Review: Raven Stratagem
, by Yoon Ha Lee
||Machineries of Empire #2
is the sequel to Ninefox Gambit
and will make very little sense if you've not read
the previous book. In fact, I'll add a rare warning, one that I wish I'd
had and followed: you need to be deeply familiar with the details of the
end of Ninefox Gambit
or large chunks of this book will make no
sense. I read the previous book earlier this year, but my memory of some
of the specifics of the ending had slipped, and I ended up having to
skim the ending of the previous book several times. Consider re-reading
that bit before starting this book if you share my lack of memory for plot
specifics and it's been more than a few months.
I unfortunately can't provide a plot summary, since there's almost nothing
I can say about the plot that doesn't spoil Ninefox Gambit
. It is
basically the story that you would expect from the very end of
, though, although the way it's carried out is not
quite as dramatic as I was expecting.
I wanted to like this book a great deal. Ninefox Gambit
a beautiful magitech system, but it was otherwise mostly setup and one
extended battle. Its ending promised engagement with larger universe
politics, and prospects of doing something about the deep unfairness of
the current political system. I was hoping this book would contain the
payoff of that escalation. It does deliver on that payoff, but something
about it didn't quite work for me.
The best description I've been able to come up with is that Raven
skitters. Some of this is an increase in the number of
viewpoint characters, which made it harder for me to get into a reading
rhythm with any of them. But most of it, I think, is that the characters
have so many layers of deception, emotional shielding, weariness, and
resignation that it's hard to find the true emotional beats of the story
except in retrospect. I kept bouncing off surfaces, so many different and
conflicting surfaces. This book is full of people who are not being
honest with each other, or sometimes with themselves, and who are
pretending to motives they don't really have. As a reader, I wanted to be
placed in a privileged position where I could experience the character
emotions even when they were lying about them. For good or ill,
doesn't do that.
There was also something about the dramatic structure of the story that
didn't work for me. When describing the book to a friend, I said that the
main plot climax was off-camera. In skimming the book again for this
review, I found that wasn't the case, but it still felt that way. I think
that's because, despite some event build-up, the emotional build-up wasn't
in place for me, so I wasn't ready as a reader for the climax when it
came. The build-up to the climax is partly sacrificed to keep the secrecy
of a couple of long-awaited revelations. I very much enjoyed those
revelations (one satisfying one was set up with Cheris's behavior at the
start of Ninefox Gambit
), but I wanted the catharsis of the climax
as well. As written, the strongest emotional hit was from a somewhat
ancillary climax, and that involved characters who mattered considerably
less to me than Cheris.
The climax also involves quite a lot of hand-waving. While some of that
is expected in magitech, I would have liked to understand the mechanisms
of what happened, not just the effects.
Lee introduces several new viewpoint characters here, including two very
contrasting Kel. I warmed to them by the end of the book, but I liked
Cheris as a viewpoint character considerably better than either of them.
Both of them spend most of this book in conditions of varying
powerlessness; Cheris, despite difficult circumstances, was at least
driving the plot. I can kind of see why Lee picked the viewpoint
characters he did, but I still feel grumbly about it. I would have loved
to have a servitor as a primary viewpoint character in this story.
All that said, I'm still glad I read this book. The climax is satisfying,
as is the growing respect of the characters and the growing realization of
just how the universe is being changed. I wanted more of that on camera
rather than being held for dramatic surprise, but I still savored it when
it happened. The mechanisms of the Hexarchate, particularly formation
instinct, are considerably creepier than Ninefox Gambit
which is saying something, and yet oddly logical in their own magitech
way. I liked all the pieces; I just wanted them to have more emotional
oomph and momentum. Instead, I felt like I was bringing my own emotion to
the story rather than letting the story sweep me away, which meant being
more analytical and less engrossed than I prefer to be in a novel.
I'm still going to read the third book, though. By the end of Raven
, Lee has set most of the scenery on fire, and I want to see
what sort of world rises from the flames.
Rating: 6 out of 10