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Ancillary Sword (Imperial Radch, 2) Paperback – October 7, 2014
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Frequently bought together
"An ambitious space opera that proves that Justice was no fluke.... a book every serious reader of science fiction should pick up."―RT Book Reviews
"Superb... Sword proves that [Leckie]'s not a one-hit wonder. I look forward to the rest of Breg's tale."―St. Louis Post-Dispatch
About the Author
- Publisher : Orbit; Reprint edition (October 7, 2014)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 400 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0316246654
- ISBN-13 : 978-0316246651
- Item Weight : 12.3 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.5 x 1.13 x 8.25 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #77,097 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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Ancillary Justice at its essence had three things going for it: the Radch view on gender and the use of only feminine pronouns, a simple but effective rhetorical trick; the diffuse AI ship Breq and the legion dictator Anaander Mianai; and an otherwise very solid all-around space opera story and world. I was worried the pronoun thing would begin to grate. It did not, in part because Leckie wisely chose to shift focus away from it (apart from a bizarre festival that proves not distracting by being so forgettable). But it also doesn’t add anything here in the way it did in the first volume. As to the second (and much less appreciated) great strength of Ancillary Justice, there are no flashbacks to Breq when she was a ship and Anaander Mianai is almost entirely absent. Ordered to a new station, Breq doesn’t even interact with the Station AI! But Ancillary Sword’s real failure is that it isn’t a very interesting story.
Ancillary Justice ended with the two factions of Anaander Mianai now at open war with each other. Breq has been dragooned into the service of one. To that end, she is sent to an obscure, out-of-the-way system that is hinted to be more important than it looks (SPOILER NOT SPOILER: we finish the book without ever finding out). Breq, now raised to the exalted rank of fleet captain, spends the rest of the book ordering people about on the station and “downwell.”
Second acts in a series are difficult by nature. The author has typically blown a large portion of her expository load, you can’t have full resolution (and usually get even less than in book one), and the primary burden is to get from Point A of a great idea for a series to Point B of a desired climax. I’m not sure if Ancillary Sword fails for that because so very little happens and what does happen appears to have so very little to do with the universe-spanning empire stakes. There are a couple hints that may become the key to the whole thing, but we only get very bare hints. Perhaps this is one of those books that, rather than building on the first book, runs almost in parallel instead, with both books together building toward book 3 (Larry Correia’s Grimnoire trilogy does this to a certain extent, and Cormac McCarthy’s Border trilogy goes all in).
The main story is already burdened by its perceived irrelevance. The problem is exacerbated by a story that isn’t really interested on any level. It is almost structured as a mystery, but the components to the climax and resolution are either obvious or unknowable. The basic structure is Breq swoops in, sees obvious problems, dictates obvious solution, with an obvious reaction. There are a couple of good twists, but we don’t get a payoff for either. The climax would have served as a good faux climax, with a bigger and better one behind it, but is unsatisfying by itself.
On another level the story is no better. The Radch empire already had a bit of a British empire thing going on, and the planet in question is a tremendous producer of tea. The station has an ethnic underclass living off the books and downwell there is an oppressed worker class on the tea plantations. The local elite of course are utterly unable to see the problem. Breq, who knows just a little bit about everything, jumps in and starts fixing everything. The obvious problem there seems to have occurred to Leckie, hence regular rounds of oppressed folks reminding Breq she doesn’t know much of anything about them. But given the role of Mary Sue Breq has been given to play, they just come off as childish, kicking their heels at being made to take their medicine.
It’s unfortunate. I’ve long been an avid reader of fantasy and every other kind of speculative fiction, but Ancillary Justice was one of the books that finally sparked an interest in science fiction for me. I hold out hope that Ancillary Mercy will capitalize on considerable potential.
This isn’t your standard space opera, although it obviously has aspects of one (interstellar travel, spaceships and space stations and the like). The writing is too dense, so that it requires you to pay attention. She doesn’t spoon feed her readers, and we’re expected to remember characters and alliances without having them constantly reexplained.
She takes cultural ideas and turns them inside out— gender roles is just one clear example. It’s difficult enough for us to imagine a culture without fixed genders— Ursula LeGuin taught us that a long time ago, with ‘The Left Hand of Darkness’. In that book from 1969, the people on a particular planet were ambisexual, having no fixed sex.
What Ms. Leckie does is different, and arguably more radical. Here, the characters have the same physical gender differentiation we do, as is made clear when we’re introduced to one culture’s Genitalia Festival, with its brightly colored tiny penises hung all over the space station’s walls. However, no one in Radch culture is ever called by a male pronoun— everyone is considered female. In other words, people come in the standard two genders for purposes of procreation, but gender is otherwise completely unimportant to them; not just is everyone referred to as “she”, both parents are considered mothers, their siblings are all aunts, and the child’s siblings are all sisters. The enormous importance we place on gender and gender roles is simply lacking— something that Ms. Leckie doesn’t explain, but simply makes clear by exposition. And that is just one detail, and one not at the heart of the story, which isn’t about sex at all.
Ancillary Sword (named for a class of warship) is too densely written, too involved, for me to do it justice in a brief Amazon interview. Suffice it to say that any awards Ann Leckie has received (which is most of them, as I understand it) she has earned, and read the trilogy. Read it in order, though— an attempt to read this without reading its predecessor first will result only in confusion.
