on this mission she meets Jedao, and then things get pretty weird and cool as Jedao is a ghost-corpse who has been brought back to just keep on fighting for the Kel... oh, and they share a body(!)...

Brainwashing, Mothships, Animal-robot Servitors and Ghost-corpses. If you pitched that to me as the plot and concept of the book I would be jumping up and down trying to get a copy. Essentially this book does have all of those things, but it also never felt as if it made full use of them or developed any of them (at least, I wish there was more explanation behind the whole book really!)

What I didn't love about this is that even when I got to the very end of the book I still didn't feel like I 'got' it. I know some of the things that happened and I have a lot of interesting things from the book to think on, but as for what happened... well, that's still a bit of a mystery when it comes to the technical details.

What I do know:
- I liked the book. The experience of reading it was a good one and I constantly wanted to try and find out what would happen next.
- I also know I had issues with the characters and the world building. I wish we'd had more context and more ways to connect to the story. I know it's in Space, but I would have liked a few more reference points to cling to just so I felt like I could get to grips with the awesome stuff more.

I ended up giving this a 2.5*s and I think I probably will pick up the next book soon to find out whether more is forthcoming. I would love to hear your thoughts on this one below! :)
Profile Image for Aliette.
Author 265 books2,035 followers
February 4, 2016
Amazing, endlessly inventive; and ruthlessly clear-eyed on the cost of waging war and quelling rebellions. The technology (based on calendrical rules and complex interactions between six different factions) keeps throwing up mindblowing moments, and Cheris, caught in the machinations of the undead general Shuos Jedao and of the Hexarchate who commands her loyalty, is a sympathetic heroine torn between impossible goals.

This should be on awards lists for 2016 if there's any justice.

(disclaimer: I received an ARC from the author in exchange for an honest review)
Profile Image for Stuart.
722 reviews270 followers
February 26, 2017
Ninefox Gambit: Careful or You’ll Catch Calendrical Rot
Originally posted at Fantasy Literature
I’m just going to add my two cents here, as a heretic who refuses to conform to the calendrical hierarchy that forms the basis of this mathematical military hard SF space opera with some gender-bending thrown in for extra flavoring. Ninefox Gambit has drawn favorable comparisons to Ada Palmer’s Too Like the Lighting, because this book not only throws you off the deep end, but chains you up in neologisms, a complex future society that is not gift-wrapped neatly with a bow, and then chucks you in the magma of an intergalactic battle between the Hexarchate and heretics who refuse to follow the consensus reality, which powers the exotic technology and weaponry with which this empire maintains its vice-grip on its subjects. As others have observed, replace high-level mathematical formulae with magical spells, and voila, you’ve got a space-fantasy novel.

Of course Ninefox Gambit is far more complicated than that, but the basic story is of Kel soldier Charis teaming up with an immortal, homicidal, and totally insane undead general named Shuos Jedao to put down a heretical rebellion that has captured the supposedly-impregnable Fortress of Scattered Needles. Great names throughout, by the way, for that classical Three Kingdoms Chinese-fable feel but plugged into a hyper-militaristic future empire. You can react one of two ways — either your mind will rebel at the relentless stream of weird and confusing neologisms and mid-stream action opening sequence and say, “WTF was that?” Or … no that’s probably the standard response. The question then becomes, “Do I stick with it and hope that things will fall into place in time?” or “Do I ditch this book even though everyone is raving about how brilliant it is and I don’t want to be the loser who couldn’t handle the steep learning curve?”

Well, one thing about audiobooks is that even if you’re in way over your head, unlike in the print version where eventually you just cannot carry on any further, unless you click stop the audiobook keeps playing. And since 11 hours isn’t really THAT long, once you’ve gone halfway it would be silly to give up, so just let those bizarre events flow past your ears, and pluck a couple words here and there and try to figure them out. I found the exchanges between Charis and Jedao to be the most interesting, and the exotic and muddled futuristic battle sequences and protected siege to be the most boring. I mean, who couldn’t love an insane undead homicidal general who doesn’t even act apologetic for killing a million people and shooting his own officers in cold blood? Now that’s a character that will stay in your memory for a while.

