Title: Ninefox Gambit.
Series: The Machineries of Empire #1.
Writer(s): Yoon Ha Lee.
Publisher: Solaris Books.
Release Date: June 14th 2021.
My Overall Rating:
When reality shatters in front of your eyes, the world offers an infinity of possibilities, leaving you aimlessly wandering for a buoy to hold onto, unable to grasp at a thread of purpose. But once the dust settles, the mind also sees clearer, sharper, and further. While all could live content with the rules that govern their lives, some will find that freedom of these guidelines lets their strongest beliefs shine brighter, breaking through the barriers of consciousness to lead them onto a path that they choose to walk upon. And for one person, this path will be a journey like none other. Author Yoon Ha Lee presents a challenging yet ingenious work of science fiction that goes above and beyond to explore the fragility of human and societal perception of reality through a daunting quest for survival filled with moral and ethical ambiguities.
What is Ninefox Gambit about? Following an incident in the galactic warzone that would inevitably ensue shame and disgrace, Captain Kel Cheris finds herself scolded for unconventional tactics and is given a colossal assignment with an opportunity for redemption: to retake the Fortress of Scattered Needles from calendrical heretics. With the stakes high, she must turn towards the undead and infamous tactician Shuos Jedao, known for his incredible exploits despite his questionable past behaviours, if she is to besiege the fortress and come out victorious with a chance to save her career. Unfortunately, the odds of success continue to seem slim and trust is not a currency easily attainable or disposable, especially with a genius madman whose intentions remain as blurry as his past decision-making.
“In mathematics you had peer review, definite proofs and answers, but war was nothing but uncertainty multiplied by uncertainty.”
— Yoon Ha Lee
While some could dismiss the prose as befuddling technobabble and abandon a couple of pages in due to its unforgiving direction, pacing, and world-building, notably marked by an absence of sympathy towards the reader, never holding them by their hands to the finish line, only those who persist through writer Yoon Ha Lee’s ambitious scope for this lofty universe will, however, find intellectual refuge in his complex and thoughtful world founded on an odd yet intriguing infusion of logic and faith. For a universe where reality can be altered through a conglomerate of consolidated thoughts and beliefs and a structure based on mathematics, it is only bewildering to witness the author’s ideas come to fruition and this without having to ever dwell on exposition. His natural and gifted ability to inscribe this theoretical concept into the characters’ plight makes for a truly rewarding experience in the end.
The real treat, however, lies in the camaraderie born from the unlikely union of Captain Kel Cheris with the undead tactician Shuos Jedao as they set off to retake the Fortress of Scattered Needles currently being held by heretics corrupting the Hexarchy one ship at a time. While there is an overarching focus on intricate space battles guided by the underlying rules that govern the hexarchates, there is also an impressive core narrative that develops almost exclusively through these two characters and their unwished-for coalition that allows readers to glimpse into not only a strategic and manipulative understanding of warfare but an intimate and excruciating exploration of intrapersonal intelligence and emotion. It is through conflict and adversity that their individual understanding of their world collides and brings out the best (or worse) of them in the end.
Ninefox Gambit is a visionary space opera founded on mathematical principles and uncompromising beliefs following two mismated allies in their crushing quest for redemption.