Book Review: Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha Lee

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Genre: Space Opera, Military SF

Publisher: Solaris

Length: 400 pages

Format: eARC

Rating: 5 stars

Publication Date: June 13th 2017

 

 

Publisher’s description

War. Heresy. Madness.

Shuos Jedao is unleashed. The long-dead general, preserved with exotic technologies and resurrected by the hexarchate to put down a heretical insurrection, has possessed the body of gifted young captain Kel Cheris.

Now, General Kel Khiruev’s fleet, racing to the Severed March to stop a fresh incursion by the enemy Hafn, has fallen under Jedao’s sway. Only Khiruev’s aide, Lieutenant Colonel Kel Brezan, appears able to shake off the influence of the brilliant but psychotic Jedao.

The rogue general seems intent on defending the hexarchate, but can Khiruev – or Brezan – trust him? For that matter, can they trust Kel Command, or will their own rulers wipe out the whole swarm to destroy one man?

 

Book Review

It hasn’t even been a year since Ninefox Gambit came out and I already read it twice. The first installment in Yoon Ha Lee’s Machineries of Empire is brilliant, full of amazing ideas, original worldbuilding and gorgeous writing. It was even better as a re-read and let’s just say that I was extremely eager to get my hands on its sequel Raven Stratagem.

I am easily disappointed by sequels, usually I tend to enjoy first books more because they are the most surprising, you discover the world, the characters, the plot, everything feel way more original and new because you are introduced to something original. So, as much as I was anticipating Raven Stratagem, I was a bit scared. Well, I had absolutely no reasons to be since it was freakin’ awesome. Yoon Ha Lee perfectly managed to build on what he created with Ninefox Gambit, it never felt like a filler-book at all, it was captivating read and if I hadn’t been reading this slowly on purpose to savor everything, I could easily have devoured this in a few days.

If you haven’t picked up Ninefox Gambit yet, please do! If you read the first book and found it a bit too confusing, I would still highly recommend picking up the sequel since, I personally found it less complicated than the first book. Indeed since the world has already been presented to us in the first book and, even if some new elements are introduced, it is not as overwhelming and several things thatwere a bit complicated in Ninefox Gambit are explained a bit more in the sequel.

 

Spoilers for Ninefox Gambit

Shuos Jedao, the now resurrected mass-murderer,  is in control of Kel Cheris’s body. His aim? Destroying the Hexarchate, the oppressive system that detained him for centuries and tried to turn him into a gentle puppet.

As the book opens, Jedao takes control of General Khiruev’s fleet to fight off the Hafn who are threatening the existence of the Hexargate. But what really are his intentions? Does he really want to defend the system he tried to destroyed centures ago or is it another scheme?

This book is fascinating in so many ways. First of all, as much as I missed Cheris and Jedao’s interactions, the new characters introduced were a real treat and seeing them interfere with Jedao was priceless. I especially enjoyed the fact that we get the chance to see much more of Shuos Mikodez who appeared only briefly in Ninefox Gambit. For some reasons, this character reminds me a lot of Varys, the Spider, in Game of Thrones.

In Raven Stratagem, Yoon Ha Lee teaches us a lot more about the Hexarchate and the way it actually work. If you don’t like politics-heavy novels, this series is not for you, it’s not as heavy with politics as Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer but Raven Stratagem definitely has its share of political intrigues. I could say the same for space battles though, I usually don’t like battle scene in books, I don’t mind a few of them but, after a while, I grow bored easily. However, I never felt bored while reading any of the battle scenes,  they are so unusual, everything being based on maths that it trying to imagine how the battle actually enfolds is both complex, mindblowing and far from boring!

I also appreciated Yoon Ha Lee discussion on genders, it was already fascinating in the first book since Cheris and Jedao were both sharing the same body but it was even more so interesting in Raven Stratagem. Indeed, Jedao is now habiting Cheris body and it seems to upset several characters. The way they viewed Cheris’s body as “not Jedao” and Jedao as a “body-thief” was very interesting especially if we take in consideration that Yoon Ha Lee is himself a transgender man. I am sure that when I’ll re-read Raven Stratagem, I will see even more interesting themes and discussions. Those books are so layered that re-reading them is always a pleasure because you can discover so much more of what they offer.