Charis is a much more measured person, a soldier who is trying to do her duty, but knowing she is playing with a primal force that cannot be contained but is a “necessary evil,” that old chestnut. I found interesting echoes of Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice, particularly, in the subtle subversion of genders that are casually sprinkled at random moments. Yes, we’re pretty sure Charis is female and Jedao used to be male (he’s just a computer program now), and as audiobook narrator Emily Woo Zeller chooses to use “cigar-chomping drill sergeant” for every male military character, it’s clear from the voices who should be male and who female. But then out of nowhere sexual scenes don’t play out in the usual way, and there is the same obsession with gloves and the military found in Ancillary Justice. Is this a “thing” now? I hadn’t realized.

In any case, I haven’t even bothered to describe the plot because a) it’s quite complicated, b) other reviewers have done that already, and c) I just don’t have the discipline this time. But suffice to say I was of two minds about Ninefox Gambit. One the one hand, I did like how Yoon Ha Lee just decided “screw it, I won’t explain anything – you do the work.” But that puts a lot of stress on the reader/listener, and if the events you are describing are not gripping (like Dune, for instance, equally baroque and complex but also a rip-roaring space opera extravaganza), then your attention is going to wander … like a heretic! So I found myself stopping and rewinding again and again, over and over, till I decided it wasn’t worth doing that anymore. And while I struggled to follow the storyline at many points, I appreciated the exotic world-building and mathematical magic, and the love-hate relationship of Charis and Jedao.
Profile Image for Carly.
456 reviews185 followers
June 3, 2017
This book is awesome. And I mean that in the formal sense of the word: my mind is officially blown.

There is so much to Ninefox Gambit that it's hard to figure out where to start. The story takes place in a world governed by calendrical systems: in effect, the beliefs, calendar, and observances of society create topologies that in turn affect the laws of physics and allow the use of "exotic effects," which are almost always utilized as weapons. Cheris lives within the hexarchate, which is run by six groups, each with their own distinct characteristics and symbol, from the burning suicide hawk of the Kel to the crafty Shuos ninefox. Cheris, a member of the straightforwardly warlike Kel, finds herself paired with the most infamous Shuos of all, on a mission to save the supposedly impregnable Fortress of Scattered Needles from calendrical heresy. All too quickly, she finds herself in a constant battle of wits with a formidable ally, constantly struggling to determine her true enemies.

One of the most brilliant aspect of the book is the way in which it places the reader within a world and a culture and a mindset so alien from our own. The hexarchate is not a pleasant place, constantly at war with all of its neighbors, ruthlessly destroying the cultures of all those it conquers, and scrupulously performing bloody "remembrance rights" to keep the calendrical systems strong. The Kel may be innately loyal, but to better fulfill their role as the hexarchate's disposable army, they are brainwashed and programmed with "formation instinct" so that they are effectively incapable of disobeying orders. Given the structure of the world, it's not surprising that the book is both dark and intense. From the perspective of the hexarchate's stultifying culture, the story tackles issues of gender and rape. Death is a constant throughout the story, and it is portrayed as brutal and grim rather than valiant and heroic. As one character thinks:
"War is all about taking the future away from people."

Despite the dark themes, I couldn't help but find the calendrical system just plain awesome. As one character puts it:
"In a sense, all calendrical war is a game between competing sets of rules, fueled by the coherence of our beliefs. To win a calendrical war, you have to understand how game systems work."
The concept of a sufficiently large population's faith, belief, and rituals actually warping the physical laws of the universe is just the coolest thing ever. Full disclosure: I have to admit that I suffer from Math Envy: while I don't think I'm really capable of understanding higher mathematics, I'm utterly fascinated by the core ideas, at least in the abstract. I dropped out of topology in the first few weeks because my brain felt like silly putty. I survived first-semester real analysis by the skin of my teeth and even so, I wandered around in a daze for weeks because now I knew what real numbers actually were. This book was so fascinating that it gave me a newfound desire to try to learn topology again.

But even apart from the mathematical aspects, the worldbuilding is fascinatingly deep and infinitely creative: disregarded self-aware artificial intelligences who act as servitors for the hexarchate, immortality devices and the black cradle, battle formation geometries, deadly threshold winnowers, human composite technologies, much else besides. And throughout the story is a constant theme of games, and games within games. As one opponent tells Cheris,
"You lost the moment you agreed to play the game on my terms, without negotiating."
Ninefox Gambit is an impressively creative story brimming over with metaphor and symbolism and and analysis. If you're a fan of mathematics and mindgames, you really need to check out this book. I can't wait for the sequel.

