Hexarchate Stories by Yoon Ha Lee

I would like to thank Solaris for an advance copy of this collection in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Publisher – Solaris

Price - £8.88 paperback £5.99 kindle eBook

Published – Out Now

Please note - while it is a great collection if you’ve never read the Machineries of Empire you may find this a confusing read (plus you’ll get a lot of spoilers!)

From the incredible imagination of Hugo and Arthur C Clarke nominated author Yoon Ha Lee comes a selection of stories set in the world of the best-selling Ninefox Gambit. Showcasing Lee’s extraordinary imagination, this collection takes you to the very beginnings of the hexarchate’s history and reveals new never before seen stories

I’ve been a huge fan of Yoon Ha Lee’s Machineries of Empire series since it came out (and its also a Subjective Kind of Chaos nominee for Best Series!). It’s a complex tale of a cruel and also yet strangely liberal empire comprising sic different factions ranging from the loyal soldier army of the Kel to the super scheming Shuos. The trilogy explored themes of empire, rebellion and how people made the choices to choose a side. The main trilogy was very much focused on the notorious Shuos Jedao a general who went mad, died but then got resurrected as a mind AI ultimately working with a young Kel Captain named Cheris to eventually create a form of revolution with many personal costs for both.  However due to Jedao’s long afterlife it’s a sequence that has a long backstory of hundreds of years containing many rich elements galaxy-building to explore so I’m delighted to have now this collection of stories set before, during and after the events of the main trilogy. Its not all political space opera as we get a fantastic mix of heists, slice of life tales of love and families oh and cats.

Among the stories that I really enjoyed:

The Chameleon’s Gloves – a really strong opening tale that stands alone from the main series. It starts with an art theft but soon dives into a race to find a super-weapon. Really fast, inventive use of a heist and then throws a little moral dilemma into the equation.  I found this very enjoyable and yet still tells the reader about the worldview and ruthlessness of the Hexarchate rulers.

Seven Views of the Liozh Entrance Exam – the Liozh were the only faction that fell from grace.  An unusual tale of their entrance exams which while reads as a short history text it also hints as to why this group were eliminated which also shows you the way the empire thinks too.

Omens – This focuses on Jedao’s mother who pretty much liked to defy convention (a trait her son seemed to inherit). She’s funny, confident and secure in her sexuality on a date. There are major events happening, but a great piece of character writing done in a few scenes – impressive writing.

Honesty – This show focuses on a really young Jedao and his siblings Nidana and Ro all at a very young age. We get her view of her brother and we just start to see the potential for the future warrior he will become seeing him enjoying fighting some bullies; with a reminder that his future betrayal will have immense repercussions for his family and loved ones.  Feels very bittersweet as we see a strong simple and innocent relationship yet we know what’s around the corner.

Bunny – Jedao and Nidana hunt Bunny the cat (again as youngsters) funnily enough there is also Bunny the Dog. Again, a slice of life tail but perhaps reminding you there is a heart in Jedao…sometimes.

Silence - a first person tale in Ro’s voice. This time the siblings are much older and visiting their mother at home. A disgusting fruit salad is being made and there is a lot of family teasing.  Its a really impressive balance of showing a loving family against Jedao’s amoral approach to weapons and also starting to hint that his life in the military is starting to impact him mentally with regular injuries as well as seeing the cruelty of the hexarchate leading to ever more reckless choices. Again, showing you how he may end up becoming the later notorious general. One of the best tales int he collection.

Extracurricular Activities – Another great story here. An older Jedao who is now starting to get a fleet wide reputation for cunning and ruthlessness is recruited for a mission to rescue an old classmate. There is an interesting look at betrayal and again we see how Jedao’s mind works but you also definitely get to see his Shuos side shine too in cunning hand to hand combat mixed with the sense of honour towards his enemies (provided he thinks they are worthy).  It also contains excessive flirting with a shipmate that perhaps reminds you under the reputation Jedao can be amazingly human.

The Battle of Candle Arc – Here we meet a Jedao recovering from another of his many serious injuries. This time he’s been placed on a mission against heretics; we see him up against a distrusting first in command who is aware of his notorious ability to sacrifice those working for him to aid the greater good. This definitely points towards what leads him to his ultimate betrayal of the empire but also, we get to see that unique cunning balanced with a sense of honour again – trying to work out what makes Jedao tick is part of the fun in this collection.

Birthdays – This is a tale that features Cheris (the other main protagonist in the main trilogy). It’s a short tale of how her Mwennin people have had to stop celebrating their culture as its is increasingly deemed heretical which could lead to lethal repercussions. Knowing the ultimate faith these people will all suffer makes this tale feel extremely tragic but also as the author reminds us how cultural traditions often get wiped out by other cultures e.g. the Korean birthday system is now being slowly replaced with a more western one.

Gamer’s End – This is a tale set after the main trilogy ends. A young Shuos recruit goes on a training mission and then things go horribly wrong resulting in their need to fight for their life (as well as the rest of the planet). This tale is really interesting to see how the Hexarchate is now developing after the events within the main series but we also see the weird Shuos blend of cunning, cruelty, and ruthlessness. Yet a very familiar character appears who now knows we cannot go down the same road again in creating monsters to fight later.  Strong favourite in the collection

Glass Cannon – This final tale is a major novella giving us a huge insight into what happened next to Jedao and Cheris. I’m not going to spoil it because if you love this series you will want to go in unspoiled but it is very creative; answers a lot of questions; sets up a lot of new possibilities and oh goodness do I want to see what else happens next.  Yes, it’s my favourite tale and its brilliant

Overall as you’ll see my admiration for Yoon Ha Lee’s tales is undiminished. I really liked the short author’s note for each story and hearing what inspired each tale. The shorter length means this is more character focused adding depth and texture to the main sequence. Love the flash fiction pieces because seeing characters just living in normal situations and how they react in them is fascinating. If you’ve enjoyed the previous novels, you’ll want to delve again into this universe.