I recently read through the entire Machineries of Empire Series by Yoon Ha Lee. I reread Ninefox Gambit and retried to read Raven Stratagem. When I initially read Raven Stratagem I DNF’d the book around the halfway point. I wanted to give it another try and then, if I enjoyed it, grab the last book too, Revenant Gun as it came out around the time I’d finish the second one. Well, I don’t know if I was in a better mental state or if the reread really helped me but I enjoyed the books much more this time through.
I think at first I approached this series as the story of Cheris and Jedao. After reading Ninefox Gambit, I had the impression that this series was being told through their eyes. When I found out that Raven Stratagem was more of multiple points of view story, it kind of surprised me. It surprised me because in Ninefox Gambit there was such a focus on the interaction between Cheris and Jedao inside each other. Raven Stratagem and later Revenant Gun makes Mikodez, Kujen, Brezan, and Khiruev just as important characters as Ninefox Gambit made Cheris and Jedao. It’s interesting because Yoon Ha Lee makes it a point to make every character in these stories have their own decisions. Each person is rather proactive to their situation and that causes a story narrative that can sometimes appear to be unclear to the reader. The focus of these stories can sometimes shift at moments where you aren’t sure who you want to live and who you want to die. Everyone is a shade of gray in these stories, there really isn’t much black and white or lines that delineate between the good guys and the bad guys. Regardless of who you root for, they probably do some pretty awful things somewhere within this universe that Lee has created. If Star Wars was told as a story with only the people from the Empire attempting to gain power and influence without any rebels, that would be what this series does.
Yoon Ha Lee writes a story that is at times extremely personal with the characters enjoying whatever sexual appetite they desire but then makes their desires for the actual story arc a little hazy. I think what comes out of these stories are political ongoings that is quite reminiscent of the murky atmosphere that clouds the real world’s own politics. No one is necessarily the good guy and everyone is out to achieve what they want. There aren’t many unselfish characters in these books.
These are slow reading books. I had a bit of a hard time losing myself in the story just because I had to constantly think how each scene not only impacted the characters within that scene but the characters elsewhere in this world. The story takes place over many years, especially in Revenant Gun, where Ninefox Gambit took place in a rather small amount of time. Because of this, the reader has to play catch up at times to understand how things have shifted over the time that they did. I usually enjoy a more self-contained story and I feel like I would have enjoyed the second two books a little more if it didn’t jump around as much.
Yoon Ha Lee does something in the third book that really impressed me and this isn’t a spoiler because it basically talks about this on the back cover of the book, he reintroduces the same character, Jedao, as a new clone without the memories of the Cheris/Jedao. When this happened I had to ask myself, “Is this a smart thing to do, introducing the same character, when another character could fill the same role?” Well, I was soon a believer because what this new Jedao showed was just how impactful the events in the life of the original Jedao really were to change his personal characteristics, especially the abuse that the original Jedao experienced but the new Jedao didn’t. With this, Lee really showed us how much impact our life events have in shaping who we are.
I would recommend this series to anyone that wants to attempt to read a science fiction series that demands the reader to think around what is being shown and said on the page to how the things on the page are going to impact the rest of the side stories and characters. If you are looking for a fun series to lose yourself in, I don’t really think this is the one for you. I had to put a little more effort into reading these than with books I usually read. That effort paid off as I feel like a more intelligent reader with science fiction through reading this and I won’t be as daunted by future books that are written similarly in the future. Basically, reading this series feels like an accomplishment, one I’m glad I achieved.