Book : Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee

Andrew Stephens, Thursday the 7th of March, 2019 in Books, Science Fiction

Ninefox Gambit Cover
Ninefox Gambit
By Hoon Ha Lee
Published by Solaris
ISBN: 978-1781084496
Author's Site
In the grim future of the hexarchate there is only war. Humanity, split into six castes, spans countless planets. Technology has progressed to a point where belief and ritual can warp reality itself, giving the hexarcharte leaders god-like powers. But still there are heretics that need to be stamped out and whole planets burned.

Cheris is a loyal officer of the soldier caste, used to fighting with and against the terrible metaphysical weapons that can be wielded with the right belief system. Her successes, despite bordering heretical themselves, attract the notice of the powers-that-be to deal with a unique problem - a vital space station has fallen to a powerful heresy, completely changing the physical properties of that region of space.

Desperate measures are required and Cheris' solution is to bring legendary military genius Jedao back from the dead to advise her. Jedao is just mostly-dead, so no problems there but on the other hand his last act before being mostly-executed 400 years ago was to purposely kill over a million of his own troops. This might not be such a great idea.

Ninefox Gambit is military sci-fi raised to the next level. As well as the typical robots and pulse rifles and what-have-you, the hexarchate has developed a mathematical description of physics that imposes it's will on reality. Changing the model (providing you can find a stable solution) will mold space itself. Battle formations, rituals, and even human sacrifices that follow these models strengthen the solution. Those that follow other solutions must be wiped out.

This would be a fascinating idea all by itself but Ninefox Gambit has other tricks up its sleeve. I particularly enjoyed the twisted politics of the hexarchate and the subplot involving the ubiquitous robotic servitors that everyone takes for granted. Through all the battles and carnage it becomes clear that there is a lot more going on that just the war. This isn't the grandest of space opera but it might be some of the densest.

Hoon Ha Lee's writing style is well suited to this kind of plot. They keep the action flowing smoothly while introducing the novel's big ideas in a way that really draws the reader into the story. There is little mucking around, you are immediately dropped into a strange world of with its own argo and cultural norms and expected to keep up. With some books this would be grating, but Hoon Ha Lee is a clever enough writer to smooth the way.

But is it good? Despite the proceeding paragraphs, I was a little disappointed in Ninefox Gambit. It is very readable but maybe just a little too exciting. Its a strange complaint but I loved the universe so much that I was frustrated that the plot moved so quickly that we didn't get to see more. The second half of the novel is just a blur of action and it ends very abruptly.

But this is just personal preference. I usually don't even like military science fiction but Ninefox Gambit pretty much won me over.