Making A Point – Too Like The Lightning Vs. Stranger In A Strange Land

I read two notable books over the last two months, Stranger in a Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein, and Too Like the Lightning, by Ada Palmer. They are both science fiction novels, the first is one of the most famous from the last era, and the second is a new entry that is making waves. Both of these great books are built around a similar storytelling objective: using a sci-fi story to argue philosophical points and explore ideas about humanity and society. While both books have interesting and new ideas, they go about very different methods of making their points.

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Let’s start with Too Like the Lightning. Lightning’s plot is a little hard to sum up succinctly, but the general gist is it’s a political drama centered around a few key individuals that are shaking up a neat and ordered society. In Lightning, fast transportation everywhere on Earth has eliminated geographic boundaries, and national identities have dissolved and reformed into ideological identities. This allows the society to run much more smoothly and achieve greatness, or so everyone is led to believe. There is a lot going under the surface, and we slowly discover that things may not be as great as we have led to believe. Add into this mix an individual who has manifested the ability to magically bring the inanimate to life , and you get a confusing and exciting story with a lot of philosophical depth.

Lightning is one of the smartest books I have ever read. It subtly plays with the readers emotions, expectations, and engagement with the narrator to pull off some astounding reveals. At the same time, it makes a lot of interesting and well thought out arguments about humanity, society, the cause of conflict, and solutions for peace. The characters are astoundingly well written, and it introduces some of the best science fiction concepts I have read in awhile. However, my favorite part of the book is that Lightning not only makes really interesting philosophical arguments, but it weaves them into the story to make them more fun and exciting to read. It turns what could feel like a philosophy textbook into clever exciting work of fiction, and I love it.

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Alternatively, Stranger in a Strange Land is a book from the 60’s that tells the story of a human raised by Martians returning to Earth. The idea behind the book is culture clash and observing a new way of looking at the world through the eyes of a man who is not constrained by the social conditioning and taboos that come with growing up in Earth society. It is incredible how good this book still is, but some of the arguments that Heinlein makes do feel a bit dated. However, many of the points that Heinlein tries to make still have a lot of teeth and I found it a compelling read.

You might notice that it took me a lot less time to summarize Stranger in a Strange Land’s plot than it did to summarize Too Like the Lightning’s. Despite this, Stranger is a much longer book than Lightning. This is because, unlike Palmer, Heinlein treated his science fiction setting as window dressing to his arguments. Large swaths of Stranger’s text are taken up by monologues arguing philosophical points and trying to convert you to Heinlein’s way of thinking. This might immediately sound like a negative, but I found a lot of his points to be well argued and compelling. The real issue I had with Stranger is it felt like it dragged compared to Lightning. The fact that Heinlein didn’t weave his points around a better story it just made the book feel slow and boring, despite some very clever points.

So in conclusion, both of these novels are excellent and are worth a read, but I definitely prefer Too Like the Lightning. Submerging your arguments in a great story is a much faster and more fun way to convert me than getting on a soapbox and shouting at me. Additionally, the plot of Lightning was so good that I am definitely going to have to dive into the sequel Seven Surrenders very soon. The Quill to Live recommends both of these brilliant novels, but Too Like the Lightning is definitely going to be on my list of favorite books.

Rating:

Too Like the Lightning – 9.0/10
Stranger in a Strange Land – 7.5/10

His Majesty’s Dragon – A Good Ole English Time

I have finally gotten around to reading one of the most popular fantasy series from the last decade, Temeraire, by Naomi Novik. The nine book series starts with His Majesty’s Dragon, and has just concluded last year with its final installment. The series is a historical fiction set in the Napoleonic Wars, with almost everything the same except that everyone has dragons. This book has been on my to do list for a long time and I was excited to see if it lived up to the hype.