~~I received this ebook from the publisher, Solaris/Rebellion, in exchange for my honest review. Quotes are taken from an advanced reader copy and while they may not reflect the final phrasing, I believe they speak to the spirit of the novel as a whole.~~

Cross-posted on BookLikes.
Profile Image for Jesse On Youtube .
71 reviews4,600 followers
June 23, 2021
Young, ambitious Cheris will do anything to succeed - including waking up a centuries old general who went mad and massacred his own army. General Shuos Jedao has never lost a battle and currently exists as a consciousness that is weaponized and placed in the bodies of soldiers whenever it is convenient for the empire. He is then sent back into the dark when his purpose has been served. Jedao is cryptic, commanding, influential, and seven types of brilliant. However, his mind works very much at odd with Cheris' mind, who is an equally brilliant mathematician.

This is a high science fiction novel that includes an incredible amount of mathematical theory and, not gonna lie, I had no funking clue what the funk was going on. I still loved it. I have dyscalculia, a disability that makes math impossible to understand; I was THRILLED to learn that Jedao ALSO HAS THIS DISABILITY AND IT WAS SO COOL TO MEET A CHARACTER I LOVED WHO WAS ATYPICAL IN THE WAY THAT I AM. I will endlessly appreciate Ha Lee for giving me this gift.

There is so much I can say about this little novella thematically, much I can say about the writing. I cannot wait to reread it (it will likely take me many rereads before I begin to understand what is happening), but I am so looking forward to each of them and continuing on with this series.
Profile Image for Renay.
236 reviews125 followers
August 2, 2016
This book is a wild, hallucinogenic space adventure set in a far-future society that manages to be alien while retaining the memory of how fragile and beautiful individualistic humanity can be. There are Brave Robot Pals and a complicated friendship (...can you call it a friendship? well, I would, after everything) between a dude and a lady at the center of the story that manages to be one of the most horrifying/fascinating partnerships I've ever read. SIGN ME UP FOR THE SEQUEL even though I'm still not sure WTF calendrical rot is. Don't judge me, okay, I'm new to these types of books.

My B&N review: www.barnesandnoble.com/blog/sci-fi-fa...
Lady Business Review: https://ladybusiness.dreamwidth.org/2...
Fangirl Happy Hour discussion: http://www.fangirlhappyhour.com/2016/...
Profile Image for Anthony.
Author 4 books1,895 followers
August 8, 2022
Supremely entertaining, fiercely weird, and crafted with a blazing confidence, it’s astonishing that this is a first novel. Yoon Ha Lee believes in throwing his readers into the deepest part of the deep end and daring them to swim or drown, which is a tactic that sometimes works for me and sometimes doesn’t. But in this case it works so very well, because as his breakneck, abstract battle sequences mount, and as his bizarre, wholly-invented terminology riddled throughout the text gradually comes clear(ish), we have also blessedly gotten to know, through crisp, witty dialogue and perceptive 3rd-person-POV narration, the very interesting characters who inhabit his wildly imaginative world.

When I read science fiction that’s touted for its amazing world building, as this novel is, I’m all-too-often left cold by its corresponding lack of recognizably human behavior or depth of characterization. Thankfully, Lee follows in the footsteps of the masterful CJ Cherryh (a writer whose incredible novel Cyteen Lee greatly admires, according to his Twitter feed) and fulfills both parameters in a thoroughly engaging, terrifically plotted, and incisively written manner.

What holds this back from being a full 5-star read for me — it is so so close to being one — is that I never quite *felt* the fullest emotional depths of the weight of Lee’s major themes — the horrible cost of war and what might lead a soldier to wake up to the corruption of their commanders and rebel against them. It’s definitely baked into the narrative in a believable and resonant manner, but perhaps one of the side effects — for me, at least — of Lee’s fervently gonzo style is that, in the end, I was ultimately more in my head as I was reading than in my heart.

Still, I’m so glad I finally read this stunningly exciting and enjoyable and stirring novel. It’s a huge favorite of many of my bookworm friends, and I can certainly see why. I very much look forward to continuing the trilogy.
Profile Image for Bethany (Beautifully Bookish Bethany).
2,203 reviews3,678 followers
May 28, 2022
Reading Vlog: https://youtu.be/MLxlIc-hQis

I had been putting this off because I was intimidated, but I LOVED it! Ninefox Gambit blends political intrigue, military strategy, compelling characters, fascinating world-building, and big ideas about things like the nature of empire and the morality of war/violence. It's truly an excellent piece of science-fiction.

