Ninefox Gambit, Yoon Ha Lee


Calendrical rot had set in again.

Captain Kel Cheris of the hexarchate is disgraced for using unconventional methods in a battle against heretics. Kel Command gives her the opportunity to redeem herself by retaking the Fortress of Scattered Needles, a star fortress that has recently been captured by heretics. Cheris’s career isn’t the only thing at stake. If the fortress falls, the hexarchate itself might be next.

* * * *
4 / 5

This book was bizarre. Odd and beautiful and deliciously confusing. I devoured this book on my train commute over the course of the week, nose stuck into its pages as I drifted between platforms. There was something about the story, the characters, the language that struck right at me. For example, a letter is signed off with “yours in calendrical heresy”. I’m still not quite sure what it means, but it is a phrase that has stuck in my head.

All the clockwork wonders in the world couldn’t halt entropy. You could work with death or you could let it happen; that was all.

If pressed to make a comparison, I would compare Ninefox Gambit with This is How You Lose the Time War. Both are lyrical, confusing, and strange. Both have main characters who seem to slip between your fingers, never quite sure who they are. Both have stayed with me.

Kel Cheris is a disgraced captain of the hexarchate. She is tasked with taking back the Fortress of Scattered Needles in order to prevent the spread of calendrical heresy. She chooses as her weapon a long-dead murderous tactician – Shuos Jedao – to live inside her. Weird, right? Well it gets weirder. There are six “clans” that make up the hexarchate, the Shuos and Kel among them. These people live their lives by a calendar governed by the number six, and adherence to this calendar allows them to use certain battle formations or “exotics” that essentially grant special powers. But within the Fortress of Scattered Needles rises a heresy based around seven, spreading calendrical rot across the galaxy.

I found Ninefox Gambit difficult to get into, confusing and tantalising. But it is definitely a book worth the effort. Yoon Ha Lee has crafted an entirely different kind of world and it shows. Cheris is a fascinating, curious protagonist and her tale is engrossing.


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