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Our protagonist is a man named Laurence, former captain of His Majesty’s Navy, who gets unfortunately coerced into the aerial corps. Laurence, and the ship under his command, open the book by capturing a French vessel that contains a dragon egg about to hatch. Due to the value and importance of dragons to the war against France, the officers of the ship decide they need to have someone try and imprint with the dragon as it hatches to recruit it for England’s forces. Unsurprisingly, the dragon (Temeraire) imprints on Laurence.

The rest of the book follows Laurence as he transitions from his life as a naval man to the air force and begins his training with Temeraire. Novik does a great job of showing the life of a dragon rider, and the training of Temeraire had me captivated from the moment that they set down at boot camp. The dragon corps and its effect on England’s wartime strategies are very well fleshed out and integrated into the history of the Napoleonic wars. That being said, while Novik did a great job showing how dragons have impacted the current era wars of England, there was little to no indication of how the advent of war dragons affected the course of human history. It felt as though they had just showed up right before the start of this book and the rest of history stayed pretty much the same. However, this is an instance where I am hoping that the historical effects of dragons is explored in the later sequels.

In terms of characters, we kind of get a mixed boat. I was a big fan of Temeraire. The dragons have a lot of personality, and watching Temeraire explore the world and learn things was incredibly endearing. On the other hand, Laurence is a bit of a wet noodle. He is the most stereotypical English character I have ever read, whose idea of a good time is queuing in a line. While Laurence doesn’t really detract from the story, another reviewer I saw put it best when she said “we could have had Jack Sparrow, but instead we got James Norrington”. Moving past our leads, I found the support cast very strong. Laurence spends a good part of the book recruiting a crew for Temeraire, and I found his underlings and fellow dragon captains a lot of fun.

Overall, the book was fun but slightly on the dull side. The final conflict of book is a bit of a let down, but the build up and the reveals are exciting. I will definitely be continuing the series, as I suspect that it is a bad idea to judge the series from just its first installment. Overall if you like dragons, historical fiction, or queuing in lines than this will be a great book for you.

Rating: His Majesty’s Dragon – 7.5/10

Thrawn-Right at Holmes in the Star Wars Universe

mt5s45ejdm9xWhen I wouldn’t stop gushing to The Quill to Live’s Book Tyrant about my excitement to read a new canonical book in the Star Wars universe about Grand Admiral Thrawn, the aptly named Thrawn by Timothy Zahn, our Tyrant calmly informed me how pleased he was that I could write another review for the blog. I’ll start with a brief overview of the Thrawn saga for those that are unaware: after Disney purchased the Star Wars franchise, they took the entirety of expanded universe media and declared them all null and void in their current canon. Only the movies, TV shows (Clone Wars and Rebels), and future books would be within official Star Wars canon. This was devastating for many of us who grew up on the Thrawn Trilogy (which I have already reviewed here). We hated to see one of the best villains of all time removed from the Star Wars universe. Luckily, Disney didn’t let Thrawn languish in non-existence for long, and added him as a character in Season 3 of Rebels, in addition to approaching Timothy Zahn with an offer for him to author a canonical origin story of his beloved villain. After reading it, I held off on putting my review together until I could watch the Star Wars: Rebels television show, and this turned out to be a worthwhile endeavor for reasons I will explain shortly. For now, let’s get into the meat of the review.

Thrawn delivers a hearty dose of nostalgia for everyone who grew up on the original Thrawn trilogy, while also providing a solid introduction for new fans coming from the Rebels show. We get to see how Mitth’raw’nuruodo (if you can pronounce that correctly on your first try I’ll give you a cookie, or maybe some blue milk) first ‘meets’ the Empire and begins his surprisingly meteoric rise through the ranks of the Imperial Navy. He does this through a combination of brilliant deduction and devious execution of strategy. Each chapter focused on Thrawn feels very much like a look into the mind of a militaristic Sherlock Holmes as he navigates his way through the politics of the Empire and matches his will against the criminal mastermind Nightswan (a la Moriarty). Thrawn’s even got himself a Watson in Ensign Eli Vanto, the second of three POVs in the story. Vanto takes the place of Captain Pellaeon from the original Thrawn Trilogy as the man Thrawn has decided to mentor and take under his wing. It’s quite enjoyable to have an outside viewpoint from which to watch Thrawn, and Vanto is easy to cheer on throughout the book. Vanto is an intelligent and friendly Imperial Ensign who just wants to be in charge of organizing supplies for the navy. Instead he is pulled into Thrawn’s wake, and learns more about strategy and warfare than he ever thought he would. The best part about this is that we get to learn and struggle right alongside him in his chapters. Zahn does a great job of using Vanto’s chapters to keep you in suspense as Thrawn executes his plans. The last POV is from Arihnda Pryce, whom I will talk about later.

