Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genre: science fiction
Series: Imperial Radch #2
Length: 359 pages
Date Released: October 7, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository
What if you once had thousands of bodies and near god-like technology at your disposal?
And what if all of it were ripped away?
The Lord of the Radch has given Breq command of the ship Mercy of Kalr and sent her to the only place she would have agreed to go — to Athoek Station, where Lieutenant Awn’s sister works in Horticulture.
Athoek was annexed some six hundred years ago, and by now everyone is fully civilized — or should be. But everything is not as tranquil as it appears. Old divisions are still troublesome, Athoek Station’s AI is unhappy with the situation, and it looks like the alien Presger might have taken an interest in what’s going on. With no guarantees that interest is benevolent.
If you love SF and particularly space opera, or even if you just remember it fondly, you absolutely have to read the first book in Ann Leckie’s Imperial Radch series, Ancillary Justice (reviewed pretty damn enthusiastically here). Go forth now and read. Don’t worry, I’ll wait.
Ancillary Justice won all the SF awards this year, and there’s a reason – it’s absolutely marvelous. All the great things everyone has said are all true.
Ancillary Sword is the followup, and it was worth the wait. I’m now desperately hoping for a third, because Breq’s journey is clearly not done. The Imperial Radch, and the Leader of the Radch still very much need Breq’s help. Even if, or especially because, Anaander Mianaai’s right hand is plotting a coup against its left hand.
Breq is the only person that the Leader seems to even semi-trust. (When you are literally at war with parts of yourself, full-trust of anyone is out of the question. If you can’t trust yourself, who can you trust?)
Why the trust? Because Anaander Mianaai is a many-cloned being who can be in multiple places at the same time because all the clones carry her consciousness. It’s just that the empire has gotten so huge that instantaneous communication is no longer possible. Lack of coordination breeds confusion and civil war. The clones have different agendas, or at least different visions of the future of the Radch.
Breq knows what it is like to be one among many of yourself; she used to be a ship, Justice of Toren. In the 20 years since one part of the Leader of the Radch ordered her to kill the officer that she cared for, Breq has been concealing her identity and searching for a way to get the Leader’s attention.
Now she’s got it, and not necessarily in a way that she wants. What she can’t get is either her beloved Lieutenant Awn back or her place as one of many ancillaries on a ship. Breq is now singular, alone in her own head, and she has to find a way to be, if not human, at least an independent person with only one body and one perspective.
She is also aware that one of the Anaander factions may have decided that the best way to continue the Radch is to enslave or kill a lot of the people in it. For various definitions of enslave, kill and even people.
Breq has one ship, one crew and one mission; to preserve Athoek Station, its jump gate, and the population that live on the station and the breadbasket planet below.
But Breq’s method of preserving the planet will upset all the powers-that-be not only on Athoek, but all the way back to the heart of the empire. When both sides are serving the empire, how do you decide who the traitors are?
Escape Rating A: One of the fascinating things in Ancillary Justice is Breq’s identity. She doesn’t see herself as having gender (ships, after all, don’t) and the Radch uses a genderless noun, Citizen, for all its people. Breq refers to everyone as “she”. It does rather turn convention on its head.
Breq has a female body, but that isn’t what affects her perspective. She is much more aware of not being an ancillary any more, and not being one of the many limbs of a ship. She misses it, and she misses being part of the whole. But her consciousness of the difference, and her awareness that ancillaries are enslaved people who have been stripped of their identity informs her actions; as does her awareness of the preciousness of life. At the same time, she still has the perspective of the efficiency of the machine; she is always looking for the best way to get the job done, and she doesn’t care who she upsets in the process. She doesn’t care, in the human sense, about very many people. While her ability to empathize is often lacking, she often finds the compassionate solution simply because she doesn’t care what people think.
There is a lot of very human skullduggery in this story that Breq has to figure out and eliminate. The civil war in the Radch is upsetting the status quo, and there are a lot of people on Athoek who are extremely invested in the status quo. Including many officers who believe that their actions serve the Radch, and who may or may not be right.
The overall story is of Breq learning to be human. Or at least to be an individual. She knows all the right things to do, and sometimes she manages to do them. What is interesting is watching her adjust through her pain at being separate, while acknowledging that it is the right thing to do. On the other hand, what she doesn’t see is that the pain and working through it makes her more human.
While the particular problems in Ancillary Sword do get wrapped up, the ending makes it very clear that there will be more to Breq’s story (thank goodness). I’ve seen a reference to the title as AM, so my bets are on Ancillary Mercy, as Mercy of Kalr is Breq’s ship. Or rather, the ship that she is captain of. Her original ship was Justice of Toren (hence Ancillary Justice) and the ship who gives her the most trouble in this book is Sword of Atagaris (therefore Ancillary Sword). Whatever the title of book 3 in the Imperial Radch saga, I can’t wait.