Well we are back to this crazy series this week. For those of you unfamiliar with The Machineries of Empire series, by Yoon Ha Lee, it is a ridiculous military science fiction in a confusing and exciting universe. For those who have not read the first book (The NineFox Gambit), I highly recommend you just go read my review instead of lingering around here – nothing is going to make sense otherwise. For those of you who are still here, let’s talk about the brand new second book in the series, Raven Stratagem.
If I had to distill my experience with The Ninefox Gambit down to one sentence, it would be: I have no idea what is going on – but it is so fast and exciting that I am fine with it. In Raven Stratagem, things are still confusing as all hell – but Yoon Ha Lee spends time making events noticeably more clear than book one. This does, however, come at the cost of some speed and excitement. I think it is a good trade off, especially for a middle book in a series, and in the long run is of service to the story. As a result, Raven Stratagem didn’t keep me on the edge of my seat quite like book one, but I feel like I have a much better understanding of the players in the story and the direction the plot is going. One of the major changes to the story is a narration change from a central POV to multiple POVs. When we had last left our intrepid heroes (Cheris/Jedao) their health was a bit unclear and they fell off the grid. Raven opens with their reemergence onto the scene and the theft of a new fleet of ships in order to wage war. To add mystery and intrigue to their plan, the POV shifts away from them to the displaced general of the stolen fleet, Kel Khiruev, and the hexarch of the Shous, Mikodez. These two POVs allow for a much bigger 360 degree look into Cheris/Jedao’s plans and allowed for a lot more world building that was present in the first novel.
The result is a lot less brilliant strategic executions, though they still litter the book, and a lot more small stories adding depth and emotion to the characters. Both of the new POVs are good, but I really got behind the hexarch. He gives tons of insights into how the hexarchate works, and was just a blast to read about as a character. His hilarious dialogue and strange personality go a long way to adding some levity to this mostly sad story, and he is just a fun person to read about – even if he is trying to inconvinence our protagonists. The other POV, Khiruev, is fine but just didn’t resonate on the same level for me as the hexarch. While I think the trade off of excitement for structure was good, I will say that Raven does occasionally slow down a bit too much for my taste. Cheris and Mikodez both have small quirks that I found to be nice breaks from the action, but Khiruev’s sections could occasionally feel like they were dragging on a little bit. Finally, one thing I loved about Raven was how it fleshed out and spent more time with all of the orders of the hexarchate, and I am hoping that the next POVs might be from one of the four other factions we have not got a detailed look into yet.
Raven Stratagem might not have the speed and excitement of The Ninefox Gambit, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a great time. The second book in this series grounded me in the world, introduced new and exciting characters, and still had a good helping of the excitement and twists that made the first novel so powerful. This is shaping up to be one of the best science fiction series in recent memory, and I highly recommend you check it out.
Rating: Raven Stratagem – 8.0/10