Breq

Review: Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie

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Ancillary Sword is the follow up to Ancillary Justice, Leckie’s acclaimed debut novel. I have to say, this book was, for me, a more enjoyable novel than the first. Where the first is captivating in concept, its execution is often confusing and too busy. The second, in contrast, has a much firmer footing in plot development, character, tone, and pacing.

Breq has been charged with keeping the system stable following the chaos of the first novel. To do so, she goes to a primary station where the sys Ancillary Sword is the follow up to Ancillary Justice, Leckie’s acclaimed debut novel. I have to say, this book was, for me, a more enjoyable novel than the first. Where the first is captivating in concept, its execution is often confusing and too busy. The second, in contrast, has a much firmer footing in plot development, character, tone, and pacing.

Breq has been charged with keeping the system stable following the chaos of the first novel. To do so, she goes to a primary station where the system governor is housed, Lieutenant Sievarden and a new “baby Lieutenant” Tiarwat in tow. There, she is dismayed to find that the system in inherently corrupt, an entire population of people live in squalor, and the politics of the system have prevented any change, infact they have encouraged active resistance to it despite Breq’s new rank of Fleet Commander.

Maybe its my own adjustment to the gender pronouns (gender and sex are not so much the confusing aspect of Leckie’s gender dynamic, rather the singular feminine pronoun is standard Radchaii and the switch, often frequent and unnoted, in pronoun use in other AJ languages) or the less prominent gender dynamics and sexuality of the supporting characters, but the use of “she” as a universal pronoun was much less confusing and much less preoccupying in the second novel.

The plot in this book is linear rather than multi-temporal. In that regard, the plot is streamlined. Leckie isn’t building two detailed plot lines while worldbuilding, so things were less busy and there was more attention to plot development and character maintenance and development. I thought that Sievarden was a more likeable character, Breq grew into her new one-ancillary state more, and Tiarwat was a pleasant addition to the cast. Not to mention that Dlique, a side character who shows up for about 20 pages, provided just enough humor to balance out some of the more maudlin aspects.

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Review: Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

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Wow. For such a short book, there is a lot going on in this. I’ve been wanting to read Ancillary Justice for a while now, and, when I saw it a few weeks ago, I couldn’t really resist. I know I’m weak. But I’m not disappointed.

Ancillary Justice follows an AI system called the Justice of Toren. The Justice of Toren has been assigned to an annexation, and, while on planet, Justice of Toren and its human lieutenant, Lt. Awn, uncover a conspiracy that could only have occurred with the sanction of a high official–the Lord of Radch, ruler of the Empire. They do their best to divert the oncoming disaster, but are sent back to their ship. Shortly after they arrive, the ship explodes. Everyone is dead except a single ancillary unit of the Justice of Toren who goes into hiding under the name Breq. Breq then seeks the destruction of the AI that destroyed her units and the humans who lived aboard the ship.

The highlight of this book is not the writing style. Though Leckie’s writing is good, there’s nothing terribly outstanding about it. The real high points in the book are the ways that Leckie portrays heavy issues like identity and moral ambiguity.

The first thing that struck me was Leckie’s use of gender. The Radch, the conquering ethnic group, don’t use gender in their language. The Radch are a more androgynous culture. Leckie shows this by using she as the pronoun for all characters during narration. This was very confusing. The only time that we find out characters’ genders was when Breq spoke to people whose languages use gender. In the same paragraph, a character may be referred to as both he and she.

Leckie uses AI as an opportunity to talk about both identity and morality. Both discussions are interesting.

Ancillaries are humans who have been hooked up to an AI unit, often forcibly and for reasons that are often self-serving on behalf of the Rachaai. They become part of the AI and lose their independent identity. Leckie is constantly questioning what this means for the identity of the AI and for the identity of the ancillary. Can an AI be more than the sum of its parts, and, if isolated from the composite AI unit, what is the identity of an ancillary.

She also sticks her world in a very interesting predicament. The Radch use ancillaries as a way to avoid the corruption and cruelties that often accompany humans in war. However, the very existence of ancillaries–humans forced into acting as human tools of AI units–is atrocious. The efficiency likely doesn’t outweigh the cruelty of their creation, but does the avoidance of corruption and abuse justify the end?

Overall, there was a lot to think about. I suspect I’ll be thinking about Ancillary Justice for quite some time.

Rating: 4