Raven Strategem

      Publisher: Solaris 

      RRP: £7.99

      Author: Yoon Ha Lee 

      Published:  2017-07-13




War. Heresy. Madness. Shuos Jedao is unleashed. The long-dead general, preserved with exotic technologies as a weapon, 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 enemy incursion, has fallen under Jedao’s sway. Only Khiruev’s aide, Lieutenant Colonel Kel Brezan, is 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?


A thrilling second novel from the Machineries of Empire series.


In this, the second book in the Machineries of Empire series, Lee jumps straight in with this story, leaving the reader to either keep up or fall behind - and falling behind isn’t an option. Complex plotting, and a complex and hierarchical set of cultures combine to a fantastic crescendo that leaves the reader wondering what will come next.

Shuos Jedao takes control of a swarm, commanding a strange power over General Kiruhev, the previous commander, more than the “formation instinct” which governs the work and fighting of the Kel, one of a number of races whose lives and actions are controlled by an imposing calendar. There are those that don’t believe in the calendars control, but they are few and far between. At the same time, we see the parallel story of Shuos Mikodez, the Hexarch (leader) of the Shuos, a race known for their cunning and deceit, and Mikodez himself known for being the most cunning and ruthless of them all.

We initially see the story through the eyes of Kel Brezan, a Leiutenant Colonel in General Kiruhev’s swarm, his hatred for Jedao and his attempts to get the message out about Jedao’s return. Brezan lacks the formation instinct of his colleagues, making him the only one able to disobey direct commands and attempt to unseat Jedao. Brezan is banished from the ship along with others, and for a long time the story becomes a two hander, from the perspective of Kiruhev, up on the swarm, and from the perspective of Mikodez, based on the Shuos home world. With this, the story flips neatly between space opera and political intrigue, forcing the reader to interpret in world terms and races, with just enough exposition to make this possible.

Latterly, we recover Brezan in his new role of High General, a role given to him to allow him to recover the swarm from Jedao, and to assassinate the rogue general with his new Shuos companion. Here is where the story becomes at its most compelling, as the three major players maneuver around one another; Kiruhev and Jedao seemingly without intent, Brezan with a mission and Mikodez watching on and trying to bend the final outcome to his own means without alerting any of his fellow hexarchs, or Jedao himself.

Lee handles this beautifully, with cliffhangers and consistent pacing, stepping away from graphic description sometimes but with enough details to create some truly unsettling scenes. His work neatly sidesteps the common problems with space opera of imposing current human values and experiences on a future world, with one of the major Shuos characters being gender non-binary, and another is trans. There is a strong implication that in this world it is quite common to change your outer appearance, presented gender and more besides on a regular basis.

Lee’s background in mathematics is clear in this story, with a major plot arc being solved by the mathematics of calendars and mathematical skill being held in as high regard as physical strength or strategic skill. It also makes a pleasing change to find a world in which there is not a utopia, but a complex, semi religious society, held together by a loose collection of technologies and agreements, all just waiting to be pulled apart at the seams by a talented thinker. At times, it can be hard to keep up, but the story sweeps the reader along. A thrilling second novel from the Machineries of Empire series.