Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is my second five-star read of the year, and as far as I am concerned it is knock-your-socks-off good. Having said that, this is not an easy read by any means. In fact, the first chapter alone will undoubtedly put off many potential readers, who will wind up scratching their heads and asking: "What the hell is going on?" This is due to the book's extreme in media res format; you are thrown into the middle of a battle and introduced quickly to the main characters, with no explanation or backstory. The narrative is, basically, sink or swim.
This book is set in a far-future universe, with protagonists who are called "human" but share very little of what I would consider human, with technology that could be described equally as virtual reality, magic, or Arthur C. Clarke's formula of tech so advanced that it is indistinguishable from magic. Any of the three might fit, and part of the fun is figuring out your own formula for how everything works. The reader has to do this because, again, there are no explanations. Yoon Ha Lee is apparently the anti-infodump writer, although he does rather better with his characters, especially his undead general, Shuos Jedao (whose consciousness, or uploaded brain, or something, has been imprisoned for four hundred years in a "black cradle," and hauled out only when the ruling hexarchate wants to put down another rebellion).
This book sounds confusing as all get-out, but it sucked me right in and I didn't want to leave. The protagonist, Kel Charis, who is put in charge of quashing the rebellion at the Fortress of Scattered Needles and unleashes Shuos Jedao to do it, is a fascinating character: singled out because of her penchant for mathematics (which becomes bloody damn important at the end), and thrown into the middle of something she does not know how to handle. The relationship between Charis and Jedao is the heart of the book.
This book will greatly reward re-reads, I think, because in going through it again the reader can pick up more clues about the technology (and what "calendrical rot" means--I still haven't quite figured that out, although I think it has something to do with these "calendars" influencing the fabric of reality in a given location). In any case, this book is breathtakingly original, and it will be up for awards next year if I have anything to say about it.
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