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Ninefox Gambit - the joy of great world building!

Ninefox Gambit (The Machineries of Empire #1)Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Not only a good novel, this is also a window into an enormous world in conflict, and it begins in media res, with brutal and confusing warfare. At the center of the story is Kel Cheris, an infantry captain and brilliant mathematician, and Shuos Jedao, a disgraced general from half a millennium ago, who only wins. Because of his knack for victory, Jedao is resurrected by a despotic empire again and again, and each time needs a living being to which he is attached. This time it is Cheris, and it is the chance Jedao has been waiting for!

What are they fighting over? Calendrical heresy! That likely means nothing to you if you haven't read the story, but it suffices to say that a calendar is a set of rules, "fueled by the coherence of our beliefs." In other words, it's a society-wide convention and must be adhered to for the empire's technologies and governance to function.

I love the vastness of the story. The wealth of exotic peoples: Rahal (big bosses), Andan ($$$), Nirai (tech people), Vidona (judges and enforcers), Shuo (game strategists), Kel (loyal warriors), and the borgs (servitors). http://www.yoonhalee.com/?p=836

I originally rated the book 3 stars because it is so DENSE with world-building, I had trouble interpreting the story's value. After a few days (and halfway through Raven Stratagem), I realize it was much better than my first impression. It needed to percolate in my echo chamber.

It is much more than a revolution-vs-empire tale because underlying everything is a non-magical, magic system (this is more fantasy than sci-fi despite all the theming), one based on universal enforcement of calendrical rules. This theme is pervasive and coherent, and (at least to me) somewhat disconcerting, until the aha! moment. It's genius how the realization makes the elusive story comprehendible. I'm looking forward to reading the next ones. :-)

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