Review: Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee

In the name of transparency, I should divulge that I read this book solely because it was nominated for a (2017) Hugo. Ninefox is a military science fiction novel that, in my opinion, desperately wants to have the word Ancillary in its title but narrowly misses all the key notes that Anne Leckie hit so well.

And in case that wasn’t clear enough: I didn’t really like this book. The writing is wooden with occasional bursts of melodrama, the plot feels borrowed, and I found myself struggling to give half a shit about the protagonist, never mind the (blandly military) supporting cast members arrayed around her.

I also took issue with the ‘science’ that forms the core of Ninefox. Lee is a trained mathematician, and so I can only assume that the popular opinion oriented, calendar dependant technologies she presents have some basis in potential fact. But like most of my least favourite fantasy magic systems, I found the concepts vaguely described and lacking in comprehensible rules. To be fair, there are some coolish ideas stuffed in there, but most of them feel half formed and under explored. In other words, it’s all sizzle and no steak.

On the upside, the core relationship between the main character and her undead general buddy is reasonably well done. The series of flashbacks at the end felt a little heavy handed, but there were enough truth bombs in them that I’m willing to forgive that. However, there were some key character motivations that never got resolved, including a glaring one that could easily have been cleared up by the aforementioned flashback sequence but wasn’t. This is the first book in a series so there’s obviously more info to come, but I’m not sure I can be bothered finding out, to be honest. So that’s that, I suppose. Sadface emoji, moving on.

Prose: C+

Plot: C

Characterisation: C

Originality: B

Weird factor: B

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ODDNOVELS is a book review blog that I write just for the hell of it. If it's weird or wildly speculative, you will find it here.