I said I was intimidated by this book and that's because I had heard how complex, smart, and mathy it was. But I think it's more accessible than people realize, even if Yoon Ha Lee is definitely smarter than I am! While I wouldn't recommend this as a place to start for someone new to the sci-fi genre, I think many sci-fi readers would love it. Just know that you probably won't understand everything right away, but if you go with it things will start to make sense. You're in good hands.

In this world, high level math and geometry are used to create effects that feel kind of like magic, even if they are science. It's incredibly innovative and really interesting. Everything is overseen by the rulers of the Hexarchate. But they have a problem and they are bringing in a young captain who is amazing at math to deal with it. But she doesn't really know what she's getting into...

This was fast-paced, brilliantly plotted with great character arcs and I flew through it. Give it a try!
Profile Image for Trike.
1,526 reviews162 followers
December 31, 2017
That was... weird.

I kinda think Lee knows that most Space Opera is just Fantasy in Space, so he went with that full force. (I must apologize because I don’t know if the author’s surname is Yoon or Lee. I’m going with Lee.) The story is pretty basic Space Opera: a bunch of rebels have secured a massive space station and the empire must root them out. Or, if you like, terrorists and armed forces. There’s no clear delineation between good guys and bad guys here, though, so you can look at it either way you want to. In that sense, this story is superbly ambiguous.

The worldbuilding is also as interesting as any I’ve come across recently. The book this is most similar to is Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice, and I had a similar reaction to this book, in that I can see why everyone likes it and I appreciate the chances it takes, but I didn’t really enjoy it. At the end of Leckie’s novel everything snaps into place and you realize why the preceding story had to be “just so”. Here, though, the ending was obvious from build-up.

I think the reason for that is because this story is so extremely peculiar in its worldbbuilding and the concepts are so bizarre that I was able to focus on the key character elements as the only familiar touchstones, which made the conclusion inevitable.

In this universe Lee has constructed, the rules of reality appear to be governed by mutual consent, taking the idea of “consensual reality” to its logical conclusion. If everyone believes in a thing, then that thing exists. The rebels — called “calendrical heretics” — are attempting to substitute their own reality. In this case, a form of representational democracy to oppose the existing oligarchy. The calendar thing is part of what maintains the status quo, apparently. Since everyone celebrates the same holidays and special events, it binds everyone together in a common belief system. It’s a common outlook on life made manifest by virtue of shared history.

But by using such odd terms like “calendrical heretics” and “carrion shards” and the like, such as exotic weapons that amputate random body parts because the soldiers believe they will, it makes the interaction between the two main characters the only familiar ground to stand on. Which in turn led me to suss out the ending somewhere around the halfway point. I think this probably would have been more effective as a short story or novella, so the punchline didn’t have such a long build-up.

I like the idea of the two main characters, too, with one a soldier who has disappointed her family by joining the armed forces and the other being the mental echo of a long-dead general who was put on ice 397 years earlier for winning war by essentially murdering his own army. The soldier is a highly-successful field commander who is invited to offer a proposal on how to defeat the rebels, and instead of proposing a strategy or exotic weapon, she instead says, “Let’s get the brilliant but insane general to advise us.” So they implant the general’s psyche into her brain as an advisor and send them off to deal with the heretics.

Bits and pieces of this sound like things taken from other books, such as Dune and Starship Troopers and Ender’s Game and a book whose name I forget that uses the “voice of another person in the main character’s head” thing, but it ends up being its own story.

I think that some people like this story because it makes them feel smart for figuring it out. Lee doesn’t hold your hand at all, and there are precious few infodumps so common in sci-fi. We just jump straight into the weirdness with words like cindermoths and ashhawks and calendrical heresies. Enough small clues are scattered throughout that you eventually find your footing, so I suspect that’s why people like it, but to me all of that just felt like an unnecessary distraction from the core story, which was actually a straightforward tale of not accepting the status quo just because you are told to.

For me that payoff wasn’t worth the journey, but I clearly appear to be an outlier in that regard. YMMV.
Profile Image for Meagan.
334 reviews185 followers
January 1, 2020
"I'm your gun"

This was even more amazing the second time around. Mostly because I understood so much more 😜. I can't wait to finish the rest of the series.

Another reviewer mentioned the concept of consensus reality which is the shared beliefs of the majority that shape the believers perception of reality. Interesting concept and it is interesting to Lee's interpretation of that play out in this book. The first time around I hadn't even caught on to the whole "beliefs shape reality" aspect of the book (I missed so much!)

