Review: Ninefox Gambit, Yoon Ha Lee

WHAT. A GREAT. BOOK.

WHAT A GREAT BOOK. I confess that I delayed reading Ninefox Gambit, recent well-deserved winner of the Locus Award for First Novel, given that all the reviews I read of it said that it was SF as hell and explained absolutely nothing. And look: That was correct information. Several people explained to me in advance the whole deal with calendrical rot and what it all meant, and even so, I was at sea for the first AT LEAST forty pages, like to the point that I did not feel confident I had grasped the meaning of any of the events that had unfolded up to that point.

Ninefox Gambit

“Wow you are doing a great job selling this book Jenny” I KNOW I KNOW but let me get to the point.

Well, no, okay, I’ll summarize it first. I’m not going to worry too much about the technical aspects, since you won’t understand them anyway until you’re halfway through the sequel. Bear with me. A very orderly Order Muppet indeed, Cheris, has been tapped to deal with a group of rebels (heretics) who are adhering to a different belief system (calendar) that threatens the stability of the government (hexarchate). But she can’t do it alone. Too Orderly. To help her out, they are depositing the world’s most ever chaotic Chaos Muppet, Jedao, into her brain. Once upon a time he was the Ender Wiggin of the hexarchate, winning vicious battles against impossible odds, right up until the day he slaughtered millions of people — enemies and allies alike — and then turned his gun on his own staff. Does he have a hidden agenda? Read it and find out!

Okay, now I will get to the point. If you have interest at all in watching brilliant people be mercilessly competent while simultaneously battling their inner demons, Ninefox Gambit is your book. (Black Sails may also be your show but that’s going to be a longer, separate conversation.) The trick for Jedao is attaining a victory without any use of the hexarchate’s best magic tricks, against an enemy with unbreachable defenses. The trick for Cheris is not to be (ideologically) seduced by Jedao, who has nothing but his words and his brains for weapons but who tends to triumph against insane odds every time he gets the chance. And the trick for the hexarchate, of course, is to avoid another mass slaughter by a general they chose to put in the field.

I loved this book, y’all. I do not tend to enjoy SF (or fantasy, actually) where there is lots of new terminology to remember, but I fell into Ninefox Gambit like a ton of bricks. I had a severe and annoying case of mentionitis. I drove the far, far drive to a separate, far-away library branch because I couldn’t wait for the library holds system to acquire the sequel, The Raven Stratagem. This is going to be one of my best books of 2017, and I want you to love it as much as I do.

Here is what I can do for you. If you wish to read Ninefox Gambit but aren’t 100% sure you can roll with the very ess-eff-y SF-ness of it, I give you permission to tweet at me (@readingtheend) or email me (readingtheend AT gmail DOT com) with any questions you may have at any stage, and I promise I will answer them, to the level of detail that you require.

  • I’m about halfway through this and stopped. I think the confusion was too much for my drug-fogged brain. Perhaps I should get back to it now.

    • Aarti

      I also found it SUPER confusing, Jeanne, though I struggled through to the end. I admit that at the end, I felt like I understood the major stuff, but then I am not sure if I got all the stuff through the entirety of the book. I can see why some people read it twice in immediate succession.

      I feel like I need to read the next book IMMEDIATELY if I want to, or all my memory will be lost.

  • “since you won’t understand them anyway until you’re halfway through the sequel.” Oh goody. lol I might get this for my brother, cuz I know he loves Black Sails

  • SciFi can be a lot of work in the best of times, but this one sounds too hard for me!

  • CoolCurry

    I’m so glad you liked this one! It was one of my best reads last year.

  • Heather O’Roark

    This is soooo far out of my comfort zone (like another planet) but your gushing about it makes me want to pick it up anyway.

  • Okay okay okay, I’m sold. I very rarely read non-YA sci-fi, but your recommendation means a lot and I have had this on my radar (and on hold) for a very long time but keep pushing it further out into the future. NO MORE, I SAY! I will read this and likely tweet at you. Not today or tomorrow, mind you, but probably soon-ish.

  • The sequel, Raven Stratagem, is more accessible than the first book, and things are actually EXPLAINED. I think it’s a better book than its predecessor. It’s one of my favorite reads this year.