Have you ever heard of a calendrical heresy? Probably not, because it’s not really a thing, until you read Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee.
When heretics take over the Fortress of Scattered Needles, the leaders of the Hexarchate seek unconventional methods of solving the crisis. They snatch Captain Kel Cheris from the ranks, because she walks the edge of calendrical heresy to put down rebellions.
If you don’t quite understand what the above paragraph is saying, that’s not surprising. Yoon Ha Lee has created a complicated universe and he doesn’t ease the readers into it.
In his future, people have discovered a way to harness exotic energies that can power starships and weapons. These exotic energies are rooted in mathematics and work based on a shared system of timekeeping and ritual torture. In other words, large groups of people adhering to a certain calendar and its horrid feast days can unleash magic.
A great empire arose from the wars fought with these exotic energies. It’s called the Hexarchate, because of it’s division into six castes. Calendrical heresy is the term used for people abandoning the empire’s calendar in favor of their own system of timekeeping and exotic energies.
Captain Kel Cheris’s job is to root out calendrical heretics that have taken over the Fortress of Scattered Needles, an important space station hub. To do this, she wants to unleash a dangerous weapon: the insane General Shuos Jedao, his mind kept in immortal storage in the Black Cradle.
Kel Cheris is a loyal soldier, who is way out of her depth. She clearly chafes at the fascist chains the empire places on her, but she remains loyal to the Hexarchate cause.
Shuos Jedao is remarkably rational for an insane man. He is famed for his prowess in battle, and feared for his murdering all his troops and command after a victory.
Ninefox Gambit is… something else. It’s a remarkably enthralling book, given its pretty weird setting.
The story is filled with mostly nasty people, and gives a dark look at a very disturbing society. The main characters make up for that though. They are mostly good people, with some intriguing qualities.
Unfortunately, the weirdness of the setting combined with the dark society is also somewhat offputting. I like the book, and it’s very enthralling, but I don’t think I can love it. It’s very well-written, but that’s it. I don’t think I’ll want to re-read it any time soon. That said, it’s one of the more interesting scifi books I read in recent time.
All in all, a fresh if dark science fiction novel which I can recommend if you like scifi.