Review: Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee

Check your formation instinct is ready, board your cindermoth, watch out for calendrical rot, swallow some carrion glass and blast some heretics with exotics in the name of hexarchate – it’s time to review NINEFOX GAMBIT!

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from gobbledygook and Ninefox Gambit is a military barrage of neologism. It is initially tough going – the premise is a future caste-based space-empire in which the underlying physics of the universe is open to mathematical manipulation. As a consequence, non-standard ideas are both physically dangerous and a military/social threat.

It is a bold idea and Yoon Ha Lee avoids info dumps and explanations but instead throws words, detached from clear concepts, at it. This is initially tiresome and the opening is a bit of a slog – so much so that I nearly abandoned the book. Note: don’t abandon this book.

It takes a little bit of initial effort but then it really hits its stride. A weird, violent space adventure as the central character(s) launch an offensive against a heretical space fortress.

There is a 5% dash of stuff that reminds a bit of John C Wright’s The Golden Age – a perspective of a human society whose understanding of how the universe works has itself become problematic. There is a hefty 40% of something Ann Leckie-ish – a cognitively unusual protagonist fighting for a space empire that is inherently wrong amid a background of military loyalties and a strange culture. The 40% overlaps with an Iain Bank’s vibe. Throw in some freaky space opera and a chunky dose of originality.



  1. thephantom182

    “As a consequence, non-standard ideas are both physically dangerous and a military/social threat.”

    Har! Where have I seen that recently?

    I liked The Golden Age. I’ll check this out. Hopefully she will avoid the ‘eck’ in Leckie.


  2. Mark

    I’d throw in a few percent of The Quantum Thief as an antecedent as well.
    This has definitely grown on me after a tricky start. I’m looking forward to the sequel.


  3. KR

    Mostly non-fiction bore here, so may not get around to this one. The one thing I feel confident in claiming without reading it though ( 🙂 ) is that this book has a great, great title! Titles are an underestimated art form.


  4. Mark

    True! It makes you think “I don’t know what a ninefox is, or why it needs a gambit, but I want to find out!”
    Similarly “why are there five seasons?”
    Whereas Seveneves isn’t a clever title until _after_ you’ve started reading.


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