Title: Ninefox Gambit
Author: Yoon Ha Lee
Published by: Solaris Books
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Where I got the book: Public Library
Content Warning: Death (in combat), genocide, murder, rape, suicidal thoughts
“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.” (Source)
I meant to write a review for Ninefox Gambit last year after I was blown away by it but never quite got around to it. But in preparation for Raven Stratagem I decided to reread it and that was an excellent decision. Ninefox Gambit is a fantastic book and it only gets better the second time you read it.
The first important thing to note is that Ninefox Gambit requires a certain type of faith from a reader. A lot of people rage against infodumps in SFF but also don’t like going the other way and being dropped into the middle of the story with no background. Ninefox Gambit is the latter, and it doesn’t mess around considering the book starts in the middle of a fire fight. This requires a fair amount of faith from the reader and the ability to bumble through the massacre until things even out. You start to pick up terms pretty quick though and I had a decent grasp of what was going on by a quarter of the way through on my first read. But I’m also not the best at following complicated things with tons of names, so there was till moments when I was occasionally lost. You definitely pick up more of a second read but it’s still a super enjoyable and really good book the first time round.
Now I’m primarily a fantasy read and when I read Ninefox Gambit last summer I was only starting to read more sci-fi. I didn’t know much about the book, only that it was getting a fair amount of buzz. When I picked it up, I didn’t expect to read one of my favourite books and become a Yoon Ha Lee fan for life. Military space opera wasn’t one of my go to genres but I’m super glad I didn’t write Ninefox Gambit off because of it.
For starters the technology is cool. The world of the Hextorate is a totalitariam regime in space where technology works due to collective thought. And if people start thinking heretical thoughts then the technology starts going haywire.
But for me what really makes the book is the characters. My main problem with hard sci-fi is that the characters wind up being a vehicle to talk about technology. Ninefox Gambit does both. The technology is cool and through characters interactions with it you start to understand how the Hextorate operates. But the characters break me, Cheris and Jedao especially. I’ve cried both times I’ve read this book (although that’s pretty easy to make me do), and even after it’d been months since I’d read Ninefox Gambit the first time I continued to dwell on it as the characters as if the characters had been imprinted onto me.
Lee has done a fantastic job at creating an interesting and dangerous world inhabited by characters I fell in love with and need to read more about. Ninefox Gambit is a beautiful and moving space opera that everyone, sci-fi addicts and the curious, should consider picking up.