Timothy Zahn is quite gifted at writing a book that feels like Star Wars. His original trilogy probably goes a little too far with the constant flashbacks to scenes from the movies, but every minute you are reading it you are whisked to a galaxy far, far away. That same sensation is back in Thrawn, but this time around Zahn has added some flair. Each chapter starts with a quote from the Grand Admiral that would be right at home in The Art of War. Each quote references a stratagem or piece of wisdom that Thrawn uses or sees used in the upcoming chapter. I love little teasers like this, and these were done really well in this book. One issue I had with writing, however, was in the Thrawn POV chapters. There were too many lines of Thrawn’s internal Sherlock Holmes at work. He would constantly be noting the change of people’s breathing and the size of their pupils. It felt exactly like the scenes from the BBC’s Sherlock Holmes television show, but in book form and didn’t quite convey the same fun ‘brilliant mind at work’ sensation I got from Sherlock.

There was one other aspect of the book that bothered me. The character Arihnda Pryce felt like she was shoehorned into the story, and at first I couldn’t figure out why. She is an unlikeable villainous protagonist, willing to sacrifice almost anything and anyone for more power, and her character didn’t feel like it belonged in the story as an ally to Thrawn. Her chapters were only tangentially related to Thrawn’s story, and seemed mostly to serve to build up her own backstory. I was very confused as to why so much effort was being put into building up a new character I had never heard of before. However, I then watched up to Season 3 of Rebels where Thrawn is introduced simultaneously with Governor Arihnda Pryce. Aha, there she is! I still feel that Pryce didn’t truly belong in Thrawn, but now I understand that Disney was trying to get a two for one deal on backstories.

Overall, this is a fantastic addition to the new Star Wars canon, and I couldn’t be more pleased to see Thrawn back in action. It is great to see Timothy Zahn bringing his engaging writing and storytelling back into the Star Wars universe. And while Thrawn shares a very large number of similarities to the stories of Sherlock Holmes, they manifest into an exciting origin story for one of Star Wars’ greatest characters. Whether you are a long-term expanded universe fan, or coming in having only seen Star Wars: Rebels, The Quill to Live heartily recommends you pick up Thrawn.

8.0/10

Bookburners – You Will Burn Through It

29238781I haven’t had a lot of experience with books written in groups, but what little experience I have had has been good. When I think of the staggering amount of work that went into a group paper in college, I can only imagine that it is even harder to organize a group of people to write a 600 page novel. However, I am always impressed with how smooth the group books I have read come out, and Bookburners, by Max Gladstone, Margaret Dunlap, Mur Lafferty, and Brian Francis Slattery, is no exception.

Bookburners was published as a serial novel, with each chapter a self contained story that plays out like a TV episode. This is my first time reading a story of this nature, and I found I really liked the experience. While the book did feel like the pacing suffered compared to traditional books, the overall story translated well into half hour chapters – and it makes the book really easy to put down and pick back up. The group of authors did a great job unifying their voice, and while I could pick out which of them wrote a chapter by their writing, the tone and the feel of the book always remained consistent. In the end it did give me the experience of reading the same way I watch a TV show and it was a lot of fun. But what is this show about?

