Saturday, May 14, 2016
The story picks up where it ended in Ancillary Sword, as Fleet Captain Breq Mianaai recovers in Mercy of Karl quarters, with Captain Seivarden Vendaai serving her, the always-needed, required, revered, solver-of-all-problems, tea. It doesn't take long, however, for things to change and speed up as, first, Breq is summoned down to station by the Governor to find an ancillary under custody. She is an ancillary fragment from the Notai ship Sphene, last seen over 3000 years ago. This new character, a vengeful and mistrusting Sphene, adds a whole new dimension to the story.
Closely following this news, Presger Translator Zeiat shows up looking for the previous Translator who was sort-of-accidentally-shot-dead in Ancillary Sword. This character not only adds humor through "cultural misunderstandings," but also provides that alien element in spades. Zeiat is deceivingly friendly and bumbling in her attempts to experience and navigate the human world. Yet, when she attempts to communicate thoughts or opinions about weighty subjects, it becomes clear that she/they (the Presger) do not really understand humans. And, humans don't seem to understand just how fragile and thin the treaty keeping them safe from this predatory alien species has become.
Soon after, a single segment of the many-bodied (self-cloned) Anaander Mianaai shows up at Anthoek Station, looking for Breq, and accompanied by two ships. The tyrant's presence sets up a confrontation between the adversaries, and it takes action in form of a battle, political maneuvering, as well as masterful manipulation, to bring it all to a satisfying end. One segment when the tyrant is many-bodied, you ask? Leckie does it! Read the book and find out… it's a noteworthy resolution.
And speaking of noteworthy, remember those fantastic relationships that Leckie builds in Ancillary Justice and continues to build along the way? Throughout her evolutionary journey, Breq has gained much self-awareness, yet in Ancillary Mercy she comes to some highly emotional conclusions, finding flaws and much needed clarity. Then there is my favorite secondary character, Seirvarden Vendaii, who makes a truly emotional impact in this last installment. Breq's journey would not have been the same without Seivarden, the same applies to Seivarden's journey. Here we see her battle addiction, character weaknesses, failures, and can't help but root for Seivarden as we witness her dependency, love, and affection for Breq. I love the resolution to their flawed, but warm, mutually satisfying relationship.
There are other significant relationships worth mentioning, as well as small details of daily life Leckie incorporates into this space opera. From the secondary and tertiary characters, I enjoyed getting to know Karl Five, Breq's personal attendant, with her priceless white porcelain tea set, her pride, and the stoic love/admiration she felt for Breq. I loved Mercy of Karl or Ship's and Station's strong voices and feelings, as well as, Breq's relationship with the always emotionally conflicted Lieutenant Tisarwat. However, those small details mentioned above complete relationships and fully realize this world: the makings of tea, the significance placed on different tea sets, the sharing of a favorite bowl. These are subtle details showing friendship or deeper feelings that are also used to emphasize an insult, manipulate a political situation, or as a show of strength. All perfectly executed!
I am not going to go into the end, except to say that it was perfect for the trilogy and that Leckie took it to its logical conclusion. I loved this book, this trilogy as a whole! I know this is the end, yet, I hope that Leckie will write more in this brilliantly constructed world. Whatever happens, I will be re-reading the whole trilogy soon. Highly recommended.
Monday, November 24, 2014
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
Wednesday, January 22, 2014
Ancillary Justice focuses on characterization and an action driven slow-to-reveal plot instead of space battles, however, it is definitely a space opera with all of the romantic, melodramatic action, weaponry and science fiction details that are required of such a piece. The world-building is pure science fiction with alien-like places that provide excellent atmosphere, excellent gadgetry, and a particular focus placed on details pertaining to AI and the workings and evolution of the ancillary soldiers. Another unique aspect of the world-building is that in the Radchaai language only the female pronoun exists to specify gender. Everyone is referred to as "she" or "her," so that it is up to the reader to carefully asses who is male or female.
