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Review of The Dragonfly Gambit by

The Dragonfly Gambit

by A.D. Sui

The phrase “burn it all down” is a popular one, but how many people really mean it? What would that look like? A.D. Sui explores this in The Dragonfly Gambit, a revenge novella featuring a former fighter pilot with nothing to lose, an empire staving off a rebellion, and a small cast of supporting characters caught in the middle. I received a review copy.

Inez Kato was a hot-shot pilot for the Rule—until an accident changed her life. Tossed aside, bitter, and on the wrong side of the Rule’s fascism, Inez hatches a plan to take down the empire from the inside. Bringing this plan to fruition will require her to work with her ex, as well as the Rule’s new hot-shot pilot, and the general who oversees it all. Inez has no one she can trust, no one to back her up, and as she wrestles with her attraction to the general, she realizes she is running out of time.

As it is, this book is about power. Who wields it. What they do with it. Inez is nominally powerless, a prisoner, conscripted to win a war she is opposed to. Yet she tells us she is the one with all the power, that she has a plan to win the war—for the other side—and destroy the Rule. Is she delusional? Will she be found out? Or will her plan succeed?

There are some good sapphic elements here—the sexytimes stuff doesn’t do that much for me, and I don’t entirely understand the appeal of “enemies to lovers,” but if that is your thing then Sui does it well. There’s a good kind of love (or at least attraction) triangle going on here, limited only in the sense that, as a novella, there isn’t much time to fully develop the relationships.

In the same way, I’d say that Sui makes good use of a lot of standard tropes in military science fiction: decrepit, fascist empire; a rebellion; war-weary soldiers. Yet I never really felt like the story was interested in saying anything about any of these things. This is very much a revenge plot through and through; if you are hoping for a deeper story about fascism, resistance, or war, then you won’t find that here.

That being said, while I won’t spoil it, I’ll say is that this is the most satisfying downer ending I have had in a while. The Dragonfly Gambit is a tragedy through and through, and I admire Sui’s commitment to the bit. I picked up heavy Battlestar Galactica vibes—maybe it was the discussion of fighter plots and hangar decks and the mention of how rundown the ship feels after Inez boards.

The Dragonfly Gambit is a pitch-perfect example of the pacing appropriate for a novella. Too long for a short story yet too short for a full novel, the plot here works perfectly for its length. I read the book in a single day, though not a single sitting, very much enjoying the steady elevation of tension as Inez worms her way deeper into the Rule’s hierarchy. Sui has a good grasp of when to sketch a character and when to fill them in, and it’s this careful awareness that makes this novella so tight and satisfying.


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