Saturday, August 29, 2015

Ancillary Sword (book) by Ann Leckie

Ancillary Sword is the second book in Leckie's Imperial Radch trilogy. I highly recommend reading Ancillary Justice first.

Review:

I've basically been wallowing in Ann Leckie's books, especially this one, since July. I finished Ancillary Sword in a day, giving myself a whopper of a headache, but I haven't been able to review it because nothing I wrote seemed adequate. I decided to do a more leisurely reread, and then I signed up for Audible so I could listen to the audiobook. However, I need to finally get this review off my To Do list, so I'm giving it another go.

Ancillary Sword picks up where Ancillary Justice left off. Breq has grudgingly accepted Anaander Mianaai's offer of a ship, Mercy of Kalr, the rank of Fleet Captain, and even the name “Mianaai” and the advantages that come with it. Her goal is to travel to Athoek Station and find Basnaaiad, Awn's sister. Breq knows she could never make amends for killing Awn, but she'd at least like to make sure Basnaaiad is as safe and comfortable as possible. Keeping the Athoek system safe from Anaander Mianaai (it doesn't matter which one) is one way to do that.

Breq starts by doing what Awn would have done, finding the most marginalized people on the station and living among them. As a result, she becomes intimately involved in the tensions and conflicts between the Radchaai and the various ethnic groups that, 200 years after the area's annexation, should be doing better and be more smoothly integrated into Radchaai society than they are.

This is one of those books I appreciated even more after a reread. During my first reading of Ancillary Sword, I felt that it wasn't quite as good as Ancillary Justice. I adored the character interactions, but the story felt less focused. The second time around, I realized that Breq was modeling Awn's behavior in Ors, and I also had a better appreciation for what she was trying to accomplish.

That said, in each of my readings I felt the mourning portion was the weakest. Just as Breq was starting to accomplish things on the station, she was put in a position where she was physically removed from all of that and could only watch. I also felt that the social justice aspects of the book became a bit too obvious during this part.

Overall, though, Ancillary Sword has turned out to be a more perfect book for me than Ancillary Justice, in large part because of the character interactions. I can't say this book read like it was written for me, because if that were the case, it would have consisted of nothing but Breq interacting with her crew and Mercy of Kalr, Mercy of Kalr taking care of everybody, Kalr Five taking pride in her beautiful dishes, Lieutenant Tisarwat struggling with her emotions, and Seivarden trying to be a better person for Breq. And there would have been more hugging. But I loved what I got, enough that I've been reluctant to leave this book behind and move on to something else. This is my literary equivalent of a warm, fuzzy blanket.

I can't wait for Ancillary Mercy to come out, even as I worry that it won't live up to my expectations. I know this is supposed to be a trilogy, but I sincerely hope that Leckie decides to write more about these characters in the future. I love them a lot, and I'll be sad when it's all over.

Additional Comments:

It's immature of me, but the penis festival amused me during each of my readings. I can't help but wonder if it was a sly reference to the reaction to the books' usage of feminine pronouns. “Ancillary Justice wants to take all our penises away, so we'll all show up and make our penises as obvious as possible!”

Read-alikes:
  • Yukikaze (book) by Chohei Kambayashi, translated by Neil Nadelman - This is an English translation of a Japanese military science fiction novel. Like Ancillary Sword, it features a sentient AI, although this isn't immediately clear. I've written about this book.
  • Queen of Roses (e-book) by Elizabeth McCoy - Queen of Roses is different from Ancillary Sword in tone and general feel, but I figured I'd add it to the list because it's another good "AI as main character" story. I've written about this book.
  • The Pride of Chanur (book) by C.J. Cherryh - I'm adding this specific book because it's the only one by Cherryh that I've read, but I imagine others by her might work as well. Something about Leckie's style reminded me of Cherryh. Maybe because they both did something a little unusual in their works, Leckie using feminine pronouns as the default, and Cherryh creating an alien race in which males are viewed as too emotionally volatile for space travel. I've written about this book.
  • Consider Phlebas (book) by Ian M. Banks - I haven't read this, although I've seen it mentioned several times as being similar to Leckie's Imperial Radch books. Reviews tell me it features artificial intelligence, huge spaceships, a vast conflict, and other aspects that may appeal to fans of Leckie's books.

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