The Hexarchate is no more. Only two Hexarchs survive: slippery Shuos Mikodez, backing Cheris’s nascent democracy; and immortal Nirai Kujen, determined to resurrect the high calendar to maintain his grip on life. And even Protector-General Kel Inesser and her fleet don’t back him. Kujen isn’t worried: he has another incarnation of Shuos Jedao at his command…
Let’s get the wild-eyed screaming out the way early (and I mean that in the best possible way): yes, yes this IS a book with more Jedao than you can shake a stick at. It never does to underestimate Mikodez or Kujen (however often they underestimate those around them), nor to forget that Kujen possesses the black cradle that can reincarnate Jedao. Repeatedly. And, as it turns out, simultaneously.
Not, however, completely. Cheris survived the explosion at the Fortress of Scattered Needles with some of Jedao’s memories and instincts intact, integrated into her own personality, and those aspects of the undead general are now beyond even Nirai Kujen’s reach. But there’s plenty of pieces of Jedao still left to summon…
Enter a confused Jedao convinced he’s a 17-year-old Shuos cadet undergoing some elaborate test. After all, why else would a Shuos trainee be told to wear Kel uniform and obey a Nirai? He has no explicit memories of command or of warcraft – but luckily for Kujen, Jedao’s military instincts are in tip tip form and the Kel under his command have no option but to obey the man they believe him to be.
The stage is set for a final showdown between Jedao and… well, Jedao – or it would be, if anyone knew where Cheris was. Nobody has seen her since she re-engineered the calendar and took off, leaving Brezan and Mikodez to pick up the pieces. Three guesses what’s she’s up to…
Revenant Gun once again inverts what has gone before to come at the central themes of this series from a new angle (as well as new perspective – yes, we finally get a servitor POV as well as a deeper understanding of how the moths work). It wasn’t the finale I expected – not least for frequently keeping the focus very personal even as it depicted a civil war – but it was a satisfying conclusion to a fascinating trilogy. As with Ninefox Gambit and Raven Strategem, Revenant Gun isn’t really that interested in the battles it is structured around – they’re the pivots, not the point. And on that personal level it delivers in spades.
Here Jedao is genuinely centre-stage as our protagonist, but it’s an idealistic young Jedao who is loyal to the Hexarchate yet cares deeply about consequences and individuals; it’s hard not to see him as a time bomb. Just how long will he follow Kujen’s commands before his sense of right and wrong get the better of him? Watching him rapidly grow up through exposure to Kujen and the consequences of his own actions (past and present) was heart-breaking. The unerring and merciless take on his interactions with Dhanneth were particularly shattering, and excellently played out.
We also get glimpses of a young Nirai Kujen and what forged him into the monolithic villain that he has become. In both cases, Yoon Ha Lee plays expertly on our sympathies, but refuses to let anybody off the hook. This is a clear-eyed denunciation, where wrong remains wrong however good your motivations may (once) have been. It’s hard not to feel something for Kujen, and impossible to accept what he has become – any good intentions long since sloughed away in favour of self-preservation. And in case we’re feeling too warm and fuzzy about baby Jedao, we’re reminded just how horrific threshold winnowers are.
In between gazing into the Abyss (and you better believe Kujen is gazing back), Revenant Gun has a delightfully playful side. But Yoon Ha Lee is a fine hand at changing pace and tone mid-scene: something that begins light-heartedly often rounds a corner to be confronted with horror.
I really enjoyed this rollercoaster, which delivers in its own right as well as the conclusion to the series (I may have to come back and write more spoilery comments come July about where we end up). It does an excellent job of wrapping up its themes and giving relevance to everything that has gone before – even amusing back-story novella Extracurricular Activities gets a satisfying nod. My slight regret is that we didn’t get to see more of Brezan struggling to run the Compact; the hard work of setting up a new calendar and government gets a nod, but in the end, Machineries of Empire is a trilogy about Jedao and the Hexarchate, and I can’t regret that.
Redemption is hard work.
I received a free copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Revenant Gun will be released on 12 June 2018.