Yoon Ha Lee finishes off his Machineries of Empire trilogy in triumphant style with Revenant Gun (review copy from Rebellion Publishing). Picking up shortly after the events of Raven Strategem, the novel plays out the endgame of Kel Cheris (carrying the memories and skills of maverick outcast General Shuos Jedao) and her rebellion against the Hexarchate as she uncovers the secrets at the heart of the Hexarchate. But Nirai Kujen has a plan up his sleeve – reviving another instance of Shuos Jedao in a clone body to take on Kel Cheris. Except this Shuos Jedao has the memories of only 17 years – and no recollection of the atrocities he committed in later life.
For those of you jumping onto this trilogy for the first time, it’s a brilliant piece of space opera, full of plotting, space battles and exotic weapons. The Hexarchate is a galaxy-spanning Empire ruled by six houses, each built around a set of skills or professions, such as spying, mathematics and technology, diplomacy and the military. The Hexarchate provides stability and prosperity for its citizens, but the exotic technologies that underpin society depend on a particular set of exotic physics (known as the ‘high calendar’) that are maintained by strict observance of ritual, including the ritualised torture and murder of Hexarchate citizens. For the Hexarchate, this is a price worth paying to avoid the poverty and instability of the past.
It is this system that Kel Cheris is seeking to overthrow. It is responsible for the obliteration of her planetary culture as the expanding Hexarchate assimilated her home and obscured its customs and language. A soldier with a strong talent for the mathematics that the Hexarchate is founded upon – as well as being possessed by the greatest general of all time – Cheris has the skills, creativity and vision to imagine an alternative future and put it in place. She is consistently underestimated by the Hexarchate, yet exploits their prejudices and weaknesses, particularly the way that an entire sub-culture of robot servitors with its own priorities lives among and supports the human Hexarchate.
Lee is a transgender man, and the whole trilogy is notable for its strong inclusion of transgender, agender, non-binary and genderfluid characters. The dysphoria Shuos Jedao and Kel Cheris feel from sharing a body must come from Lee’s own experience.
But most of all this is an extremely cleverly plotted trilogy of books stuffed full of ideas. Fresh, exciting and an utter joy to read.
Goodreads rating: 5*