I liked the set up of the narrative and the minimum exposition. It was so much more rewarding when I figured out an aspect of the world on my own with the minimal clues the author provided.
2017 review
Lee had a way of warping traditional concepts like gender, society, government, weapons tech, time, human perception and transgenderism that made you struggle to wrap your head around it initially, but that forced you to think outside the box. Lee subtley provides prespective on some controversial topics like homosexulaity, polyamory and transgenderism, but never tells you what to think or outright states an opinion, nonetheless it is there for you to ponder. I absolutely loved that about this book. I will admit that Lee just drops you into the middle of the world of Ninefox Gambit and leaves you to your own devices as far as understanding and interpreting the world. At first I really struggled with the out of the box concepts, I almost stopped reading once or twice, but I was determined to figure this world out. I just knew if I held on for a little longer things would start to click into place. Oh I was not disappointed!

I went into this thinking it was going to be your standard military sci-fi/space opera. I think that is what really made me struggle even more. I kept approaching every concept in the wrong way. Once I figured out that this book actually contains a magic system based on the intersections of science and math and how that in turn shapes the physical world, I was much better off. This book is definitely science fantasy. With that said it still had all the elements I enjoy to read in military sci-fi/space opera. It had the amazing, and very unique, weapons tech, political turmoil, military maneuvers/operations, characters questioning if they truly are on the right side and revolution among other things.

The only negative I have is that things dragged a little during the middle. This is because battle wasn't your typical "shoot 'em up" and "bombs away". So battles were much more focused on the military strategy and psychological warfare as well. BUT the weapons were still EPIC!

This was such a quirky and novel read. I ABSOLUTELY LOVED it. I will definitely continue this series!
Profile Image for Peter Tillman.
3,682 reviews346 followers
September 5, 2021
Complex military-political science fantasy, first of a trilogy. I enjoyed it without quite figuring out what the author was trying to do. You should be aware that the body-count is high, and there is a *lot* of gore. But you won't mistake Lee's sfnal backstory for anyone else's!

Here's the review you want to read, by N.K. Jemisin:
http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/14/boo... ". . . . the lesson of colonialism applies as well: Brute-force domination gets you only so far. For stability, trust is key."
And, for the perplexed, the Hexarchate faction cheat sheet! http://www.yoonhalee.com/?p=836

The book works pretty well. The center is an uneasy union of a young junior officer and the tech-saved shade of a very successful and seriously weird general, and their strange campaign to reconquer a space station lost to calendrical heretics. The political setup is an odd oligarchy, which grows increasingly distasteful as the story advances. The hexarchy's concern for the lives and well-being of its citizens and soldiers is remarkably slight.

The ending of this book is a series of flashbacks by the undead general, as he and the young officer become more closely-bound. Plus a hook for the sequel.

A lot of this can be taken as advanced tech-as-magic, and I expect the setup will become clearer as the series progresses. I haven't quite decided how much I liked"Gambit", but I plan to read the next installment.

I wish I had read the prequel story "The Battle of Candle Arc" first, as it has some useful backstory for the series, and would have saved some of my thrashing around, trying to figure out what the hell was going on in the novel. This was the great victory that made General Jedao's reputation, and is mentioned in both this novel and the sequels. Available online at http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/lee_1...
Profile Image for Alienor ✘ French Frowner ✘.
851 reviews3,880 followers
September 16, 2021
I have a confession: I tried reading this book a few years ago and dnfed it around 20% because my god, I did not understand anything and it was so frustrating!!! There's a calendar and I have no clue what it does!!!! Maths!!!!

