Review – Raven Stratagem

Raven Stratagem (The Machineries of Empire #2) by Yoon Ha Lee

Raven Stratagem (The Machineries of Empire, #2)

A fantastic sequel to a fantastic opener.  What do you mean I have to wait until JUNE for the conclusion?

Synopsis from GoodReads: (SPOILERS FOR BOOK 1!!)
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?

When I read the first book in this series last year with my Spec Fic book club, I was one of maybe two people who enjoyed Ninefox Gambit.  I think a large part of that was that the series has a very steep learning curve.  That much has not changed between the first two books.  I remembered a decent amount of what happened in Ninefox but there’s a lot more information being thrown at a reader even in book two and it’s hard to keep up, process, and understand what’s happening.

Now, I’m used to not understanding everything – I read the Malazan Book of the Fallen series, after all.  But I can absolutely see how the lack of explanations might drive some readers a little crazy and if you’re not paying attention and not willing to accept that you’re not going to understand a government way far in the future, then this book isn’t going to be for you.

Thankfully, however, my other issue with book one has been fixed.  The pacing felt much smoother here, but part of that is because, well, we’re not dealing with a siege.  It’s a running battle and since there are a lot more POVs used in this book we shift away from the boring bits to see something interesting happening elsewhere.

And I still love the characters.  My goodness but they are phenomenal and believable and so very human even when you want to shake/slap/hug them.  Yes there’s a remove especially given that we have a lot of POVs that are Kel and their use of formation instinct means that they can come across as programmable people but I still felt for them so much.

One of the things that I think deserves special mention is the way Lee writes gender.  There is a central POV character in this novel who identifies as male but says he’s ‘womanform’.  Several other characters are referred to as ‘they’ and a couple have been explicitly stated to have changed their gender for various reasons.  And all of it is treated as matter of course and just a fact of those characters’ lives rather than being front and center and the defining characteristic.  So many authors who write trans characters or characters who aren’t cisgender heterosexual make the ‘difference’ be the character – and Lee completely avoids that both with characters and with the society he’s created in his series.

As a final note, like with the first book in this series Raven Stratagem reads like a standalone in a lot of respects.  You probably wouldn’t be able to read it without Ninefox Gambit, of course, but it wraps up the central plot of the novel while setting the stage for book 3.  It’s a complete story without having an immovable ending and that is something that really appeals to me as a reader.

4.5 out of 5 stars.

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