Ninefox Gambit – Yoon Ha Lee

Synopsis: When Captain Kel Cheris of the hexarchate is disgraced for her unconventional tactics, Kel Command gives her a chance to redeem herself, by retaking the Fortress of Scattered Needles from the 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.

Corey: You know that Treehouse of Horror episode, when Homer is checking out the fallout shelters, and then he finds the Far Side calendar? That was me reading Ninefox Gambit. Just flipping page after page like “I don’t get it. I don’t get it. I…..don’t get it.” This book was hard for me to read from the first page, and I never felt connected to anything or anyone in it. There were some humorous bits of dialogue between the two main characters, Cheris and Jedao, but beyond that, this book just wasn’t for me. I literally never had a full grasp on what was happening, and that confusion just felt compounded as the book wore on. So while this book is currently being nominated for ALL THE AWARDS, I’m left scratching my head at how little I got out of it.

Holly: Right? I felt like the guy in the Darren Aronosky movie, Pi. Furrowed brow, biting my lip, a concerned​ look on my face for a good portion of this book. Living in black & white while numbers swirl around my head, trying to figure out the calculations to explain the plotline. Feeling frantic because NOTHING IS MAKING SENSE! Slowly going insane because of mathematics. Probably because I’m not a Kel & have not been programmed to understand the psychology of advanced mathematical formations. ::Cue techno music::

This is certainly getting high praise from all over & is getting nominated for every award possible. I can respect that, but I don’t necessarily have to understand why or even care about awards.

I dig hard sci-fi. A lot. I’d like to think I can grasp the concept of otherwise “difficult” science fiction fairly easily. And my love for military sci-fi is pretty strong. But damn! This was a tough reading experience, for sure. I absolutely applaud the unique aspect of the story. But at the same time, it was slightly too pretentious for my liking. It felt like it was abstract for the sake of being abstract. This was a “show don’t tell” type of story & even then, it could have used some more showing! I just could not fully connect to it.

Corey: I honestly don’t know that I have much experience with hard sci-fi. I’m certainly open to exploring all the different sci-fi subgenres, but this book just left me feeling…nothing. Just so much nothing. I’d find myself totally unfocused for long stretches of time, and also struggling to read more than 10-15 pages at a stretch. I certainly can’t criticize the writing, as I’m sure Yoon Ha Lee is a technically sound science fiction writer. I just wouldn’t know who to recommend this book to, and I can’t imagine picking up the sequel. It was just dense, confusing as hell, and a lot of work to get through. And I don’t want to make it sound like I need everything spoon-fed to me. I like books that challenge me, but this was on a completely different level.

Holly: Not only is it military sci-fi but there are fantasy elements as well. Magic? Check. Sword fights? Check. IN SPACE. Certainly not a new concept, but one that we don’t often see.

I mean, yeah. Yoon Ha Lee has created something completely unique, as far as I am aware. Weaponized math & a calendar. A calendar that is ruled by the government, which must be adhered to strictly. And then there are the Heretics who want to destroy the calendar, with what is called “calendrical rot”. And so ensues the war. I think? Maybe? Something like that. I guess?

I’m not sure I understood it enough to even properly review it. It was an overly ambitious, tedious book that was confusing as fuck for me. Not going to lie, it broke my brain a little!

Corey: That’s how I feel. Brain-broke. There were times I wasn’t even sure who was in a particular scene. I mean, Jedao is basically…undead? Reanimated? A ghost? All of those? And he’s also like….a part of Cheris? Only she can hear him? But she can’t see him? Or maybe like a shadow of him? And yeah…those different colored “laser swords”…..I feel like we’ve seen those before…somewhere far, far away.

Holly: When it is all said & done, the reader has to care about the characters, or the world, or the writing. At the very least. Something has to capture & hold our interest. Challenging books can be wonderful. We should all strive to read the occasional tough book. But there needs to be a payoff in the end! This just didn’t have that. It didn’t leave me with any lasting impression besides what I already knew.. I fucking LOATHE math!

Other than a few interesting moments with Jedao, the characters fell flat. They were just there. Indistinguishable from the next. Yoon Ha Lee is clearly an imaginative writer with big ideas. However, it felt confined within the limits of world building. The plot was often confusing. He basically had zero fucks to give in actually describing what was going on. Some explanation regarding the science behind the religion/society & the mathematical weapons would have been nice. You are left to speculate over the majority of what is happening, which can be distracting & takes the reader outside of the story.

All in all, this feels like a book that people will either get or they won’t. I think it’s safe to say what side we are on. To quote Michael Scott “I UNDERSTAND NOTHING!!!”

I would be hard-pressed to recommend this.

The Grimdragons Rating2 stars!

(Thank you to Rebellion Publishing for providing us with a copy, in exchange for an honest review!)

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