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review 2017-06-12 07:51
"In what universe was keeping an insane undead general as an attack dog a good idea?"
Raven Stratagem - Yoon Ha Lee

Raven Stratagem

by Yoon Ha Lee

 

 

Ninefox Gambit was one of the best books I read in 2016. Raven Stratagem might be even better. This whole series is utterly, gloriously, astoundingly brilliant.

Welcome to the world of the hexarchate, where total participation in rigid ritual not only keeps control of the population; it also warps the topology of reality to create "exotic effects" that keeps the hexarchate in power. The hexarchate is ruled by six factions: the Rahal, who make the rules; the Vidona, who enforce them with torture; the Andan, who control the culture; the Nirai, who provide mathematical and scientific technology; the Shuos, who act as spies, assassins, and bureaucrats; and the Kel, who are the military wing of the hexarchate. All but the Shuos depend upon an exotic effect to remain in power, from Rahal scrying and mindreading to the Nirai spacefaring mothdrive to the overwhelmingly powerful Kel military formations. Heretics are therefore a tangible, literal threat to the hexarchate: not only do they threaten to disrupt the loyalty of the populus; they also weaken the hexarchate's exotic effects that drive the hexarchate's technology, military, and society.

Raven Stratagem starts where Ninefox Gambit leaves off. It introduces a cast of highly empathetic characters and explores the perspectives of several of the antagonists of the previous book. The story also expands its powerful exploration of gender fluidity. While the last book was told almost entirely from the Kel perspective, Raven Stratagem provides quite a bit more of the Shuos and even the Nirai perspectives. Our previous Shuos experience was almost entirely limited to the crazy undead mass-murdering General Shuos Jedao, who is occasionally let out of his immortal unrest in the Black Cradle to possess a Kel "volunteer" and use his scheming brain to win their wars. I adore the Shuos; it turns out they're not just assassins and spies; they're also the bureaucrats and administrators because

"A properly guided bureaucracy is deadlier than any bomb."

The Shuos are renowned for turning everything into a game and are charmingly unexpected; for instance, the leader of the Shuos faction has a tendency of knitting during scheming sessions.

As with Ninefox Gambit, one of the main themes of the novel was agency. Kel are imbued with "formation instinct" that irresistibly compels them to unquestioningly obey their superiors. The few "crashhawks" with weak formation instinct are constantly under suspicion by their superiors because they can choose not to obey. The hexarchs are increasingly out of touch, off planning new sadistic "remembrances" and chasing immortality even as their people are being invaded by the savage Hafn. As one character thinks:

"At some point you had to ask yourself how much legitimacy any government had that feared dissension within more than invasion without."

The world of the hexarchate is brutal and unfeeling, the people kept under martial law and in constant fear of the Vidona. But overthrowing the hexarch also means destroying all of the technology built upon its exotic effects, and what if it is replaced with something even worse? As one character says:

"You know what? It is a shitty system. We have a whole faction devoted to torturing people so the rest of us can pretend we're not involved. Too bad every other system of government out there is even worse. [...] If you have some working alternative for the world we're stuck in, by all means show it to us without spelling it in corpses."


There are a lot of thought-provoking themes in Raven Stratagem, but they don't get in the way of the character development or the action. I was utterly captivated by the story's twists and turns, and I'm only a little ashamed to admit that I fell for one of them.

[Initially, I'd assumed that Cheris was in charge and playing Jedao, bolstered by their obvious care for the servitors, but as the story proceeded and they did things like enslave the Kel and let the Mwennan die without blinking and use a program for simple mathematical calculations, I began to wonder if the Jedao part had eaten the Cheris part. At some point, I lost sight of the title--"Raven" stratagem clearly points to a scheming Cheris. I'm impressed that the book got me to lose faith while still making the big reveal feel utterly natural. Bravo!]

(spoiler show)

If you were a bit overwhelmed by Ninefox, then you'll be relieved to hear that Raven is much less math-heavy, focusing more on characters and worldbuilding. We get a view of the inner workings of the hexarch from Shuos Mikodez, we finally get a glimpse of the mysterious and somewhat horrifying Hafn, and the ending is utterly satisfying while leaving me desperate for more. I absolutely cannot wait to get back to the world of the hexarchate.

