Provenance by Ann Leckie. ★★★1/2
Provenance is a new, stand alone novel set in the same world as the Imperial Radch trilogy, a stunning space opera story that begins with Ancillary Justice. However, you absolutely do not have need to have read the Imperial Radch trilogy. Provenance takes place on a new planet and has a new cast. Readers who found the Imperial Radch trilogy confusing might enjoy Provenance more, as the narrative is more linear.
Ingray’s hunting for a way to impress her mother and one up her brother, her continual competitor. She hatches a risky scheme that involves her springing a political rival’s child from a prison planet. Unfortunately, the person she sinks all her resources into rescuing is not who she thought e was. But all’s not over yet, for Ingray’s thought up a new plan to salvage the situation. She just didn’t anticipate the involvement of aliens or a certain untimely death…
I really liked the world building in Provenance. Ann Leckie excels at world building. Ingray’s culture places enormous importance in vestiges, objects that were close by to some historical event or person. They’re obsessed with vestiges, and the person Ingray’s originally trying to rescued was accused of stealing eir family’s vestiges. If Ingray can find out what happened to them, she’ll hold something of immense political and monetary value.
The Imperial Radch trilogy was known for playing with gender, and the same is true with Provenance. Ingray’s culture has a tertiary gender system: men, women and nemen (who use e/em/eir pronouns). One of the things I loved about Provenance was how it showed (or at least hinted) that not everyone fit neatly into this system. For instance, one of the characters delayed choosing her gender for a long time and faced a lot of social pressure as a result. I read her as gender-fluid without the words to describe herself in a culture that doesn’t recognize genders outside of their tertiary system.
It was also fun to see how Ingray’s people viewed the Radchaai, who’ve been our focus and protagonists in the last trilogy. The Radchaai diplomat was absolutely hilarious — completely arrogant and obsessed with tea.
I did enjoy the family relationships in Provenance. Ingry’s an adopted child of a prominent political house, and her mother plans to chose her heir from between her and her brother. But everyone knows it will be her brother. Hence Ingry being so desperate to prove herself. The family relationships are strained and difficult, but there did seem to be love beneath them.
I’d heard Provenance described as a heist, which made me excited. Turns out, Provenance wasn’t as heist like as I’d hoped. I’ve seen other reviewers calling it a comedy of manners, which I think is a very accurate description.
Ingry herself didn’t stick out much to me. I didn’t dislike her, she was just sort of… forgettable. I think the same can be said of Provenance itself. While there were things I enjoyed about it and it was fun to spend time with, it didn’t stick with me much after I’d read it.