BUT. Second time's the charm! I've gotten better at pushing through in the last few years, though, and this time, I had a great time reading it. Did I understand everything in the world building? Fuck no, but I enjoyed following the characters still, and it was actually funny and moving at times???? WHO KNEW??? Not my 2017 self, that's for sure. So if you can handle being lost for a while, I'd recommend this imaginative and captivating novel. It gets better, I swear. As for me, I cannot wait to read the sequel.
Profile Image for Tudor Ciocarlie.
457 reviews215 followers
July 21, 2016
Ninefox Gambit is the best novel of 2016 and exactly my kind of science-fiction. For me, the most important quality of a speculative fiction book is its "cognitive estrangement" (as China Mieville calls it), the degree to which the fiction takes you beyond your known world and throws you out of your comfort zone. And the estrangement can't get more alien than the world of Ninefox Gambit, an immersive and unforgettable universe in which the galactic government - the Hexarchate, formed by six very different types of human beings, controls its people using a complex calendrical mathematical system, that forms and defines the reality in which the people live. The Hexarchate fights against "calendrical rot", that is used by groups of "heretics" to turn the nature of technology and the reality around them to their advantage. And not only the world is perfect in its estrangement, but also the brilliant characters, the rich prose and the complex structure. Ninefox Gambit is an extremely complex, confusing and alien novel, but for me these are its strongest qualities and exactly the aspects that make it an amazing read.
Profile Image for Mimi.
699 reviews198 followers
December 6, 2021
A frustrating read that eventually came together in the end in a fairly spectacular way. Or maybe I'm just saying that because I've been fighting with this book for over a week now, and the euphoria of reaching the end to find answers waiting for me is temporarily blanketing most of my initial frustration. Whatever it is, I no longer resent the amount of work I had to put in to get to those answers, although your mileage may vary.

This novel is the very definition of "your mileage may vary" because it's hard to gauge, and I cannot think of one person I know, either online or in real life, whom I'm certain would like it. That wouldn't stop me from recommending it though, if only so I get to see someone else go through what I did (hee hee).

So what is this book about? I'm actually still trying to figure that out myself, and I've only gotten some of the pieces to fit in a way that makes sense. But let's give it a shot anyway.

The basic plot is this: after leading an unsuccessful mission, young, talented, and extremely loyal Captain Kel Cheris gets another chance to save her career.
In a way each battle was home: a wretched home, where small mistakes went unnoticed, but a home nonetheless. She didn't know what it said about her that her duty suited her so well, but so long as it was her duty, it didn't matter what she thought about it.

Cheris, along with a few of her peers, are recruited to a risky, high-profile assignment in which they each offer a new solution to a constant problem--a tricky faction rising up on one of the empire's planets. Cheris has an outrageous idea and it gets chosen almost immediately--she is too young and naive to give this much thought. The idea is to resurrect a dead general who never lost a battle, but who was also known for going mad and massacring a rebellion along with his own troops, to help her put down the current rebellion. So the spirit of dead, psychotic General Shuos Jedao is brought back to life as a consciousness that only Cheris can interact with. (He's called "undead" in the book's blurb, and that's kind of misleading, especially for people who read a lot of paranormal or urban fantasy...)

The rest of the book is about Cheris and Jedao dealing with rebel forces all the while butting heads, battling over tactics, playing mind games, making hard decisions, and ultimately bonding. Literally.

This is the first time in Cheris' life leading an operation of this size and caliber with the empire's backing, and there are plenty of tense moments and close calls for her throughout the book.

Jedao himself is an enigma full of contradictions, and through him, Cheris begins to doubt, and later on, to realize that maybe she is fighting on the wrong side.

We do get to learn what happened to Jedao all those years ago that led to the massacre. A short but poignant end to this part of the trilogy.

None of this will make much sense though because you're thrown into the deep end in the very first scene and things only get more confusing from there. The writing is full of jargon and offers very few explanations, so you just have to roll with it. But with repeated exposure to these terms, you get used to them. Or not--your mileage may vary.

There's a lot of talk about calendars and mathematical equations, which might lead you to think there's some kind of system or logic behind the tech, but there's really not. The tech here is akin to an elaborate magic system without all the elaborate explanations.

Calendars are important because they are. Math makes this universe go round because it does. Heretics are those who dare to defy the empire by creating their own calendars to live by. New calendars are believed to weaken the empire's hold on power and unbalance the universe somehow. Therefore the heretics must be put down immediately. No exceptions. No mercy. 
"I'm not complaining about the guns," [Cheris] said, "but guns change minds, not hearts. And calendrical rot is a matter of hearts."

"It depends on what you shoot," Jedao said dryly.

Which leads right into my next point: there is a high body count, as you'd expect with military fiction. And like good Mil-SF, the writing shows the mental and emotional toll the amount of killing and the methods of mass killing take on the people with their boots on the ground. In contrast, you get to see and compare that to those back on their home worlds plotting ways in which to use the death toll to further their own political careers. Hundreds of years in the future, and yet not much has changed on this front.
It was important to acknowledge numbers, especially when the dead were dead by your doing.

A big part of my frustration with this book was sympathizing with the heretics/rebel forces while having to read the story from the point of view of the leader of an invading swarm. It pushed all the right buttons to get my hackles up, but I was too busy fighting the frustration to realize what was happening or that I was being played.

