The long-dead General Jedao, ostensibly a member of the Kel, warrior caste, but also a Shuos assassin, has now entirely taken over the body of the gifted, but unconventional Captain Kel Cheris.
He has also gained control of General Kel Khiruev’s fleet and appears to want to defend the ruling hexarchate. Will one man be able to save their civilization against the heretics, or is Jedao, the mass murderer, pursuing is own apocalyptic agenda?
How do you encapsulate the second novel of a series that has once again blown you away, but made you work like hell to keep up, because you get the feeling it’s been written by someone with an IQ you can only dream of?
Raven Stratagem is the second book in the Machineries of Empire trilogy and is as dark as Ninefox Gambit. This new volume comes packed to the gunnels with characters of such devious complexity, they are themselves intricate plots within the convoluted weave of the main story arc, as well as waypoints where you want to stop and soak up every nuance of their lives.
There are some terrific personalities allowed to come to the fore now Kel Charis has given herself over to Jedao and we can no longer experience the mesmerising dialogue between the two of them. But this dance of razor-sharp minds continues in the interplay of wits between Jedao and General Khiruev, the commander of the Hierarchy of Feasts.
There is also Hexarch Shuos Mikodez, the astute politician, sitting like a spider at the centre of his extensive web. Yoon Ha Lee also loads the narrative with humour, albeit dark and dry, through the medium of Colonel Brezan’s (initially Khiruev’s right-hand man) observations, particularly when his life is in peril. Such detail to character building neither slows the plot because of the balance of exposition through dialogue (revealing the psyche, and actions), nor distracts from it because each character dovetails into the overall arc. To lose one of them would be to remove a piece of the puzzle.
The world of the hexarchate is a bleak one, although one described by making the assumption that the reader will pick it all up as they go along, which in my view only added to the sense of entering a galactic chess game. But this way of world building manages to create terrific atmosphere through dialogue and concise observations of the third person, omniscient narrator. For example, the description of one of Brezan’s parents, “his youngest father was a children’s illustrator with a chronic inability to look at art work without vivisecting it”, pretty much sums up the state of mind of the people of this unforgiving world, where everyone and everything is a means to an end.
There is the ideal blend of politics and space battles in this scifi novel, which leaves you feeling you need to re-read everything that has gone before in Ninefox Gambit and relate it to what is happening in Raven Stratagem, then marvel at how the seemingly disparate bits all fall into place.
I suspect this will become the type of cult series which will be analysed for years to come in terms of the military and political tactics which run through the books like arteries.
Although I was lucky enough to get a e-book ARC of Ninefox Gambit, I still rushed to my local bookstore the minute it came out to grab a hardcopy for my “you can only have this book if you rip it from my dead fingers” collection. I will certainly be doing the same for Raven Stratagem.
The downside is waiting a whole year for the final instalment of the trilogy.
Raven Stratagem was courtesy of Solaris via NetGalley.
You do need to read Ninefox Gambit first to get a handle of the world of the hexarchate. Lia Cooper’s excellent vodcast (see below) of Ninefox Gambit is a very helpful resource for those who want to get into the Machineries of Empire series.