by Ann Leckie
Published by Orbit in 2014
Ancillary Sword is the sequel to Ancillary Justice, which just happened to be one of my favorite books of 2014. I really loved Ancillary Justice, but an important thing to keep in mind when you start reading Sword is that it’s very different from Justice. Part of this stems from its place as a sequel and a middle book. So how did it measure up to its predecessor?
As in Justice, Leckie once again follows Breq, an “ancillary” module of a massive, artificially intelligent troop carrier that, for reasons unknown until the end of the first book, is no more. The story is once again told using only female-gendered pronouns and, as such, readers will be left guessing the genders of all the characters. In doing so, Leckie also allows us to question gender-based preconceptions and stereotypes (ask yourself when you’re done—which characters do you think are male and which do you think are female, and why?) in an interesting way. Sword, like Justice, makes for very reflective reading.
Ancillary Justice was all about Breq and Breq’s history – how did she get to Nilt? Why is she there? Where is the ship she was a part of? Why does she want to kill the ruler of the Radch? In Justice, these are driving questions, and they appear along with larger questions of what it means to be alive and be human and what makes a person an individual. In Ancillary Sword, most of the smaller questions have been answered (the larger ones remain in the background), but new questions are also posed: who is working with the other Mianaii? How can Breq make amends with those she has wronged in the past? How can she best protect the people on Station? And what is going on on the planet below? Once again, larger questions are also posed, this time about power, privilege, education, and class. All of this is wound up in a story of political intrigue set partially on a space station, and partially on a planet known for its tea production (tea is a valued Radchaai commodity).
You’ll have to be patient with this book, for Breq is all about patience and minute political maneuvers. In every situation she seems to move an inch at a time and as a result you never really see where she’s going with something until she’s there. This is sometimes done to the book’s detriment; For all its exciting cover art and title, Sword is not an action book. It’s a slow burn, but the reveal at the end is the real payoff to this novel. It’s only in the last chapter when everything seems to fall into place. We see the pieces lining up clearly, but I still can’t see where they end.
Ancillary Mercy, the planned third installment in a trilogy, is set to release in October of this year. I’ll be eagerly awaiting its arrival until then. If you are a fan of Ancillary Justice, I suggest you pick this one up now so you’re good and ready when the third book hits. If you haven’t read my review of Ancillary Justice yet, you can check it out here, and if you haven’t read the book yet, well, what are you waiting for?