Imperial Radch #3: Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie

Read: 4 April, 2017

In this conclusion to the Imperial Radch trilogy, Breq’s efforts to bring universal justice to the Athoek system begin to unravel.

It’s difficult to review a book (and series) that I enjoyed so thoroughly. I loved everything, and whatever small flaws might have popped up were drowned by the tsunami of awesome.

In particular, I love Leckie’s ongoing theme of identity – what does it mean to be self? what does it mean to be separate from others?

In this book, we have Presger Translator Zeiat to make some of the questions explicit. Her playful identifying of cakes and her reaction to someone’s injury are the perfect mix of humour and mindblow.

I was a bit worried when I only had about 50 pages left and the plot didn’t feel even close to being resolved, yet Leckie somehow managed to leave me feeling completely satisfied. There are loose ends, of course, but they make sense.

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Imperial Radch #2: Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie

Read: 22 March, 2017

Ancillary Sword continues the story of Breq, now in command of her own ship, as she tries to protect the planet Athoek from the brewing civil war.

My mind was thoroughly blown after Ancillary Justice, so I had to stop reading. I knew it’s a trilogy, but it was just so good that I couldn’t imagine how the story could possibly move forward without being a huge disappointed. Since Justice‘s resolution is so satisfying as is, I was ready to stop right there. Yes, you read that correctly – I was ready to abandon the series because it was just too good.

But after a year, a review convinced me to give Sword a try and, peeps, it totally holds up.

In some ways, I even liked Sword a little better. For one thing, the main players and context are already established, so there isn’t that “new fictional universe” disorientation. It also does away with Justice‘s time hopping.

In other ways, I didn’t like it quite as much. More characters are shown to be single-faceted – baddies to be defeated. Raughd, in particular, was rather disappointing.It worked at first, to have this super charming, socially privileged, universally liked person putting people down in private and destroying their sense of self worth. There was a lot there to explore. But then Raughd started to play out more obviously, and became more of a caricature, and she became less interesting because of it.

But this is an extremely minor complaint. I still have one book to go, but I feel comfortable enough to recommend this book whole heartedly. It is mind blowing, thoughtful, well written, and absolutely fabulous.

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Imperial Radch #1: Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

Read: 7 February, 2016

I had heard really good reviews about this book from trusted sources, but what really sold me was the idea of a main character who is all genders (she’s had many bodies, and doesn’t identify as any particular gender). I absolutely loved Left Hand of Darkness for doing something similar, so I immediately put Ancillary Justice on my TBR list and blocked out all information about it.

Months later, when I finally got a copy and set down to read, I’d forgotten what I’d already heard about the book and came to it completely fresh. And it is wonderful.

As I was reading, I kept feeling like my mind was being blown. Not in the sense that I was confused, but the opposite – in the sense that something was suddenly making sense for me, that I was understanding a problem from a new perspective.

The story pretends to be about this quest that I won’t bother getting into, but that’s all just a premise. The story is really about identity – what makes the self? What makes an individual separate, unique? And this theme is explored from many different perspectives in both storylines. Sometimes it includes gender, sometimes not. Sometimes it includes free will/destiny, sometimes not. Sometimes it approaches it from the standpoint of cultural belonging, sometimes from shared mind belonging, sometimes from the perspective of a lone outsider. Over and over again, Leckie picks at this idea of mind and selfhood with an astonishing – and astonishingly unobtrusive – focus (I might even call it “single-mindedness,” but that’s a little too on-point).

The surface quest story reads well enough, though I’m not surprised to see some reviewers calling it “boring.” It’s true that there’s a lot of dialogue and a lot of narrative thinking, and the action scenes – when they do crop up – lack emotional intensity. So I can understand those complaints, even as I disagree very strongly.

The lack of emotion, the distance of the narrator, is something that a lot of negative reviewers have commented on. This is something I found very interesting because it occurred to me early on in my reading that Breq is autism-coded. Over and over again, I felt a comfortable familiarity with how she was thinking, how she was observing and processing the emotions of those around her. And while other readers apparently felt that the book lacks in characterization, I felt like I was getting to know these characters on a deeper level than I usually do in books. It was almost like I could feel Breq or Awn in the room with me as I read. And I connected with Breq’s emotional responses on a very deep level.

I don’t know if Leckie is on the spectrum herself, but she gets it. She completely gets it. And this is the first book I’ve ever read where I felt like the main character was honestly, truly, like me.

The languages of the novel were extremely well done. I enjoyed the immigrant experience of being revealed as different or thought weird because of grammatical errors, and Breq’s struggle to keep track of so many varied cultural traditions. I liked that, though English is used throughout, the narrator indicates when different languages are being used and how translations aren’t always really capturing what was really said or implied.

The Radch single gender – she – is perfectly handled. Despite Breq thinking of all characters as ‘she,’ and despite her frequently misgendering other characters so that they can switch genders several times even in a single scene, I never felt confused about who was talking or acting. Leckie did a wonderful job making sure all agents were clear. The only thing that threw me is that she would sometimes have more than one character speaking/acting in a single paragraph, but I was usually only confused because of the convention. Her labelling held up well.

This is an amazing book. Just to give a single flaw, the Epic Battle at the very end lost some of the book’s usual narrative tightness, and there were some moments where I was struggling to picture what was going on. But that accounts for a very small percentage of an otherwise fantastic book.

I highly recommend it for fans of science fiction and world building, particularly for anyone who is interested in novels that are more thought-experiment than action/adventure-type reads.

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