Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie. ★★★★
I really enjoyed Ancillary Justice – the plot was appropriately twisty, and the underlying concept was intriguing.
From the back cover blurb: “On a remote, icy planet, the soldier known as Breq is drawing closer to completing her quest. Once, she was the Justice of Toren – a colossal starship with an artificial intelligence linking thousands of soldiers in the service of the Radch, the empire that conquered the galaxy. Now, an act of treachery has ripped it all away, leaving her with one fragile human body, unanswered questions, and a burning desire for vengeance.”
The protagonist is the hardest part of this to explain, and I can’t really do any better than the back blurb. Breq was once a spaceship with “ancillary soldiers” who where part of her AI network. Now all she has left is a single ancillary.
While Breq is described using female pronouns, I don’t know if she counts as a female protagonist. Breq makes it clear that she doesn’t really understand gender as it is a concept unimportant to the Radch. It’s clear that she’s thinking in a different language, one that doesn’t have female pronouns, and the author chose to translate this as using female pronouns for everything. Hence, there were sentences like, “I think she was male, but I wasn’t sure.”
I was wondering why she had chosen to use female pronouns instead of gender neutral pronouns, and I found an interview which seems to confirm my idea that she’s commenting on the “default masculine,” but this is never addressed in the story. It’s still rather strange to represent your “doesn’t think in gender” character with gendered pronouns.
The narrative alternates between the current day, when Breq is a single body, and flashbacks of her days as the Justice of Toren, which show how she reached her demise. For the beginning of the book, I was actually more interested in the flashbacks. In fact, until a certain point, it is difficult to make sense of the present narrative without the knowledge contained in the flashback scenes. Eventually, the two timelines merge seamlessly for a wonderfully climatic ending.
The entire plot set up and the concept behind it was fascinating. I can’t give away the underlying idea without venturing into spoilers but concise to say that it ties in fantastically of the idea of a person with multiple bodies.
I thought Leckie did a good job on the world building – her settings felt real and vivid as well as suitably different from 21st century earth.
I also really liked Breq. She reads as emotionally restrained – fitting for an AI – but she still comes across as having her own thoughts and feelings, which she seems to have difficulty acknowledging or accepting. I found her both intriguing and sympathetic and will happily read about her again in the sequel.
I would recommend Ancillary Justice to people looking for a new, interesting space opera with a different sort of set up.