the Little Red Reviewer

Revenant Gun by Yoon Ha Lee

Posted on: November 2, 2018

Revenant Gun, by Yoon Ha Lee (Machineries of Empire, #3)

published June 2018

Where I got it: purchased new








One of the reasons I write reviews is to help myself process how a book makes me feel. I’m not super good at expressing myself verbally (or at all, actually), but somehow writing a book review helps me express myself and process my thoughts.  Somehow, with words, I am making a picture of the journey a book took me on. A picture of a journey, made of words? Magic!




I finished Revenant Gun nearly a week ago.  I’d been reading this book very slowly, savoring every page.  Like Ninefox Gambit and Raven Stratagem, Revenant Gun is fucking smart. I can’t tell if this trilogy is the decade’s smartest science fiction epic, a treatise on management and communication, step by step instructions for how to take down a government, or if all of those things are actually in a way the same thing.  Among other things,  The Machineries of Empire trilogy is the story of what happens when choice is removed, and then many generations later, it is given back. If you’ve never had something before, how do you know what you’re supposed to do with it? I’ve grossly oversimplified the plot, of course. Sort of like saying Star Wars is about a guy who goes on an adventure, meets his dad, and then decides to kill his dad’s boss because of a political disagreement. I skipped over all the good parts, didn’t I?


I finished reading Revenant Gun nearly a week ago. That day, and the next day, I was no shape to write a review. Nearly in tears, I’d emailed my best friend and tried to explain to her (hey, remember that e-mail I sent you? And I said I wasn’t going to tell you the name of the book I was talking about? Well, it’s this book!)  that a particular scene had taken place, and that I felt rather positive about that scene. That I’d liked that scene.  And then later in the book, I found out that what I thought was happening that scene wasn’t actually what was happening at all.  And now that I knew what was really going on, what kind of fucking monster was I for liking that scene??   You guys, this was beyond #Allthefeels.


After I was done crying (I still didn’t feel any better, I’d just cried myself out), I ordered a copy of Yoon Ha Lee’s short story collection.


But enough about me and my mushy feelings,  you want to know what this book is about, right?  I don’t know what’s better – the overarching theme and plot of the trilogy or that these books are so damn smart and perfectly written that maybe the overarching plot doesn’t matter.


I was hoping for another Cheris book, and while she does make an appearance in Revenant Gun, this final volume is Jedao’s time to shine.  He’s awake, has only himself in his mind, doesn’t seem to have an anchor, and he thinks he’s 17 years old. His body is 40 something years old, and the soldiers expect him to order them around. Makes sense, since he’s been hired to win a war.  The soldiers are also terrified of him, and he doesn’t know why. Jedao is functioning without an understanding of what happened between him and Khiaz. He’s functioning without any understanding of his place in history. Even worse, he’s the only person who had no idea who Cheris is.

Although it sure feels like it, it’s not magic that put Jedao into a fresh new body, it’s pure science. Remember Kujen? The guy everyone thought was dead, the guy who invented calendrical mathe-fucking-matics however many centuries ago? The guy who had a side hobby of researching immortality?  Yeah, so ummmm, he’s not dead. His experiments towards immortality sort of worked, and now he’s trying to perfect the formula.


Jedao is pretty disgusted by what’s going on (and he hasn’t even seen the Hafn yet) and Cheris has plans of her own. If only they could manage to be in the same corner of the galaxy for five minutes, they’d realize they want the same thing.  #notaspoiler, this isn’t Cheris versus Jedao, winner gets all his memories, this is Cheris and Jedao versus an immortal mad scientist, and the only way Cheris and Jedao can win is by destroying everything.


Have I mentioned how fucking smart this book is?  Kujen is the opposite of a mustache twirling villain, and as I learned more about him all I could feel was pity.  He had good intentions (maybe?). He surrounds himself with luxury for a very specific, and very real reason. The connection between his immortality and the culture of this Empire is absolutely brilliant.  The story itself is the size of the Empire, and through Lee’s story telling talent, the details never feel like infodumping. The details feel absolutely perfect – people’s comments about what they are eating, what they wish they were eating, how  food defines culture and vice versa, this is world building through food and drink, casual conversation, the TV shows people are watching, what the bored ‘bots talk about, it is worldbuilding via normal everyday things and everyday conversations. No infodumping, no long explanations, no “as you know, Bob”-ing, just people trying to live their lives.


If Ninefox Gambit was The Art of War, and Raven Stratagem investigated the goal of the military, then Revenant Gun is the reason we need revolutions.


Here are some snippets from notes that I took while reading:


What was the world like when Kujen was young? What did he think when the Kel first arrived? Was he afraid? Intrigued?  Unconcerned?


Page 124 “Learn to separate rhetorical techniques from the content of the argument”. I’d like to know what that sentence means.


Jedao doesn’t have access to his memories. . . but he seems to have access to something that might be better?


Jedao to Kujen as Duncan Idaho sort of was to Leto II.


Who is more committed to their goal?  Kujen or Jedao?


I want to watch all the Jedao dramas everyone is talking about!


Jedao and Brezan are slowly becoming the kind of people they can’t stand. Heartless, cold, uncaring, able to take responsibility for the deaths of thousands without even thinking about it. Who can show them how to change into these new versions of themselves? Why, Kujen and Mikodez, of course!


The first two books in this series, I read them each twice. I needed a second read through to pick up on the nuances.  Last weekend, when I couldn’t stop crying because of what was really happening in a particular scene, the two things I said to myself were “I don’t ever want to read this book again”, and “I’m ready for N.K. Jemisin’s The Stone Sky”.


It’s been a week. I think I’m ready to read Revenant Gun again.


8 Responses to "Revenant Gun by Yoon Ha Lee"

If it means “Skillful use of rhetoric can win a debate, but it doesn’t mean that the winning side is correct,” then I am even more excited for this book.

Liked by 1 person

the thing is, I didn’t write down who said that line! If Mikodez said that line, then yes, I could mean that. If Kujen said it, it might mean the opposite.

Liked by 1 person

In both cases it would mean the same thing, as meaning ‘bad use of rethoric can loose a debate, even if you are right’ amounts to the same thing.

Liked by 1 person

Great Review! I’ll have to check it out…I just finished Dragon Pearl by Lee and really enjoyed it! 👍🏻 Happy Reading!

Liked by 1 person

Maybe completely off topic, but maybe not, considering your saying “…the story of what happens when choice is removed…”

So, VOTE TUESDAY! I have my own opinions about who and what to vote for or against, but that doesn’t matter. YOU just need to vote! (I already have, here in Oregon it’s all mail-in or drop-off. I took my ballot to the library Thursday.)

The book sounds interesting, but I’m so far behind, I have doubts of ever getting to it.

Liked by 1 person

I mailed my ballot last week! most voting here is done in person, but I have discovered the joy of voting absentee.


[…] Chambers’s Record of a Spaceborn Few over at A Dance with Books; the Red Headed Reviewer  rhapsodised (and agonised) over the searing Revenant Gun by Yoon Ha Lee (implicit spoilers for Ninefox Gambit and Raven […]

Liked by 1 person

Awesome review!!! Squeeeeee! 😀

Liked by 1 person

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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