4/5 stars on Goodreads
|Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha Lee|
Raven Stratagem is the second book in Lee’s Machineries of Empire sci-fi trilogy that started with Ninefox Gambit. The first book introduced a multi-system space empire that rigorously follows calendric rituals that control their impressive space machinery and create magic-like effects, like a hive-mind that controls the soldier cast. They’re in a constant war against a mysterious alien enemy, and the heresy within their own system, as deviations from the calendric rituals causes the entire system to break down. I didn’t like the first book, mostly due to a messy plot, uninteresting characters and chapters in points of view of characters that die at the end of them. I therefore almost didn’t pick up Raven Stratagem when I noticed it in my local library.
I’m glad I gave it a chance. The second book is much better than the first. The arch-traitor Shuos Jedao has taken over a swarm—a space fleet—and though he seems to be aiming it against the enemy and winning too, the politicians want him destroyed. During the most of the book, the plot follows the attempts to take Jedao down, only to turn into something else in the end, elevating it above the ordinary.
The narrative was vastly better than in the first book. There were no mathematical calculations dominating the action (the first was heavy on them), the enemy that was a no-show in the first book made an appearance, making the endless warfare seem justified, and there were fewer POV characters, none of which die just to advance the plot. The only character that didn’t get his own point of view was Jedao, which was odd, considering that he’s the main character. The lack is explained at the end, but it kind of felt more like a cheap trick to fool the readers than anything else.
In general, the author keeps the cards so tight that the plot starts making sense only in the last couple of chapters. It’s not necessary a bad thing, but there were stretches in the middle that seemed fairly pointless and dragged the narrative quite a lot, only to make sense at the very end. I think I would’ve enjoyed them more if the plot hadn’t been so obscure.
The characters are all heroes in their own point of view and villains in everyone else’s, which makes them interesting. It also keeps the reader guessing to the end, as everyone is prone to betray everyone else. Despite that—or because of it—the main characters were fairly likeable and I rooted for them all, although only superficially, as I feared to the end that they would all get killed like in the first book.
All in all, Raven Stratagem was an interesting book, with a world vastly different from other sci-fi out there. I’ll definitely read the last book too, what I couldn’t have imagined doing after the first book.