The first half of Ninefox Gambit, the first book in the Machineries of Empire series, confused, frustrated, and intrigued me in equal measures; Raven Stratagem had none of its predecessor's confusion or frustration, and all of it's intrigue . There was just enough really gut-punching character work in the last half of Ninefox for me to decide to give the series another shot, and thank goodness I did--I would not have wanted to miss reading this.
I don't know if it was because I'd already gotten my head around the idea of calendrical warfare, exotic technologies, and the Kel formation instinct, or if it was because this book just gets to the action quicker, (or even that I was better rested than when I read Ninefox) but I was drawn into the story almost immediately, and ended up caring for the new characters that we were introduced to very deeply. We get just enough of each character's backstory to give us a sense of who they are, and what their vulnerabilities are, and to also give us a sense of how corrupt this society is, without ever making the story feel bogged down. Instead it feels like a vast, strange, and bloody tapestry in dire need of unpicking. Good thing someone seems to be up to the task...
I also want to mention a small detail that I sincerely appreciated: the decoupling of pronouns and physical gender in this book. People are described as being "manform" or "womanform" in this book, but this has almost no bearing on what pronouns are used for each individual. Jedao is currently in a "womanform" body, but he is always given male pronouns, and none of the characters struggle with using the correct pronouns. When a character in unsure of a person's gender, they refer to their visible gender by calling them a manform or womanform, which I think does a nice job of communicating gendered appearances without assuming actual gender.
This book was interesting, and I've already pre-ordered the next book in the series. This series isn't going to be everyone's cup of tea, but if you liked Ninefox Gambit, definitely give the second book a shot. It builds on the rich world that Ninefox Gambit created in the best way.
4 out of 5 stars on Goodreads.