Bookburners follows the story of a team of Vatican specialists as they travel the world and deal with rogue books and artifacts that contain demons. Our protagonist is an American cop whose brother is possessed by a book in the opening chapter. Once her brother’s situation is “dealt with” (avoiding spoilers) she ends up joining Team Three of the Vatican special forces. Team Three’s job is the study and retrieval of artifacts, Team Two are essentially PR, and Team One are the big guns that move in when a book/artifact gets out of control. If I had to pick one sentence to describe it to someone I would say that it feels like Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets Warehouse 13. Team Three is made up of five members, Sal (our POV), Menchu, Grace, Asanti, and Liam. Each of them has an interesting, and of course tragic, backstory that got them into this line of work and I loved them all. The characters in this story are all fun, from the protagonists to the villains, but if I had to pick a favorite it would have to be Grace. She is a small Asian woman, and the team’s heavy muscle, and her backstory is one of the most unique and interesting things I have read recently.

One thing I will say is that while I love the world, I think the series could use a little more world building. When reading Bookburners I constantly felt like I did not have enough information about the world they work in. It often felt like we did not get information about their work until moments before we needed it, and this can occasionally make the book’s world feel a little shallow. However, to be fair I think this is something that was bound to happen due to the style of episodic writing. While the world in Bookburners felt a little thin compared to other books in the genre, it still felt much deeper than your traditional TV show. In addition, the moments where we do get worldbuilding really shine. My favorite chapter/episode was one in which the team goes to a supernatural black market and you get to meet all the major players in the magical world.

Overall I really liked Bookburners and I am definitely going to continue following the series. I purchased the first season in the omnibus, and then tried following some of season two as it was published episodically. I have found that I much prefer bingeing the story in one sitting to reading a chapter every so often, so I will be waiting for the seasons to finish to read them all at once. The book is a really fun take on fantasy writing, and if you are looking for something new to keep your reading experience fresh it does quite nicely. I really hope that the team can keep it going for many seasons to come and I can’t wait to see what is in store for Team Three next.

Rating: Bookburners: Season 1 – 8.0/10

Kings Of The Wyld – You Get What You Need

30841984This year has been absolutely packed with fantastic sequels, and new series from authors I love. However, in the midst of all the literary titans releasing their work it is important to not overlook the new players entering the game. Every year I have a couple of dark horses on my release tracker that are new books from debut authors that have drawn my attention based on their description. This year one such book is The Kings of the Wyld, by Nicholas Eames. The premise of the book immediately hooked me: in a world where fantasy adventuring parties function like modern day rock bands, a famous band must do a reunion tour to save the leader’s daughter. The only problem is that the members are all old tired men, and they haven’t spoken to each other in a long time. As far as premises go, this is the most intriguing I have seen in awhile, but does it live up to its potential or fall flat?

For me the main draw of this book was the characters. For starters, a large part of the cast is made up of old men and women, something that I wish more authors would do. The band is made up of five characters, each of whom are deeply fleshed out and wonderful to read about. The first half of the book is about getting the band back together. It consists of the group slowly traveling to new locations, fleshing out the world, and re-recruiting the band. The mini-arcs do a great job bringing each band member to life and endearing them to you. All of them are old-timers with a lot of regrets, each not having quite gotten what they wanted out of life. The support cast is also just as good with several recurring characters I was always excited to see show up. The cast is so diverse and imaginative that I can’t picture a reader picking up Kings of the Wyld and not finding someone that they identify with.

On top of all of this the world and plot are nothing to scoff at. As I mentioned earlier the plot is about the band reuniting to save the daughter of their frontman, Gabe. However, the band did not leave on the best of terms (particularly Gabe) and they have a lot of issues to work through. While they work out their personal problems, the group must also deal with the fact that Gabe’s daughter is trapped on the other side of a siege by a huge army; An army that is comprised of classic fantasy monsters and myths. See, in Kings of the Wyld creatures and humans do not get along, competing for space and resources. To deal with this conflict, bands go out and make a name for themselves killing monsters and defending humans. The monsters have been losing ground for ages and have tired of the arrangement, forming a horde to sweep over humanity. While the horde continues to rout opposition, human nations cannot get past their differences and grievances to organize a response. This backdrop, combined with the personal struggles of our band, make for a read that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