I have a feeling I will appreciate this book more once I get through the whole trilogy. It's the kind of story that has the potential to stay with me for years to come, as I can already feel it knocking around in my head.

Cross-posted at https://covers2covers.wordpress.com/2...
Profile Image for Scott.
292 reviews317 followers
May 8, 2017
Ninefox Gambit begins with a desperate battle.

I’m not talking about the battle that Kel Cheris fights in the first chapter of the story. That’s a pretty serious fight, but it pales next to the backs-to-the wall combat that you, the reader, will face. Prepare for full scale bombardment with a vast arsenal of factions, the screaming howl of incoming volleys of neologisms and massed assaults of odd and confusing names supported by an armored division of incomprehensible techno-magic. I only just made it through – I nearly threw down my arms and raised the white flag twenty pages in – and I’m glad I persevered. Lee’s novel is well worth the initial struggle.

The story focuses on Cheris, who lives in a far future interstellar civilisation that is run by six factions- The Hexarchate. Cheris’ faction is the suicidal, charge-into-battle warrior segment of society, and she is a talented, if unorthodox soldier in a society where being unorthodox gets you killed.

OK, that’s the easy stuff. Beyond this, the Hexarchate runs on technology that relies on a shared calendar- it is temporally dependent, and requires a consistent consensus on the calendar from its subjects in order to function. When the calendar is working as it should the forces of the Hexarchy can create weapons by forming certain military formations, and they have a vast arsenal of strange weapons (fungus bombs, bombs that turn people into crystalized memories, etc.) they can deploy, all of which are underpinned by arcane, savant-level calendrical math. If the calendar is altered -something known as ‘calendrical heresy’ - then many weapons no longer work or are unpredictable.

This is sold as tech, but really, it’s complicated magic way beyond the ken of the average person, much like the magic in Lev Grossman's The Magicians. You’ll need to suspend your disbelief a bit while reading Ninefox Gambit as there isn't a great deal of science in here. One particular weapon- A ‘Threshold Winnower’ was discussed twice (and used, too) but I still had no real idea how it worked or what it really did, other than weirdly kill everyone around it, like some sort of d&d magic spell.

Anyway, some heretics take over one of the Hexarchates most important, near impenetrable fortresses, spreading their corruption out into the rest of the Hexarchy. Cheris is roped into leading the assault on the stronghold, and the spirit/ghost of Shuos Jedao, the hexarchates most legendary general, a man who is also the civilisation’s worst traitor and a mass murderer of his own men, is loaded into her brain to advise her. With Jedao in her head Cheris begins her assault, and begins a journey where she discovers a great deal about the darker side of her world, and the man she is now sharing her body with.

Ninefox Gambit is a damned entertaining novel full of interesting ideas. Just don’t expect your hand to be held (at all) or for anything much to be explained. I firmly believe that good SF should make the reader work a bit, and that this effort can be rewarding, but Lee isn’t spotting you while you’re on the bench press- he’s piling up the weights, waiting until you’re straining to lift them, and then ducking out for a coffee. Anyway, once I got used to the paucity of explanation and just rolled with things I really enjoyed this novel.

The story races along. The weird ‘tech’, Cheris’ characterisation, her strange and cautious relationship with the genius mass murderer who she shares her head with, and the slow reveal of the history of their civilisation all add up to a really interesting story. Jedao himself is also a genuinely interesting character, whose motives are never clear, and whose history is dark, bloody and surprising.

I got totally sucked in to all of this, and I raced through this book, enjoying it much more than I thought I would. I’m looking forward to the sequel.
Profile Image for Beige .
268 reviews90 followers
September 16, 2021
Reading this was an experience! It's like a cat and mouse game set inside a Rubik's cube. This is what I felt like reading this...

artist: nico williams

This future human world feels truly alien. The culture, the language, the values, the technology, the politics -- there was an immense amount to try and understand. Lee throws you into a crisis that's already underway and I felt like I was running two steps behind for most of the novel, trying to make sense of the clues the characters left in their wake. I thought Lee was brilliant at meting out information within the plot and I felt immense satisfaction whenever I connected a piece of the puzzle. Sometimes writers tell you their characters are brilliant strategist - Lee shows you this, time and time again.

I can see why this isn't to other reviewer's tastes, but it certainly suited mine. 4.5 stars rounded up
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