Anyway, as you may have guessed, I love those books, I am extremely glad that Ninefox Gambit was shortlisted for the Arthur C. Clarke, I haven’t read all of the books nominated (I will!) but at least for now, I truly hope that it will win! I am sure that the Machineries of Empire will be a cult series and that it will inspire people for years.

Highly recommended. I read this book as an ARC kindly provided by Solaris through Netgalley but I preordered a copy as soon as I finished it. It is definitely something that I will re-read again and again and push in the hands of many.

Five stars. Obviously.

 

 

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. My thanks to Solaris and Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

 

Novella Review: Binti Home by Nnedi Okorafor

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Genre: Science Fiction, Fantasy

Publisher: Tor.com

Length: 176 pages

Format: ebook

Rating: 3.5 stars

Publication Date: January 31th 2017

 

 

 

Publisher’s description

It’s been a year since Binti and Okwu enrolled at Oomza University. A year since Binti was declared a hero for uniting two warring planets. A year since she left her family to pursue her dream.

And now she must return home to her people, with her friend Okwu by her side, to face her family and face her elders.

But Okwu will be the first of his race to set foot on Earth in over a hundred years, and the first ever to come in peace.

After generations of conflict can human and Meduse ever learn to truly live in harmony?

 

Book Review

Set a year after the event of Binti, Okorafor’s multi-award winning novella, Binti: Home starts off when Binti wants to come back home. She is suffering from PTSD after the events of the first book and she’s unsucessfully trying to keep it together at Oomza University . However, she knows that she finally needs to confront her family after running away at the other end of the universe against her family’s will.

Of course, once back in her home, she has to deal with the anger of her family members and she soon discovers family secrets that might change everything.

 

I very much admire Nnedi Okorafor, I think she is an extremely talented writer, her stories and worldbuilding are always unique and interesting however I didn’t had a lot of expectations about Binti: Home. Indeed, I had very mixed thoughts and feelings about Binti, her first novella, that I found overhyped and pretty lacking in terms of worldbuildings and character development. So I went with very low expectations in Home and I liked it a lot more.

The world was indeed built on, we met other races of aliens and we learnt a bit more about the Koush and The Meduse’s wars. However, I still hope that Okorafor is going to explain what is happening on Earth, because so far, we just know that they are three types of humans, The Koush that appears to be white and seems to be the most widespread human race, The Himba and the Desert People and… that’s all. I found the fact that Okorafor wants us to believes that her universe is full of diverse species but even the humans only “come in” very few different types and that’s bothering me a bit. It was the same in Binti and I wished she had changed that a bit but infortunately that’s not the case.

One of the other hopes I had was that the character of Binti would be more explored, in the first novella, I found Binti to be a very one dimensional character and again, I didn’t really thought she changed in Home. True, she is now dealing with her trauma but she’s almost defined but it. I feel like I don’t know her at all and that’s a bit sad. She is very self-centered but she doesn’t seem to want anything, in Binti, when her body is modified against her will, she says nothing, in Home, when strangers ask her to come with them, she does, when her family critisize her, she doesn’t defend herself.

I can deal with unlikeable characters as long as I know a bit about them, I just don’t like it when characters only feel like a word on a page, I want them to have more substance and in Binti and again in Home, I didn’t get that. And that’s not because of the format, I have read short stories that in 5, 10, 15 pages managed to create characters that felt real so I think that it is doable in 96 pages (Binti’s length) or 176 pages (Home’s).

However, even if I still had issues with Binti, I still thought Home was better installment than the first novella. I enjoyed learning more about the world, about Oomza University and about the history of this world. I read Home in two sittings and I never felt bored and even though it’s far from perfect for me, if you enjoyed Binti, I think that Home will also please you. Even if it’s not Okorafor’s best work ( in my opinion this title should be reserved for The Book of Phoenix), it’s still worth a read.