The book is a lot of fun. It has an emphasis on humor that makes it a great and upbeat read, while also taking itself pretty seriously so that it has a lot of immersion. The band theme worked out a lot better than I thought it would with various members of the party filling out roles in a traditional band from bass player to booking agent. The world was also designed very well to the point where the existence of bands of adventurers felt natural. The book also has a soundscape that Eames put up on his site that I am a huge fan of. I have to say I have always felt lukewarm about Led Zeppelin, but thanks to the soundscape I have had them on repeat for a month. As I mentioned, the book is very funny and feels like it was written with the goal of entertaining. Despite this, I found the book to be surprisingly impactful in many instances. There is a particular scene in which two lifelong friends find out that one has been hiding essentially that he has cancer from the other, and the reactions and writing broke my heart. Eames feels like he is trying to put a smile on your face, but never goes for the cheap laugh and never sacrifices the story for the sake of humor.

No review is complete without me assessing a book’s flaws, but Kings of the Wyld does not have many. My main complaint would likely be that the book felt a little less tight and polished towards the end. While the narrative during the first half of the story felt focused and smooth, I thought that the last quarter of the book felt a little hectic and didn’t quite have the level of emotional impact that the first three quarters did. That being said, the ending is still fantastic and I am just complaining about some loose stitching on an otherwise beautiful narrative tapestry.

I am excited to announce that we have a new player on the fantasy scene with a lot of potential. The best debut I have read in awhile, Nicholas Eames’ Kings of the Wyld has everything I love in the fantasy genre with some original twists and angles. Thanks to this book I can’t stop listening to classic rock and I am counting the days until we get a sequel. The Quill to Live estatically recommends Kings of the Wyld, it will put music in your heart.

Rating: Kings of the Wyld – 9.0/10

With Blood Upon The Sand – Sandsational

with-blood-upon-the-sand-coverThe Song of the Shattered Sand, by Bradley P. Beaulieu, is a series I probably don’t talk about enough (maybe because every time I do I have to google the series name and Bradley’s name to make sure I get the spelling right). One of the primary issues with it is there is just so much to talk about that I never feel like I have enough time. The first book in the series was Twelve Kings in Sharakhai, a book I felt had a slow start but reached fantastic heights. Bradley just put out the second book in the series, With Blood Upon the Sand, and it’s even better than its predecessor. When I originally reviewed book one I was new to the review game, but with my added experience doing these for two years I can hopefully better give Bradley and his story the props they rightly deserve.

Avoiding spoilers for book one, The Song of the Shattered Sand follows the story of a land of desert. It is a harsh land with limited resources, home to tons of roaming nomads who brave the sands. Long ago, a group of these nomads banded together to build a city at the center of the desert hoping to create stability and wealth. This city was Sharakhai. Twelve tribes with twelve kings came together to make the city, and it was incredibly successful. However, the city started to drain the resources of the desert, and its surrounding countries, in its quest to build an opulent metropolis in the sands. The remaining nomads of the sands resented this, rose up and threatened to overrun and raze the city. In the cities direst hour, the gods of the land joined together, blessed the city and its twelve kings, and helped repel the hordes of nomads. Through these desert gods the kings have been granted the divine right to rule, and govern their paradise with a just and even hand… or so they would have you think. Our story follows the POV of Ceda, a gutter wren in the city of Sharakhai and one of many who chafe under the kings’ absolute rule. The first book in the series focuses on Ceda, and her quest to overthrow the kings from the outside. With Blood Upon the Sand sees Ceda entering the service of the kings to try and take them down from within.

