Raven Strategem by Yoon Ha Lee

You’ll likely on find glowing reviews from Raven Stratagem; readers either loved the depth and intricacy of this wholly unique world introduced in Ninefox Gambit or they gave up in confusion and never got to the second book. Because what we have here is one of the rarest of sci fi books: one that actually feels like a futuristic society. Trying to understand what is happening in The machineries of Empire series from our 2017 perspective is akin to a Victorian trying to navigate 21st century society and technology. Even now, I don’t feel I have a full understanding of the intricacies of this worldbuilding; fortunately, I don’t need to to enjoy the story.

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Synopsis: Jedao/Cheris deftly takes control of a fleet – and everyone is wondering just what he plans to do with it. As he ostensibly fights the heretics, the leaders of the empire soon recognize that he can and likely will turn their fleet on them as well. But in a time of ever shifting loyalties, just how will they manage to control him?

Author Lee chose an interesting tact here with book 2: the story is told completely from outside perspectives on Jedao’s actions. Jedao doesn’t have a POV chapter until the end. The twist at the end makes perfect sense to do this but it also gives us interesting windows on Jedao’s personality and motivations. The charisma and decisiveness that drives him forward but also the weaknesses (e.g., he is a tactician and not a strategist – a trait the Shuos leader plans to use against him). Interestingly enough, the three POVs are two Kel officers (one who sides with Jedao and one who sides against him), and Mikodez, the leader of the crafty Shuos. So we have an orbit of sorts for the action: close to him (Kel Kiruev, leader of the fleet), on the periphery (Kel Brezan – who was forced out of command of the fleet when Jedao took over and is now on an assassination mission), and then from far away (Shuos leader Mikodez – who has an intimate knowledge of Jedao from the past but not the present). Jedao will surprise all of them with him moves.

There are layers upon layers upon layers of significance here. From a throwaway folklore in Kel Cheris’ past that gives us the book’s title to how the main characters are juxtaposed, connected, and disconnected from Jedao, his actions, and his past. It’s beautifully and brilliantly written in every way.

Those who became confused with the world building in the first book will be relieved that this story is more about the interactions of the characters rather than space battles. In all the hard sci fi trappings, Lee has kept a very human beating heart in all the characters. So even in this very foreign world, there is still some humanity there that we can recognize.

I give highest praise for these two books – and appreciate where the story will go from here. There are plenty of twists and turns and so much more hinted to come. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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