Monday, November 24, 2014

November Reading: Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie

My reading throughout the month of November has been sporadic at best. But, I'm reading which is a good sign. I began reading again by picking up Ancillary Sword, the second book in Ann Leckie's Imperial Radch science fiction trilogy.

As a follow-up to her much lauded Ancillary Justice, it did not disappoint. On the contrary, as her world-building has already been established, Leckie focuses this middle book on the main character, AI Breq/One Esk Nineteen, who has been given her own ship after having been promoted to Fleet Captain.

Through Breq's introspection, as she and her crew are confined to Athoek station and the planet it orbits, Leckie explores questionable social issues previously introduced in Ancillary Justice. These issues have arisen as a result of thousands of years of annexations or colonization by the Imperial Radch and their mandate to absorb planets and civilizations into their own. For example, the author digs deeper into the difference between being human vs. humane. The treatment of colonized civilizations are also explored in depth from the point of view of the conquered as well as their conquerors and the significance of the word "civilized" when applied in this context. This is most significant as the exploration is from the perspective of an "artificial intelligence" unsuccessfully attempting to remain detached. Gender blurring by using the female gender as default continues and in this second installment becomes organic within the narrative making for a smoother read.

The characters are isolated, and whether civil war within the Radch Empire has begun is unknown at this point as most of the plot is confined to a closed space. As a result the pacing is slower than in Ancillary Justice with sporadic action scenes. The slower pace and tight focus serve to strengthen the central character, as well as to give readers a better understanding of the Radch Empire, its weaknesses and strengths. The split viewpoint experienced in the first book through One Esk as an ancillary has not been entirely eliminated, instead it has transitioned and smoothed over.

The strong interpersonal relationships established by Leckie in Ancillary Justice are somewhat lacking in Ancillary Sword as those characters do not play a significant role in this story -- Seivarden Vendaai in particular is sorely missed due to her small role in this piece and lack of interaction with Breq. The high emotions between the new characters, however, are present and although Breq struck me as more of an AI in this installment than she did in Ancillary Justice, the depth of her humanity is blatantly displayed. A contradiction, I know, but true. Breq's bonding with her ship and crew is particularly notable.

What comes next? It seems that aliens may become a factor, as will ancillaries of some sort. Like Breq? We won't know the answer to those questions until the third book. Many of the questions raised in the first book remain unresolved. I do know that I won't miss the end of this magnificent trilogy.

Related Review and Post:
Ancillary Justice (Imperial Radch #1) by Ann Leckie
Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie: Reread Impressions -- Interpersonal Relationships

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