Revenant Gun by Yoon Ha Lee
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
A solid 5 Stars
Reading this series has never been facile but it has always been satisfying. While Ninefox Gambit was an often disorienting immersion experience, the fascinating world in which Jedao awakens in rewarded the reader with a novel of the scope and scale that truly defines the Space Opera genre. If the first Machineries book was Jedao's and the second, Raven Strategem, was Cheris's, Revenant Gun belongs to Nirai Hexarch Kujen. We finally learn more about this shadowy, or might I even say shady, character. Prepare yourself. If you had qualms about Jedao, Kujen is the most challenging (repellant?) character in a series in which our shifting paradigms defined the moral ambiguity of the Machineries world. I can firmly say that every reservation that I had about Kel formation instinct, or what happened to Jedao every time he reawakened since his execution, or my thoughts about the relative benefits of calendrical heresy were borne out by this final volume. Lee finally lets us see more of the backstory and the underpinnings of this world. He graciously leaves us at what will merely be the beginning of the latest iteration.
Moving almost a decade forward in time from the end of Raven Stratagem, we find that Nirai Kujen has come up with his ingenious/diabolical plan to regain control and restore the high calendar which Cheris fractured at the end of the second book. His plan involves use of that well-known mass murderer, who was executed four hundred years before. Yep, that's right. How, you ask? Well, he is a Nirai, and those STEM guys are wicked clever. Thus, in Revenant Gun we get two Jedaos. One is the early life fragment of Jedao's memories at age seventeen, a revenant reawakened in the beaten up body of a forty-four year old man who is not a man (to explain would be a spoiler but, once again, communication with servitors leads the astute reader along the path of insight into just what's going on here) while the other Jedao is the Cheris-Jedao hybrid. Cheris holds the many memories, and especially the strategical mental database, of everything that happened (and a lot of it was no-bueno) to Jedao after age seventeen. She doesn't really make her appearance, along with a few interesting servitors, until more than halfway through the book and I had missed her voice. Cheris-Jedao still want the world to be a better place than it has been. The status quo Kujen and his Jedao are working to return to pose a powerful opposition, however. How these two Jedaos evolve over the course of this story, since both have essentially the same starting material, is absorbing reading. In occasional looks backward to the period just after Cheris creates exotic calendar chaos, we see how the rebellion struggles following the decimation of the hexarchate that leaves Nirai Kujen and Shuos Mikodez standing on opposite sides of calendrical heresy. (Cheris had disappeared at that point.) As the reader parses the two Jedaos, Nirai Kujen comes to fore in the book. Stepping much farther back in time, we begin to see the truly creepy and abusive relationship Kujen has had with Jedao. How did the world end up in this mess of cruelty, violence, rigidity, submission of self to power? Just as in our world, the seeming best of intentions for social order so often go astray. (Of course, sometimes our best intentions are also just those convenient lies we tell ourselves to get what we want.)
Among the many things I've enjoyed in this trilogy was the diversity of gender and orientation that was threaded seamlessly, and without labor for the reader, in the Machineries universe. We see straight, gay, bi, and ace, and trans/nonbinary characters, all of which reflects the real world we live in. (The sensitivity of language and pronoun usage in this series is terrific, by the way.) The issues of abuse of power, consent, personal will and freedom presented in this book made me better understand some of the dynamics of the first two books. What an amazing finale. While I missed some of the characters from the second book (want. more. Mikodez.) the exploration of Kujen and Jedao, locked into their centuries-long morality play, was fascinating and satisfying. The vast and complex world that Yoon Ha Lee has created will be hard to leave behind. In fact, I am likely to listen to the entire trilogy, all over again, on audiobook shortly. (Is the audiobook of Revenant Gun is forthcoming soon?) I hope Lee continues to give us occasional short works from this world. Whether more about Cheris and the Mwennin or once again bannering the deuce of gears in some new adventure, I'd be an eager reader.
I received a Digital Review Copy of this book from Solaris/Rebellion Publishing Ltd. and NetGalley along with a paper review copy from Rebellion UK, in exchange for an honest review.
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