BooksOfTheMoon

Ancillary Mercy (Imperial Radch, #3)

By Ann Leckie

Rating: 5 stars

Picking up pretty much directly from where Ancilliary Sword left off, the conclusion to Breq’s trilogy again changes the direction of the series a bit, with things that have been rumbling a little in the background coming more to the fore. Breq is now publicly known as the last remaining piece of Justice of Toren and she must move quickly to protect Athoek system from the inevitable attack by Anaander Mianaai.

There’s a lot to love in this book and I pretty much want to just pick up the first book again and read the whole trilogy in one go, although I think I’m going to resist doing that until I make more of a dent in my to-read pile.

I think this book brings Breq’s involvement in the wider story of the Radch to an end. There’s lots more that she could do, of course, but I suspect that she’ll be quite tied up in the aftermath of what happened in Atheok, and its fallout, to take any further part in wider events. And I can’t imagine that there won’t be further events. The story of the Radch and its ruler at war with herself is rich pickings for further storytelling and I look forward to reading it.

As for this one, it was a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy. Not just Breq, but those around her got decent character development and all got a chance to do something cool.

Book details

ISBN: 9780356502427
Publisher: Orbit
Year of publication: 2015

Ancillary Sword (Imperial Radch #2)

By Ann Leckie

Rating: 5 stars

Breq is the last body remaining to an AI that used to be Justice of Toren, a starship with hundreds of ‘ancillary’ human bodies. All that was destroyed and Breq vowed to kill Anaander Mianaai, the Lord of the Radch, but has instead found herself made a Fleet Captain, put in command of the Mercy of Kalr and sent to secure a star system as part of an outbreak of civil war.

I loved this book as much as, or possibly more than, its predecessor, Ancillary Justice. That was, in essence, a fairly straightforward military space opera/revenge story. This book keeps the military flavour, but adds deeper political overtones, as Breq has to navigate local system politics, use but not abuse her new power and try and keep an eye on the greater civil war breaking out in the Empire.

One thing that I loved about this book was the fact that the heroine is working for the Emperor. It’s clear that, like all empires, really terrible things have been done in forging it (not least the creation of ancillaries themselves) and Breq is seriously questioning it (something that she couldn’t do as Justice of Toren) and growing as a person at the same time.

The supporting cast are mostly in shadow here. Seivarden returns from the previous book, but spends most of it on the Mercy of Kalr, away from the action. In her place is Lieutenant Tisarwat, a young officer foist upon Breq before the start of her mission.

The convention of being gender-blind continues here, with all characters referred to as ‘she’. I like this because it forces you to confront your own prejudices; for example, in my head the magistrate and tea grower (both positions of power) were male. No reason for this, but they were, before I realised what I was doing. But the gender politics are very much in the background. This is a solid space opera, with a lot of depth to it, and I really look forward to the next (final?) book in the series.

Book details

ISBN: 9780356502410
Publisher: Orbit UK (Little, Brown Book Group)

Ancillary Justice (Imperial Radch #1)

By Ann Leckie

Rating: 5 stars

The soldier who goes by the name of Breq is in the final stages of plotting revenge when she comes across Seivarden Vendaai, lying naked and dying in the snow. Why she stops to help him is something even she doesn’t know, but he becomes entangled in her own life and the fate of the galaxy hangs in the balance.

I really rather loved this book. Breq is something more and something less than human. Her body was once human, but killed and reanimated. Her intelligence is artificial, being the last remaining component of the starship Justice of Toren, trying to make sense of and work with a single body rather than the resources of thousands of its ‘ancillaries’.

Although Breq (or Justice of Toren) is very much the hero of the piece, the book never shies away from the fact that it was a military ship involved in the invasion and subjugation of many civilisations and planets. It’s done terrible things in its time, but in some ways this is a redemption story as well, with Breq trying, in her own way, to make up for her own past actions.

Breq is also a fascinating protagonist. Being part of an AI with multiple bodies, we get a first person narrative, but from multiple points of view, which gives us both the intimacy of a first person narrator, but also the traditional omniscient narrative, as Justice of Toren is seeing all these things at the same time.

At first in the book, I felt a bit thrown off-balance and it took a while to work out why. It was because all the characters that Breq met seemed to be female. It took a while for this to sink in. If they had been male I wouldn’t have even noticed. As far as I’m concerned, this is a good thing – it makes me aware that despite my best efforts, I still have in-built preconceptions, and helps me to try and break through them. In fact, in the story, it’s more interesting than that. The language that Breq thinks in doesn’t make distinction between genders, and the pronoun that she uses is ‘she’ for everyone (and finds it difficult to tell the difference between genders, as the outward signs vary so much between cultures).