CHARACTERS & STORY:
Although Breq Ghaiad is our main character and the narration is from her perspective, in reality, at times, there is a three-in-one narrative and perspective -- Justice of Toren, One Esk, and Breq. It sounds confusing, but it all becomes crystal clear and works quite well. Justice of Toren, a massive starship, once served the Radch Empire for over two-thousand years. Her artificial intelligence linked thousands of ancillary soldiers, including One Esk, the ancillary segment known for singing and collecting songs from different worlds. But twenty years ago, Justice of Toren was betrayed and destroyed along with her ancillaries. The only surviving segment of her intelligence is Breq, a lone AI soldier looking for revenge against the betrayer. This character's inner evolution and actions carry and drive the novel. She is thoroughly complex, with a hard core, the cold side of an AI soldier accustomed to violence and a sensitivity for music and love of singing that opens up unimagined doors.
My heart is a fishJoining Breq in her journey is Captain Seivarden Vendaai. Long ago, the arrogant and aristocratic Captain Seivarden Vendaai had been one of Justice of Toren's lieutenants, although definitely not a favorite one. Later promoted to her own command, she had been thought dead for a thousand years when her ship was lost during a failed annexation. Seivarden was found frozen in a space pod, but unable to adapt to losses and changes that occurred during those thousand years, she finds herself lost and unstable. Breq finds her nearly frozen, bruised, bloody and almost dead in a remote planet, now an addict and a wastrel. Reluctantly, she takes Seirvarden along in her quest for revenge. Seirvarden's relationship with Breq is filled with revelations about both characters and becomes a catalyst as each pushes and pulls. The result is one of the strongest factors in this space opera, character growth. "Sometimes I don't know why I do the things I do." -- Breq
Hiding in the water grass
In the green, in the green -- One Esk's favorite song from Ors
Breq's story shifts between the present and her past, alternating between chapters, as One Esk/Justice of Toren takes the reader back 20 years, narrating events that changed her world and lead to the present, and introducing Esk Decade Lieutenant Awn Elming. During the annexation of the planet Shis'urna, Lieutenant Awn has been in command of the city of Ors for two years at the request of the Devine priest. She has One Esk at her side along with a small twenty Esk ancillary unit from Justice of Toren under her command. Originally from an annexed world and a provincial House, Awn feels vulnerable in her position, but she is honorable, sensitive, brave and to One Esk, she is a favorite worthy of admiration. Her affair with the aristocratic Lieutenant Skaaiat Awer leaves her open to attack and eventually leads to disaster. Like tumbling dominoes, the devastating events that unfold in Ors end with One Esk set on the path to becoming Breq, the avenging soldier.
In the Ors sections, Leckie makes her revelations as the story moves along, divulging secrets at the most unexpected of times and keeping the reader on edge. Additionally, here is also where Leckie uses a multiple-perspective narrative from Justice of Toren and the different Esk segments -- a simultaneous narrative -- that gives the reader the complete scope of what is happening instead of the single point of view narrative. At the beginning, this style can be a bit disconcerting, but overall Leckie handled it beautifully. It is so well tied together that it seems possible.
Last, but not least, we have Anaander Mianaai the feared, all powerful and seemingly all knowing leader. Her actions in this story are questionable and she becomes Breq's bitter enemy. She is a key figure in this novel and a huge mystery. I will leave it at that.
CONCLUSION: If you want to know what surprised me the most about this space opera, it is how high emotions factor into the story, particularly since the narrator is well… artificial intelligence. I became so immersed and involved with the characters, as well as the action, that I didn't want to stop reading. Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie is the first book in the Imperial Radch science fiction space opera. It is unique for its focus on the evolution of its characters as opposed to space battles. What does it mean to be human in a galaxy where artificial intelligence rules, but is also used by humans as a nothing but a weapon to conquer and build an empire? What does it mean to be civilized? What does it mean to be human? With one of the best AI narrative voices I've encountered for a long while, these are the questions that Leckie poses in her stunning sci-fi debut novel. Highly recommended.
Visit Ann Leckie here.
Trilogy (Series) by Orbit Publishers:
Ancillary Justice (2013)
Ancillary Sword (2014)
Ancillary Mercy (2015)
The 2014 Sci-Fi Experience