Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee

Title: Ninefox Gambit.
Series: The Machineries of Empire #1.
Writer(s): Yoon Ha Lee.
Publisher: Solaris Books.
Format: Paperback.
Release Date: June 14th 2021.
Pages: 384.
Genre(s): Fantasy.
ISBN13:  9781781084489.
My Overall Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.


When reality shatters in front of your eyes, the world offers an infinity of possibilities, leaving you aimlessly wandering for a buoy to hold onto, unable to grasp at a thread of purpose. But once the dust settles, the mind also sees clearer, sharper, and further. While all could live content with the rules that govern their lives, some will find that freedom of these guidelines lets their strongest beliefs shine brighter, breaking through the barriers of consciousness to lead them onto a path that they choose to walk upon. And for one person, this path will be a journey like none other. Author Yoon Ha Lee presents a challenging yet ingenious work of science fiction that goes above and beyond to explore the fragility of human and societal perception of reality through a daunting quest for survival filled with moral and ethical ambiguities.

What is Ninefox Gambit about? Following an incident in the galactic warzone that would inevitably ensue shame and disgrace, Captain Kel Cheris finds herself scolded for unconventional tactics and is given a colossal assignment with an opportunity for redemption: to retake the Fortress of Scattered Needles from calendrical heretics. With the stakes high, she must turn towards the undead and infamous tactician Shuos Jedao, known for his incredible exploits despite his questionable past behaviours, if she is to besiege the fortress and come out victorious with a chance to save her career. Unfortunately, the odds of success continue to seem slim and trust is not a currency easily attainable or disposable, especially with a genius madman whose intentions remain as blurry as his past decision-making.

“In mathematics you had peer review, definite proofs and answers, but war was nothing but uncertainty multiplied by uncertainty.”

— Yoon Ha Lee

While some could dismiss the prose as befuddling technobabble and abandon a couple of pages in due to its unforgiving direction, pacing, and world-building, notably marked by an absence of sympathy towards the reader, never holding them by their hands to the finish line, only those who persist through writer Yoon Ha Lee’s ambitious scope for this lofty universe will, however, find intellectual refuge in his complex and thoughtful world founded on an odd yet intriguing infusion of logic and faith. For a universe where reality can be altered through a conglomerate of consolidated thoughts and beliefs and a structure based on mathematics, it is only bewildering to witness the author’s ideas come to fruition and this without having to ever dwell on exposition. His natural and gifted ability to inscribe this theoretical concept into the characters’ plight makes for a truly rewarding experience in the end.

The real treat, however, lies in the camaraderie born from the unlikely union of Captain Kel Cheris with the undead tactician Shuos Jedao as they set off to retake the Fortress of Scattered Needles currently being held by heretics corrupting the Hexarchy one ship at a time. While there is an overarching focus on intricate space battles guided by the underlying rules that govern the hexarchates, there is also an impressive core narrative that develops almost exclusively through these two characters and their unwished-for coalition that allows readers to glimpse into not only a strategic and manipulative understanding of warfare but an intimate and excruciating exploration of intrapersonal intelligence and emotion. It is through conflict and adversity that their individual understanding of their world collides and brings out the best (or worse) of them in the end.

Ninefox Gambit is a visionary space opera founded on mathematical principles and uncompromising beliefs following two mismated allies in their crushing quest for redemption.

Thank you Ola for putting it on my radar!



15 thoughts on “Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee

  1. Woohoo! Glad you liked it, Lashaan! I see it wasn’t an entirely flawless and smooth ride, but I’m glad you persevered 😉 It seems it was worth it for you in the end! 😀
    I enjoyed your review a lot – and yes, the relationship between Jedao and Cheris is at the core of this novel. Do you consider reading the subsequent installments?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for sharing your love for it last year! 😀 I lept into it without remembering much about the story and was impressed and happy by what I got! I do want to read the rest of the trilogy but currently don’t own them nor had any plans to squeeze them in before 2022. I’ll have to see if I sneak it into my schedule next year! 😀 Have you read all those short stories set within the universe?


  2. Amazing review! I’ve always been intimidated by this book and its complexity, and that’s one of the reasons I keep leaving it on the back burner, but you just provided the necessary encouragement for me to give it a try as soon as possible: you make it sound like an engaging challenge but also a rewarding one, so I must accept it! 😉
    Thanks for sharing!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, Maddalena! It is indeed one of those super complex worlds that are written in a way that can easily deter readers from wanting to focus and elucidate it. I hope you’ll definitely give it a try in the near future, especially knowing that you have a soft sport for space operas! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I have the books but I’ve always been scared to read them because they seem so complicated. And I don’t know when I’ll pick it up, but you’ve definitely given me confidence that I should try. And wow what a beautiful review. You have such a wonderful way with words. It’s stunning.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can totally understand what you mean. It’s not an easy read at all and will definitely be challenging for just about all readers but if you’re intrigued by it, it’s totally worth it. And wow, thank you so much for your kind words! I really appreciate it. It makes me want to write more than ever before! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m really glad to see you enjoyed this one. I’ve been curious, and hopeful, about it for a while, enough so I’ve picked up the first two ebooks. Can’t wait to one day give it a go. It’s fun sometimes to explore worlds and cultures without the author holding our hands, instead just jumping in the deep end and doing our best to figure it out. Of couse, there’s also a risk to it that it might be too complicated and confusing and end up confounding too many readers. But it sounds like this one, at least for you, successfully walked that line.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad to hear your interest in this one, Todd! I still need to find myself a copy of the sequel but I’m definitely glad to have given it a try. Some of the most challenging reads in my life ended up being some of my favourites too (e.g. The Gardens of the Moon, A Clockwork Orange). I do hope you’ll have a rewarding experience when you get around to this series. Thanks for reading, my friend!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s