Yours in calendrical heresy,
Carly

~~I received this ebook through Netgalley from the publisher, Rebellion/Solaris, in exchange for my honest review. Thank you! Quotes were taken from an advanced reader copy and while they may not reflect the final phrasing, I believe they speak to the spirit of the novel as a whole.~~

Cross-posted on BookLikes.

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review 2017-06-04 21:19
All Good Things
All Good Things - Emma Newman

I a stalwart fan of Emma Newman through her powerful work, Planetside. Although the tone and plot of the Split Worlds series are very different, I loved them all, devouring the previous four books in less than one week. After waiting for the final book for almost a year, I found it a satisfying conclusion to the series. As with the previous books in the series, All Good Things deals heavily with themes of feminism, environmentalism, agency, and responsibility.

 

This book is the completion of a long story arc, and I don't believe it should be read without the rest of the series. All of the characters from previous books have returned. As always, I wasn't quite sure if I actually liked Cathy, the major protagonist of the series and the is the driving force of the story. Cathy is a fierce feminist who wants to bring change to the changeless Nether world, but to me it feels like she is driven by a selfish, myopic ideology that often stops her from seeing the harm her actions inflict on others. This selfishness is examined in the novel: Cathy seeks to bring dramatic change, and this is bound to have negative impacts on others. What right does she have to make these types of decisions for so many others? As one character puts it:

"To create change, to disrupt a system of control, one must carry out radcal acts. One must be prepared to destroy so that something new can be created. Those in control will never give up the power afforded to them voluntarily. It must be taken. If that requires the deaths of a few to give freedom to the many-- and survival of the many--then so be it. This is not a gentle act."

But who has the right to decide to make that sacrifice? Does having the power to carry out the act give you the right to do so?

 

Fortunately, the other characters-- Sam, Lucy, Kay, and the gargoyle -- are more sympathetic. However, there's a big "anyone can die" and "anyone can betray" vibe in the novel. There is no easy division into protagonists and antagonists in the novel: everyone is driven by their own motivations and secret loyalties. Because of this, there have been many different antagonists in the story, with protagonists easily morphing into enemies. Sometimes, the changes felt too facile to me, the deaths of characters too superficial, the betrayals too unrooted. I particularly disliked how anticlimactic some of the dismissals of characters we've grown to care about throughout the series were, and how easily the characters were forgotten and set aside.

For all the strong feminist themes of the novels, if you look at who dies or is forgotten, you'll see an impressive number of women. Bea's death was simply pathetic. Kay got refrigeratored, something I find particularly hard to stomach from an overtly feminist series. But it's Lucy I found most troubling. She has been such a strong character throughout the series. To have her thrown away and forgotten because of an out-of-character and clumsy betrayal in which she became the pawn of a man? Not good. For me, the saving grace of the novel was that Will was revealed as the absolute villain of the piece. I was worried throughout that his rape and control would be seen as "extreme love" and that he would end up as the protagonist, as is so often the case in urban fantasy romance novels. As Cathy notes, rape is rape, and it should not be whitewashed.

(spoiler show)

At the same time, I loved some of the twists of All Good Things: one of my favourite aspects of the book is how antagonists morph into allies and how an abrupt twist brought the one true villain of the series into sharp relief.

 

At its core, the novel is all about control and ownership and responsibility, and however surprising the ending, I found All Good Things a satisfying end to the series. If you've read the other Split Worlds books, I don't need to tell you about this book because you're going to read it anyway. As for me, I can't wait to see what Emma Newman has in store for her readers next.

 

~~I received an advanced reader copy of this ebook through Netgalley from the publisher, Diversion Books, in exchange for my honest review.~~

 

Cross-posted on Goodreads.

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text 2017-03-05 22:28
Reading progress update: I've read 100%.
Safeword - A.J. Rose

 

 

 

FINISHED!!

 

 

Good Gawd...What a ride!!

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text 2017-03-05 21:08
Reading progress update: I've read 83%.
Safeword - A.J. Rose

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text 2017-03-05 19:31
Reading progress update: I've read 70%.
Safeword - A.J. Rose

Still have no idea what's going on.

 

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