I know I said I had hangups about one of the setups near the start of the book and it still seems odd to me, but overall this book is really good. Once I was past those first few chapters, I was pretty much glued to the book.
Cheris is a fairly low-ranking infantry officer in the Hexarchy who is unusually skilled at math. She fights the Hexarchy's battle against heresies because unorthodoxy in the Hexarchy is serious business: it screws up their exotic technology, including their starship drives. They run their society based on a calendar that grants them access to exotic technologies. It's weird but it's cool and it works.
After a disastrous battle on a heretical planet (heretical calendars can grant access to their own exotic technologies, by the way), Cheris is given a chance to redeem herself by participating in a kind of contest where several officers submit their plans to retake the Fortress of Shattered Needles, which has been tainted by heresy. This is the part of the book I took issue with. Regardless, as a result, an ancient, possibly insane general is resurrected and basically mentally grafted to her and she gets sent to retake the heretical fortress. Cue a lot of conversations where the reader doesn't really know whether the general can be trusted and a lot of generally interesting battles. There is some blood and gore in the battle scenes, naturally, but also some really cool exotic effects. Like turning people into glass pillars. Cheris is valuable because she's good enough at math that she work out how to modify the orthodox formations and technologies to fit the new design space created by the heresies on the fly.
Oh, the Hexarchy is called that because it's composed of six factions, and people belonging to a faction take the faction name as the first name in their title. The factions are a bit confusing to follow at first but the most important ones are the Kel, Cheris's faction, and the Shuos, the general's faction.
Other highlights include Cheris's relationship with servitors, sentient robots who seem to have their own ignored shadow-society in service to the humans. She hangs out with them sometimes and watches duelling dramas. The asides and jokes about math and people's skill or lack thereof were fun. I did lots of highlighting on my ereader, but I'm not sure how much sense quotes would make without context. And I became more and more amused by "Calendrical Minutiae" section of the reports from the heretical side. Some examples:
Calendrical Minutiae: Year of the Fatted Cow, Month of the Chicken, and it’s bizarre that people voted in farm animals for this newfangled calendar, but make it Day of the Silkworm? Send me a memo if Doctrine has come up with something more thrilling.
Calendrical Minutiae: Year of the Fatted Cow, Month of the Chicken, Day of the Rooster. Why both chicken and rooster? Who knows. I’ll ask during the next vote.
Calendrical Minutiae: Year of the Fatted Cow, Month of the Partridge, Day of the Hedgehog, I need to program some macros, and fuck the hour.
See? Amusing. And I suppose the reports didn't actually give too much away; they just provided context for what would have seemed really opaque otherwise.
Anyway, I really enjoyed this and look forward to reading the next book, although I probably won't dive into it immediately. Yay for cool new-to-me authors!
Oh, what the hell. Here are some of the exchanges between Cheris and Jedao:
“Seriously, what’s bothering you?”
“It wasn’t a fair fight.”
Jedao’s brief silence spoke volumes. “The point of war is to rig the deck, drug the opponent, and threaten to kneecap their family if they don’t fold,” he said.
“I didn’t want to manipulate her into it,” Cheris said.
A soft pause. “All communication is manipulation,” Jedao said.
“You have a chance of being a decent general someday, but not if you pick up bad habits.”
“Are you trying to pass off a massacre of your own soldiers as a pedagogical exercise?”
And about the servitors:
(There were many more servitors’ doors than the humans realized, or than the humans had designed, for that matter. But then, servitors had done a fair deal of the construction work on the moth to begin with.)
13610 had been loaded into a propaganda canister that it refused to dignify with a number.
And some of the math:
“Weniat to Colonel Ragath” ...
“Captain,” Ragath’s long-suffering voice came back, “one of these days I’ll figure out why the Nirai can recite transcendental numbers to hundreds of digits while drunk out of their minds, but can’t remember their own ranks.”