This novel is a 2016 Nebula finalist published by Solaris. The 2016 Nebula Reading List is down, but the Waybackmachine suggests this one had 7 recommendations, and like Everfair, came from behind. The novel is also a Hugo finalist.

Kel Cheris is an infantry captain who is surprised to recognize heresy in a battle with the Eels. She disgraces herself by altering formation equations to match the heresies and finds this brings her to the attention of Kel Command. Calendrical rot threatens the hexarchate, and because of her mathematical and leadership abilities, she will be part of a force launched against the Fortress of Scattered Needles, center of the rot. When asked to choose a weapon, she chooses the dead traitor-general, Shuos Jedao. Attached to his ghost, she goes into battle against the heretics and finds all is not as she has been told.

Cons: Lee doesn’t cut the reader a lot of slack here. This is complex, and I ended up having to go back to read some of the set up again once I knew who the important characters were. It’s a space opera, of course, and fairly violent. Millions of people die. Because of the mass slaughter, I learned early on not to get really attached to any of these characters.

Pros: Lee doesn’t cut the reader a lot of slack here. I love complex stuff. There’s a philosophical question underneath all this, as the hexarchate seems based on consensual reality. The story is beautifully plotted, with a long, slow set up as the main characters play cat-and-mouse games with one another over a span of centuries. Besides having a strong plot, a strong action line and a twist ending, this also has excellent characterization and imagery. The descriptions of exotic effects and even quiet moments when the wind blows and the light shimmers are very well done. It’s not without humor, either. Lee makes even minor characters live with a snippet of internal dialog, and then kills them off in imaginative ways. I think I’m going to have to read the sequel, and maybe the related Tor.com novella, too.

Four and a half stars.

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