By Ann Leckie
Published by Orbit Books in 2013.
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. (Goodreads)
This book is almost impossible to succinctly explain, even the flap copy seems inadequate in retrospect. Inadequate because it simply cannot convey the many delightful complexities of this novel.
Ancillary Justice alternates between the present, in which the main character and protagonist Breq is visiting the icy planet Nilt on private business, and the past, where we learn how Breq is actually one of thousands of ancillaries– human bodies controlled by the Artificial Intelligence of a massive troop carrier named Justice of Toren — in the service of the Radch empire, where she is currently serving under Lieutenant Awn in the city of Ors on the planet Shis’urna.
On Nilt, Breq finds Captain Seivarden, an officer who had lived aboard Justice of Toren a thousand years ago, lying face down in the snow, and takes her under her wing. Back in Ors, trouble is brewing for Lieutenant Awn. The entire story is told from Breq’s point of view, which makes for an interesting perspective.
In Radch culture, gender is not something paid much importance (if at all). The social cues that allow members of our culture to distinguish between male and female are all but non-existent. And Breq, as the Artificial Intelligence of a ship, is even more so oblivious to identifying gender markers. To Breq, and the Radch, everyone is identified “she” and “her”. This causes some trouble for Breq, and definitely caused me some reading discomfort. Even now, I still don’t know if many of the characters are male or female.
The experience of reading everyone as a female is an interesting one, and I for one was glad of the challenge. The book forced me to take a moment and read more carefully, attempting to pick up some sort of visual clue as to whether certain characters are male or female. I usually failed, but it doesn’t matter.
While I don’t think this style of writing will be for everyone, I found it well worth the “trouble”, for the story itself is riveting, with a well-earned payout. I was easily drawn in to Breq’s world, caring not only for her fate, but the fates of Lieutenant Awn, Seivarden, and others.
I enjoyed the book so much so that I immediately went and pre-ordered the second, which happened to pub the week after I finished the book. So not long of a wait! More on that later though…
In her debut novel, Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie has presented a beautiful and challenging piece of work. While the challenges of it won’t appeal to everyone, those who put the time into this novel will be greatly rewarded. Highly recommended!