Revenant Gun by Yoon Ha Lee
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is the conclusion to the Machineries of Empire trilogy. Taking place nine years after the events of the second book, Raven Stratagem, this book focuses on what could be called Shuos Jedao 2.0. The devious, amoral, fascinating General of books one and two is here resurrected as a scared seventeen-year-old kid, with all his triumphs and tragedies ahead of him....and he doesn't remember any of it.
Yes, I know that sounds fantastical. Let's just say this entire series is the epitome of the phrase "advanced technology indistinguishable from magic." This Empire runs on what's known as the "high calendar," which generates exotic effects like faster-than-light travel and various horrifying weaponries. The calendar's engine, as we discover (it's stated definitively in this book, though it was broadly hinted at in book one and especially book two) is the Remembrances, which is ritualized, state-sanctioned torture. Jedao is resurrected by means of what's called the "black cradle," where a copy of his downloaded consciousness and memories is stored. He's given a new body (exactly where this body came from is very important later) and sent out by one of the empire's last remaining hexarchs, Nirai Kujen, to conquer and reunify a fractured hexarchate and stamp out "calendrical heresies." These are calendars different from the high calendar--one of the main differences being they support such heretical concepts as "democracy."
Needless to say, as you can probably tell, the learning curve is pretty steep on these books. This book isn't nearly as bad as the first, Ninefox Gambit, where I read through the first chapters bumfuzzled, thinking: "I don't have the slightest idea what's going on here, but I love it." Raven Stratagem did have quite a few explanations, a welcome trend that continues in this book. This book also benefits from being half again as long as either of the first two, with the added length used to take a welcome deep dive into the world and characters. There are crackling space battles, sharply-drawn ethical conundrums, conflicted and multi-layered characters, and the revelation of an enslaved alien species that I really hope is given some time in a subsequent story, as there is unfortunately no chance to deal with the horrifying implications of their existence here.
This book brings the story to a satisfying conclusion, with the ten-year attempt to overthrow the hexarchate and break up the high calendar succeeding. (Indeed, you could say this coup took four hundred years, as the original Shuos Jedao set it in motion before he was killed and downloaded into the black cradle.) The three books work together very well, building and expanding the world and characters with each subsequent volume, and tying up (nearly) all the loose ends. It's damn good, all of it, and is one of the best books I've read so far this year.
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