Top reviews from other countries
Ancillary Justice was released in 2013 and won the Hugo, Nebula and Arthur C. Clarke awards the following year. A fine space opera novel which contained thematic musings on identity, consciousness and pre-existing biases, it was a striking debut, if one that was slightly overrated.
Being a success, of course the novel turned out to be the start of a trilogy. This is where things start to go wrong for Ancillary Sword. The Imperial Radch trilogy is what can be called a "fake trilogy", where Part 1 is self-contained (to some extent) to avoid too many unresolved plotlines if sales tank, whilst the remaining two parts form a much more closely-linked duology. The original Star Wars trilogy is a good example of that, and it's a reasonably common set-up in science fiction and fantasy which can work quite well (and arguably is better than "proper" trilogies with a single big story, where often the middle book feels surplus to requirements). However, it doesn't really work with Ancillary Sword.
This is a book which has very bizarre pacing. The entire novel, which is only 340 pages long in paperback, is laid back, chilled out, almost languorous. Breq travels on her starship to Athoek and meets lots of people and is nice to them, whilst carrying out observations of them from her unique perspective (a starship AI living in a single human body). The other characters are a mixture of interesting and bland, but the novel stubbornly refuses to engage in anything really approaching a plot or giving them anything interesting to do. A representative of an overwhelmingly powerful alien race is murdered, but this has no consequence (in this novel anyway). There's a lot of politicking and capital-building, both by Breq and her subordinates, and some of this is addressed in the novel but a lot of it isn't. At one point we learn of a mysterious "ghost gate" leading to an unknown star system where Breq suspects something is going on. She resolutely fails to follow up on this lead.
Ancillary Sword, it soon turns out, is almost nothing but set-up and pipe-laying for Ancillary Mercy, the third and concluding volume in the series. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it is an issue when the book denudes itself of its own identity and storyline to benefit the later book in the series.
What the book does do quite well is character development, with Leckie also cleverly inverting the usual cliches of "AI wanting to be human" stories by having an AI become human and resolutely dislike the experience. By the end of the book Breq knows where she stands with regards to the government of Athoek and the administrators of the space station above it. The novel also makes some nods in the direction of themes such as colonialism, but treats the subject simplistically and superficially: no-one on Athoek but Breq has ever had the idea of treating the labourers fairly or even just enforcing the law on treating subject races well, apparently.
This is a slow-burning, SF-lite novel which feels like it is trying very hard to be a Lois McMaster Bujold book (who does this kind of comedy-of-manners, character-rooted story which holds back on violence and explosions with considerably less hype) but is undercut by also lacking the story and thematic elements that Bujold would include in her work effortlessly. If Ancillary Sword is anything, it's certainly not effortless: this is a turgidly-paced novel that took me five weeks to get through despite its modest length.
Still, Ancillary Mercy (**½) is a desperately slow and badly-paced novel rescued by some effective characterisation and ends with some plot developments that leave things in an intriguing place for Ancillary Mercy to resolve. How well it does so remains to be seen.
I found this book a lot harder to review than it's predesessor. The first book was a slow burn that really became a gripping read I couldn't put down with clever ideas and a grand setting. Ancillary Sword, its sequel starts off slow, and carries on that way for most of the book. That's not to say it's bad, it isn't, I enjoyed my time reading it quite a lot but it doesn't really push the overall plot or characters in any meaningful way.
Carrying on barely a week after Ancillary Justice's ending sees One Esk/Breq, Justice of Toren's last Ancillary, put in charge of the ship Mercy of Kalr and sent to a nearby system to defend it in the almost inevitable civil war brewing in the Radch. She then....sorts out a few local issues...eventually.... is kind of the story. It doesn't really feel like anything happens for most of the book and even thinking back on it now it's really hard for me to define what the point of it was.
Despite these issues though I read it in two days and found it a real page turner thanks to it being well written still with some neat ideas. Ann Leckie manages to develop quite a few interesting characters around Breq including Mercy of Kalr's soldiers who try hard to imitate being Ancillarys and often their personalities are defined by Breq sensing their emotions rather than them actually speaking which I quite liked just for being a bit different.
Overall it's a good book, well written with an interesting cast and neat ideas, it's just a tad slow and doesn't really seem to go anywhere. I'd still recommend it, but the tone feels different to the first book. I'm hoping the last part of the trilogy wraps everything up nicely as this really feels a bit like a filler entry.
+ Well written.
+ Some interesting ideas.
+ Decent characterisation.
- Very slow.
- Doesn't seem to push the series story at all.
And there's also a too-obvious moralising tone to the book where the upright commander / ex-ship is constantly showing up the moral weakness of the planet's rulers who are drawn really quite unsubtly as British Empire / Roman Empire style plutocrats, totally blind to their own prejudice and cruelty toward other classes/races. But it doesn't work because there's no depth to the drawing of the characters - they seem quite cartoonish in their words and actions, more caricatures than anything else.
All in all, not good. Especially when combined with a plot which moves at a pace which makes the movement of glaciers seem zippy by comparison. And at the end of the book the overall arc of the story set in motion so dynamically ion the first book hasn't moved on at all. Not sure whether to bother reading the third one now.