Ninefox Gambit does something that no other science fiction book has done for me before, it makes me ignore the parts I disliked because the parts I liked were so good. This is a military science fiction story that, for me, didn’t actually do the military part all that great. Even so, the hook that holds the entire story together, a traitorous madman being in the head of an inexperienced new general that must take back a station that rebelled, is fascinating. The best way for me to describe the book is that Yoon Ha Lee is showing us a story instead of telling us a story. In showing us a story, giving us a look into this world, he does very little explaining. The reader has to figure out the structure of this society, the main character’s place in it, and what is going on as the events unfold. Most of the time these type of stories work for me because reading feels like unraveling a mystery. Many days after finishing this novel I am still unraveling everything in my head.
Cheris is a disgraced captain of the hexarchate, an empire with specific class-like factions, that needs someone to reclaim the Fortress of Scattered Needles from heretics or rebels. Cheris gets an ultimate weapon in helping her reclaim the fortress, the revived consciousness of a madman genius who never lost a battle, Jedao, who is a traitor and now tethered to Cheris’ mind. The two of them can talk to each other without others overhearing but also people know Jedao is there because Cheris’ shadow looks like him. Using the strategy of Jedao, they take a large fleet of ships out to overtake this fortress before Jedao possibly makes Cheris go mad.
Ninefox Gambit has a rather high learning curve while reading. So many of the terms are just plain alien to the reader and it is only by hundreds of pages of context do you finally start to piece things together. Cheris and Jedao have incredible dialogue throughout this entire book. In fact, I would say that this is a very dialogue heavy book because most of the story and reveals are done through the dialogue. I found the book to have hardly any detail when it came to actual scenes of battle. So many times while reading, I knew what the fleet was doing, but the actual battle descriptions were just so bland and without feeling. There is barely any connection between Cheris, the leader, and her subordinates, so when she throws people randomly into the fight it is very difficult to care about what those characters were doing or understand completely why they were doing what they were doing. I really wanted about 100 extra pages of interpersonal relationships with the side characters for all the military scenes to really mean something for me and make me care about their fate.
This is a top-down, strategic view type of book, and usually these type of books I just don’t connect to, and it was true as far as the actual fighting portions, but the Cheris and Jedao hook was just too good. I wanted to know more about them as characters and their pasts that I didn’t mind all the boring military sf scenes. Jedao’s past and the revealing of that past was done extremely well.
I went through all the emotions while reading this book. At times I really hated it and at other times I loved it. After finishing it, I just couldn’t stop thinking about this book. 3 days later and I can’t stop thinking about this book either. I realized that this is going to be one of those books that just grows on you after you’ve finished it. In fact, I even ordered a physical copy to replace my ebook copy, and I’m eagerly anticipating the sequel.
17/25 Possible Score
3 – Plot
4 – Characters
4 – World Building
3 – Writing Style
3 – Heart & Mind Aspect
It took me 9 hours to read with a slow pace of 32 pgs per hour because I wanted to make sure I understood it. This is not a book to read in small chunks.