This new book is similar to a magical school story, with Ceda entering the elite personal army of the kings. As I have said before, I love magical schools and this is one of the best. In addition, while the first book focused primarily on Ceda, the second breaks out to a larger cast with more POVs. All the wonderful things about book one are still here in the sequel: the expansive and beautiful world, the deep characters, an exciting plot, the poetic prose, and the frankly beautiful physical book that is just fun to hold. However, the longer I spend with Bradley’s epic fantasy the more I am realizing he’s making something more impressive and complex than I initially realized. First there is Ceda. Ceda is one of the most complex and interesting characters I have read. I constantly change how i feel about her personality and her actions in the book, but that is not because Bradley is inconsistent in his writing. Ceda is just a character who I don’t know how I feel about. As mentioned before, Ceda wants to end the rule of the kings, a quest that her late mother left her. However, unlike most other fantasy quests out there, Ceda is in many ways completely on her own. Ceda doesn’t have a prophecy to work off of, she doesn’t have a kindly mentor standing behind her giving her guidance, she just has a goal and a general direction she wants to move in. It makes her mistakes feel more reasonable and forgivable than other protagonists because it is so easy to place yourself in her ignorant shoes. What this means is that unlike most other epic fantasies, The Song of the Shattered Sand is as much about figuring out what to do as how to do it. This adds a layer of mystery and unpredictability to the books that pervades every chapter.

Furthermore, I am captivated by the land of Sharakhai. Bradley builds in lore, settings, culture, and details of his setting so that I feel like I am learning something new on every page. The story doesn’t have a lot of setup (hence my original comment of a slow start) but as it pushes forward it builds this incredible momentum that makes reading it an experience. He intricately plans the lore, power, and mysteries of the kings and city, while also making it feel organic and random. One of the major pillars of the story is that the kings all have unique powers, and weaknesses, granted to them by the gods. However, unlike many other series the powers (or weaknesses) aren’t know to anyone but the kings. The only information outside their heads on the subject is a series of 12 poems that were lost to time. These poems each tell: the identity of the king, their power, and how to kill them – but they are all in riddle form and the riddles are hard. A lot of the time when you get poems and prophecies in fantasy, it is painfully obvious who they point to – but Bradley’s are both eloquent and maddening as they often feel like they refer to multiple kings and that their powers and weaknesses could be anything, It is a refreshing take on prophecy and every time Ceda identifies a poem to its owner you get this satisfying rush of “it all makes sense now”. The story and world are a mystery wrapped in an enigma and I love peeling back each layer.

On top of beginning wonderfully complex, the entire story is in a grey area. There are more sides of this story than a cube, and I have no idea whose I am on. The more you learn about the kings, the more you can see that “evil tyrants” is an oversimplification. In addition, the noble rebels seeking to overthrow them have multiple subgroups whose goals align a lot less than they initially think. The book has political intrigue oozing out of every pore and shifting through the various players and characters is very satisfying. Finally, the magic and culture of the book is just fun to read. I have never been huge on Middle Eastern fantasy, but Bradley’s adaptation of the setting feels original and like it doesn’t fetishize the culture to a western audience (at least to me). I would love to spend some time talking with Bradley about his inspiration for the work, and what ideas he adapted from existing mythology and what he built for himself.

Despite my glowing praise, the books are not without flaws. Bradley if you are reading this you need a damn appendix, I cannot keep all your characters straight on my own. The pacing of the series is much slower than I am used to, but I am not entirely sure it is a flaw. With Blood Upon the Sand rarely kept me on the edge of my seat, preferring to slip grand reveals unexpectedly into the middle of chapters with little build up. On the other hand, I was never bored. The book might not be the most exciting ever, but it is definitely captivating in a slow and methodical way. The books are incredibly long, and felt it, but I had a really hard time thinking of anything that I would cut. Every scene clearly had a reason, and while the book might have been slimmed slightly, I actually think it was fine the way it was.

The Song of the Shattered Sand is an incredible series running under the radar of most people I know. Despite its slow pacing and quiet personality, it has an enormous amount of substance. I hope this review has gotten you intrigued enough to take a look and brave the sands. If you are looking for a wonderful world, a complex cast, mystery around every corner, and an unforgettable trip into the desert, I recommend you check out Bradley P. Beaulieu’s latest work.

