Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Ancillary Sword Book Review

by The Wanderer

Author: Ann Leckie
Publisher: Orbit
Genre: Space Opera
Series: Imperial Radch Book Two
Pages: 456

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(Spoilers for Ancillary Justice are below).

Ann Leckie certainly made an impact with her debut novel Ancillary Justice. Winning every major science fiction award that it could, she’s now on every science fiction fan’s radar. Ancillary Sword is the sequel to that award winning novel, and the second part of her Imperial Radch Trilogy. I can only imagine all the newly added pressure Leckie is facing, and pressure unfortunately usually doesn’t bode well for a newer author. In the case of Ancillary Sword, Leckie rises to the occasion, writing a sequel that is largely an improvement over the first book, especially with the ending, which felt a lot more climactic and emotionally engaging than its predecessor.

The Radchaai have unknowingly entered into a Civil War since it’s leader Anaander Mianaai and her multiple clones of herself are at war with themselves.  Breq has allied herself with one of the more pacifist Anaander clones, and has now been bestowed with the last name Mianaai, and can act as a powerful member of that family. She’s given command of a new ship, Mercy of Kalr, and is sent to the Athoek System. There Breq hopes to protect the horticulturist Basnaaid, Lieutenant Awn’s sister, from the expected dangers of the oncoming war.

Without narration from One Esk – Breq’s past self – Ancillary Sword becomes a novel that’s all about the present.  Her journey to Athoek, the resistance she faces from the Governor, and the personal issues she has with some prominent members of the ruling class drive most of the conflict.  A lot of this works out in terms of overall plot.  The only major digression that made the book feel like it was stumbling was the whole mourning sequence that occurs after an Athoek is killed.  This wraps itself up fairly quickly and the rest of the story is able to continue.  I also found myself wishing to see more from Seivarden.  Her cynical anecdotes from the last book made for an interesting relationship between her and Breq, and this was a dichotomy that could have used some more development.

Breq continues to be a unique quasi-human narrator.  Her lack of understanding of humans is demonstrated with some lengthy conversations about romantic pairings and sex.  She also has one of her trademark confused “gender identity” moments, too. Breq’s identity as an ancillary seems to be important to the success of her mission.  She has a number of moments throughout the novel though where you have to wonder why no one’s confronting her about whether or not she’s actually human? She makes some pretty obvious non-human types of mistakes.

The novel also surprisingly doesn’t really focus on the Civil War that’s started at the end of the last book.  This is a strange decision, one that I was alright with, considering I enjoyed most of the plot that did appear.  At the same time, I really have no idea how this war with Anaander is going to be resolved, again a good thing, but at the same time I’d really like some more info here.  What’s going on with the potentially new group of dangerous aliens, and will Breq continue to focus on getting revenge on Anaander Mianaai?

The ending was a lot more emotionally poignant then the last book.  It was certainly a point where I felt Ancillary Justice was lacking, but I didn’t feel that this go around.  The final sequence works in some cool gravitational moments, and takes place in a neat setting.  It’s a much more satisfying conclusion, and it offers some speculation as to where the next book may go? All the above mentioned issues are really just nit-picky, this is an excellent sequel, and I eagerly await to see how Leckie will wrap up the series.

Score: 9.3

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