Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Review: Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

On a remote, icy planet, the soldier known as Breq is drawing closer to completing her quest.

Breq is both more than she seems and less than she was. Years ago, she was the Justice of Toren--a colossal starship with an artificial intelligence linking thousands of corpse soldiers in the service of the Radch, the empire that conquered the galaxy.
An act of treachery has ripped it all away, leaving her with only one fragile human body. And only one purpose--to revenge herself on Anaander Mianaai, many-bodied, near-immortal Lord of the Radch.

From debut author Ann Leckie, Ancillary Justice is a stunning space opera that asks what it means to be human in a universe guided by artificial intelligence.

Writing this review was harder than I thought, because while the setting of Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice is complex and multi-layered, the author builds the world in such an effortless way that it feels much simpler. So I’m afraid this review is going to be less review and more me just gushing about this book.

Bottom line: I adored Ancillary Justice.

Breq is an ancillary, one of the fabled “corpse soldiers” of the ship Justice of Toren. In the world of the Radch Empire, ancillaries are soldiers linked to the main Artificial Intelligence of the ship, in effect creating a force that thinks with one mind. The ancillaries are basically dead, people captured and enslaved (for lack of a better word) when the Radch conquered their planets.

Breq is no longer part of Justice of Toren, after a disaster that killed all of her ship officers and ancillaries, leaving just her. It’s a fascinating premise, and Leckie adds in copious amounts of alien etiquette, political intrigue, and good old-fashioned revenge to keep the story moving.

I won’t lie: this is a story that isn’t always easy to read. In the Radch, everyone is referred to by a feminine pronoun, so it’s hard to remember that sometimes the “she” being referred to isn’t actually female. In addition, there are numerous characters, sentient ships, and a rank structure that isn’t always clear (just about all of the human officers are lieutenants, albeit with different levels of responsibility, if that makes sense). All of this forces the reader to completely abandon the world they know and dive head first into the one Leckie builds. It’s a risky premise, and one that the author accomplishes quite well.

Not everyone will like this, though. