Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee
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.
Reading Ninefox Gambit was like watching a bunch of people I don’t know play a strategy board game I’m unfamiliar with in a language I don’t speak.
I had no idea what was going on at any point while I was reading this book. Some of that was, admittedly, because military strategy (and strategy in general) isn’t my strong suit, and I get lost. This book heavily focused on military strategy. But I also didn’t feel like I had enough background knowledge about the geography (astrography???), political situation, and technology to keep up. A lot of confusion was because new characters were constantly being introduced, but Lee never really explained who they were. I guess he wanted you to work things out for yourself, but I couldn’t. But the biggest reason I didn’t understand is because the “science” aspects of this book are never adequately explained.
It appears that the civilization in this series has developed math/science that is somehow dependent on calendar systems. For some reason if everyone celebrates a holiday or weekly religious observance, then they can use some technologies. Or something. I don’t understand how that works. And the technologies they’re using are also unexplained. Military formations somehow can create force fields and weapons? I’m unclear if it’s that people just standing in that formation can cause events, or if everyone is holding a certain piece of technology that all work together to do something. I have no idea. Lee just said “formations”. There’s also some type of brainwashing that causes the members of the infantry (Kel) to HAVE to obey commands, but sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, seemingly at random. I was completely and hopelessly lost.
Another thing that had me confused was General Jedao, the resurrected commander. Command tells the main character, Cheris, that he is insane and not to trust him, and that he is manipulative and will make her trust him. But I could never figure him out. He was definitely a chaotic character, but even at the end he didn’t seem insane. But he also didn’t seem to have a plan. I’m still not sure what his motives were
So, yeah, I didn’t get this book. At all.
As far as world building goes, Lee clearly has a very detailed, clear idea of what his universe is like. Details out the wazoo, man. But very little of it was descriptive detail, so in addition to having a hard time following the story, I had a hard time picturing much of anything. However, this definitely seems like the kind of book fans of military history and tradition would enjoy, and there was a lot of throwback in addition to all the newfangled tech.
By the end I found myself quite invested in Cheris and Jedaos, even though I didn’t know what was really going on. I would really like to know what happens, but I doubt I would understand it.