I'm currently behind on reviews, so don't be surprised if the recent reviews are a bit sparse.

Ninefox Gambit

Cover of Ninefox Gambit.

Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee was a lot of fun, but at the same time frustrating. It’s high fantasy in space, and comes with all the usually frustrating parts of high fantasy (minus the racism).

The writing, pacing, and characters are very well done, but the worldbuilding โ€ฆ it’s frustrating how much potential it has. With some work, this could have been a book opening up a great universe, but it felt like the author cut short all the worldbuilding work they should have done on their end, and instead substituted “what I say goes” rules for an inner logic in that world, making decisions and outcomes feel random. I like being dropped in a weird and unfamiliar world, having to figure things out on my own โ€“ and the vibe of the evil Hexarchate empire running on blood sacrifices and calendar math to power a space fleet was impeccable. But I get grumpy if it turns out that there’s nothing to figure out, because the author makes up the rules as the action goes along.

There are a lot of details to appreciate, like the augments (not only visual, also heat pulses etc), or the servitors (bots) having achieved sentience. But also, there was just so much stuffed in there that never was used much โ€“ the group consciousnesses that can be formed, for example. We never see what it’s like to be part of one. Or more about the bots! They are touched upon, and we even see some of their values and preferences, but it’s so shallow! The concept of Formation Instinct and fledge-null could also be expanded on, though that features heavily in the next book, at least. The insignia and how they both do and do not say something about personalities (or the colours of their totally-not-light-saber Calendrical Swords, for that matter).

In general, the book is so overloaded that no aspect gets to breathe properly, and you’re meant to be completely overwhelmed โ€“ but if you’re not, you’re stuck looking in askance at everything. Why did Jedao have to be a mass-murderer? Why make Cheris this stereotypical genius-underdog? Why the six/seven factions, local heresies, languages, faction-based takes on gender and morals, โ€ฆ? It’s all very pretty but in fulfilling its need to be A LOT, it forgets to be meaningful.

Reddit: “Like offensive Feng Shui but with space ships instead of home decor.” โ€“ yes.

Plot summary

Beware: full spoilers! Also probably incomplete and possibly incomprehensible.

Cheris, a math genius, is a commander in the hexarchate. She’s Kel โ€“ Kel are the warrior types, commonly joked-about as being stubborn/dumb/meeting danger face first. She loses most of her company for nothing when the evil empire decides not to back her and instead pull out of the engagement.

The hexarchate used to be a heptarchate, 400 years back, before one faction was declered heretics. The Nirai hexarch, Kujen, was around back then, because he has achieved immortality, functionally. Many other hexarchs want in on that, though our semi-POV hexarch Shuos Mikodez doesn’t.

The Fortress of Scattered Needles was taken by heretics. The hexarchs decide to shove an old super-uber-heretic general, who killed ~everybody in his fleet, over a million people, into her head and send her to re-take the Fortress (capital-F because it’s a place stabilising the magical calendrical field in the area).

Shuos Jedao was Shuos, but worked for the Kel. After his betrayal, he was imprisoned in the cradle. Anyway, they travel to the fortress, Cheris is breveted to General on his account, and they do the fighty stuff. Cheris has to give up her captain (Nerevor), resets her to fledge-null (basically stupid and pure obedience). They figure out that the rebels want a democracy (though the concept has to be explained to an appalled Cheris). Anywhooo, Cheris figures out that servitors aren’t formation-neutral in the rebels’ space, and uses them to destroy the rebels. She has to sacrifice people knowingly to do it.

Of course, once she’s won, Kel command sends a fleet to eradicate Cheris. But the first hit will always be soaked up by Jedao. Cheris manages to ~eat his ghost (aka absorb his memories) after his death.

We got to see snippets of rebel comms, particularly by Vahenz afrir dai Noum, who seems to be pulling the strings. She boards the ship, and gets killed by Cheris after a nice enough showdown. Then Cheris and her new merged personality and a handful of servitors set off into the sunset.


  • Kel: warrior types. Bad luck, kinda dumb, head-on. Low faction.
  • Shuos: Spies, mind-games, sneaky. High faction.
  • Nirai: Maths/engineering? Low faction.
  • Andan: Mind control blah.
  • Liozh: Philosophers and ethicists. Old seventh faction, not around anymore.
  • Rahal: Doctrine and justice, leadership, calendar maintenance
  • Vidona: Inquisition, violently.


The problem with authority is that if you leave it lying around, others will take it away from you.