Sunday, January 11, 2015

Book Review: Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie

Ancillary Sword is the sequel to Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie. The prior book received quite a lot of praise last year and so the sequel has been highly anticipated. I'm glad to say the sequel is also pretty good, though I think I enjoyed the first one better.

Read on for my spoiler-free review.

Overall Impression
Another excellent book by Ann Leckie, Ancillary Sword continues right were Ancillary Justice left of. If you haven't read the prior book, I recommend you start there as otherwise this book will not make a lot of sense. There's a lot of implied context that will only be clear to those who read Ancillary Justice. That being said, this is a great addition to the series. It's not as strong as the first one, but we still have some of the same cool characters and a fast plot revolving around events in the Athoek Station.

Plot
As in Ancillary Justice, the story develops as you read it and as such you have no clear idea what may happen. The premise is simple: the newly minted Fleet Captain Breq is headed to Athoek Station to meet and protect the sister of her former lieutenant. The high levels of Radchaii society are in turmoil as the Lord of the Radch wars with herself. While Athoek may indeed be involved in the struggle, it's not clear in what way and so it's up to Breq to find out how... if she decides get involved. This is a wild ride that involves a bit of action and a lot of diplomacy.
Unlike the prior novel, all of it takes place linearly, that is, there are no flashbacks to past events.
A drawback, in my opinion, is that the story doesn't feel quite complete. A big mystery is left in the open; it's clear the next book will have to address it.

Characters
As before, this story focuses on Breq Mianaai, formerly the ancillary One Esk Nineteen of Justice of Toren. We don't directly see through anyone else. However, since Breq is a former ancillary she has a unique link with the ship artificial intelligence. She can see, hear, and experience anything that her crew does given everyone is connected to the Ship. This allows you to see multiple viewpoints without really shifting the focus. It's a clever way to present the story, though it can be a bit confusing at first. Veterans of Ancillary Justice (which should be everyone as this is the second book) should have no problem with this.

Just because the story centers around Breq doesn't mean we don't get to see others. We have a small cast of characters all maneuvering for political power in the Station. Furthermore, there are undercurrents of racism and personal vendettas that muddy the waters.
One drawback, in my opinion, is that Breq feels a little too perfect. As a former ancillary, she has a unique perspective and incredible knowledge and skill. Sure, she makes some mistakes, but others end up paying for them. The first book showed her personal struggle far better than this one.

Setting / World Building
Ancillary Sword is set in the same universe as the prior novel and so we are again experiencing all the intricacies of Radchaii culture. As before, Radchaii culture is one in which there is only one gendered term: she, her, mothers, sisters, daughters. Clearly, both genders are present, but they are both refered to as "she." It's possible to figure out the genders of a few characters, but the story is told in such a way that it doesn't matter. These aspects of Radchaii society, among others, are taken for granted as they were first introduced in Ancillary Justice.

Ancillaries are again a big part of the story. These are once-humans who know serve as the physical extensions of Ship AIs. Breq was once one and we see another Ship that still uses them. However, few Ships still exist that use ancillaries and it's a potential source of conflict among the two halves of the Lord of the Radch.

Speaking of Ships, there are three types of military ships mentioned: Swords, which are the big fighters; Justices, which are the troop carriers; and Mercies, a more all-purpose military type ship. Breq is now Fleet Captain aboard the Mercy of Kalr so it would have been cool had the title been Ancillary Mercy, just since last time she was on a Justice. Maybe that will be the title of the next book?

Final Thoughts
This was another great addition to the Imperial Radch saga. It wasn't as good as the first, but still holds up nicely. A good, if somewhat unpredictable, plot and good characters drive the story. Some of my favorite parts were the early scenes as Breq manages her crew and promotes their teamwork. The struggle of the Lord of the Radch with herself is still going on, but it mainly serves as a backdrop to this story. The book does end on a bit of a mystery, which makes the following one required reading.

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