Come to think of it, I have no idea if Breq is male or female. She’s referred to as ‘she’ by other characters, but I, think, always in the Radch language, so it’s entirely possible that she’s actually male.

The world-building in the story is really good as well. The civilisation of the Radch, to which JoT belongs, has been expanding for a millennium and eventually met its match with an alien species, and is forced to sue for peace. The Lord of the Radch has, like the ancillaries, thousands of bodies, spread through many star systems, so can always be personally present as the ultimate form of law and justice, meaning that the ‘centre of power’ is always fairly near by, rather than being some distant Rome, and that mind across multiple bodies is played in interesting ways.

So an awful lot in there to think about and digest, but also a really fun space opera with a twist. One of the reasons that I read this book when I did is that it was published in 2013 and I get to nominate and vote in the 2014 Hugo awards. From all I heard, this might be a contender for nomination. From my point of view, it most definitely is.

Book details

ISBN: 9780356502403
Publisher: Orbit UK (Little, Brown Book Group)
Year of publication: 2013

The Raven Tower

By Ann Leckie

Rating: 4 stars

The country of Iraden has been protected by the god known as The Raven for centuries. Now war is coming to Iraden, the Raven’s Lease is dying and the Lease’s Heir returns to the capital to take his place. Alongside him comes his aide, Eolo, and their world will crumble and change around them.

This is a really interesting book. It’s told in a strange combination of the first and second person. I’m not normally a fan of the use of the second person, but because of the way the narrative is being told here, it’s not immediately the reader that is the “you”, but the narrator telling a story in the present tense to Eolo. It’s interesting and clever and I find it works. I also really like the narrator and their story – they are a god, one of many that roam this world. The magic system of the world is really interesting as well: the gods have magic in that they can only speak the truth. If they say something that wasn’t true before, their words will make it so (if they have the power, otherwise it could kill them).

The narrator weaves their own story with that of Eolo and his master; and, I must confess, that I found the epic story of gods across the ages more interesting than petty power-broking and politicking in the present. At least, until the two stories started to converge.

Because it’s Ann Leckie and it’s expected to be mentioned, there is some playing with gender, although it’s limited to Eolo being a trans man, and being pretty universally accepted as such.

I certainly enjoyed the book (I must confess I still don’t understand the implications of the turning of the stone) and would welcome an expansion of the universe, although it seems that the story here is pretty self-contained and complete.

Book details

ISBN: 9780356507026
Publisher: Orbit
Year of publication: 2019

Provenance (Imperial Radch)

By Ann Leckie

Rating: 4 stars

Taking place in Leckie’s Ancillary universe, the points of connection with the Radch books are pretty limited as this book takes place entirely outside Radch space, although the events that Breq has set off at the end of that trilogy are referenced here, and, in some ways, set many of the events in this book in motion.

Although we’re outside Radch space so gender is acknowledged, Leckie still plays around with it a bit, introducing a third gender (nemen, with pronoun e/em). Never explained, it’s just there, right from the start as a normal part of society, which I quite liked.

The book starts with Ingray Aughskold offworld, doing something very illegal for, it turns out, very boring reasons: she wants to get an edge over her foster-brother for her mother’s approval and possibly be named her heir. I must confess that the “poor rich girl” stuff at the start put me off a bit, as I found it difficult to empathise with Ingray’s motives. But things are, as always, More Complicated Than That and soon there’s a murder of a foreign citizen, and meddling aliens to go along with local politics and I’m finding myself completely swept up in the story, and Ingray’s evolution as a character.

The idea of the prison known as Compassionate Removal (the euphemism made me smile) is intriguing as well. Ingray’s people know nothing about it, and consider people sent there legally dead. The person who returns is reticent to talk about it, but the hints e drops make me want to know more, and also speaks volumes about the society that created it. It’s a nice piece of worldbuilding, not that that’s a surprise, it’s something Leckie is excellent at. Speaking of worldbuilding, another element that I really enjoyed was the universal obsession with “vestiges” on Ingray’s planet. These are souvenirs of events, from a ticket to the space station to the declaration of independence; each family guards their own vestiges, I suppose the physical reminders of their history, jealously, and the idea that some, indeed, many, could be fakes leads to some interesting speculation about what that revelation could mean for the society.

So the book took a little for me to warm to but once I did, I enjoyed it as thoroughly as the Ancillary books.

Book details

ISBN: 9780356506982
Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group
Year of publication: 2017

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