Rating: With Blood Upon the Sand – 9.0/10

The Ninefox Gambit – Take a Chance on Me

9781781084496_custom-670793563aa4d0d709c7000cd24d2fb6ac956c2c-s300-c85One of my favorite fiction tropes is the master strategist – the military general who is a super genius and has all the answers. It is always fun (probably because I am projecting) to see someone trounce everyone around them just using their mind and a good plan. Examples of this include the famous Thrawn from Star Wars (who has a new book this month), Artemis Fowl from the series named after him, and of course the popular Ender from Ender’s Game. The Ninefox Gambit, by Yoon Ha Lee, brings a new entry to the category with Shuos Jedao. Jedao, and his handler Cheris, need to tackle an impossible military challenge in a fascinating and confusing world. So if you like the idea of a tactical master raised from undeath, and chained to a handler, to be used as a weapon in a galaxy spanning conflict where a person’s spirituality and beliefs bend reality around them – you might want to read on.

Before we get any further, I want it understood that Ninefox Gambit is confusing as all hell (intentionally). If you are uncomfortable not knowing what is going on, or don’t like it when authors don’t explain every detail of their world – you will not like this book. Yoon explains only the barest minimum of his world to the point where you will understand that something important is happening, but you often won’t know what it is or why it’s important. However, in this instance – it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The book is exciting, and even when you have no idea what is going on the tone is masterfully manipulated so that you get excited anyway. Yoon uses an immense amount of terminology that you have to work hard to understand – which can be frustrating, in particular at the beginning of the book. As you immerse yourself in the story, you will start to grasp Yoon’s terminology and start to understand the conflict running through the story and what is at stake.

But what is the story? That’s a little complicated. We follow the POV of Kel Cheris, a officer in the Kel army. The empire in Ninefox is separated into six subgroups, each responsible for different parts of running it, and each with different magic granted to them by their membership. The Kels are the army and gain power through battle formations. Saying that last sentence aloud made me feel like it sounds really dumb out of context, but trust me when I say while it’s hard to explain the book it’s really cool when you are in it. The empire has a slight internal problem, one of their impenetrable ‘calendrical’ fortresses has been penetrated. Rebels have taken over what is essentially a religious radio tower that stabilizes and reinforces the empires beliefs to the surrounding areas. This is bad because a rebel set of beliefs in a key node such as this is essentially causing reality, and the empire’s rule, to break down around it – and it’s spreading. To address this issue, the empire picks a group of candidates to come up with solutions to deal with the issue using the weapon of their choice. Cheris, our main character, chooses to resurrect the empire’s best general (who went insane during his final battle) and see if she can use him as a consultant on how to tackle this problem.

As I have said, the plot and world can be confusing. It is hard to comment on the quality of the world building. On the one hand there are so many cool ideas and technologies in Yoon’s book that I was fascinated with my surroundings. On the other hand, the world often feels like Yoon is just throwing out phrases and ideas with little explanation and planning. On the … third ….hand, I will say that I definitely love the characters. Cheris, Jedao, and their support cast bring a lot of life, energy, and excitement to the book. I was heavily invested in their stories and lives, something that helped stay immersed in the book when I had no idea what was going on. The plot starts out confusing, ends with some gained clarity, but remains awesome from beginning to end. In particular the ending of the book did an incredible job setting up the sequel and has left me champing at the bit to find out what I can be confused about next.

The Ninefox Gambit is weird, quirky, and a wild ride that I recommend to almost everyone. If you can let go of the reigns, the book will take you on a wild ride with stunning sites and great characters. In the realm of badass tacticians, Jedao is up there with the best and I cannot wait to see what he and Cheris (who is amazing in her own right) have in store for us next. There is a reason this book made the Hugo ballot this year, and it is much deserved. Go check out the Ninefox Gambit as soon as you can.

Rating: Ninefox Gambit – 9.0/10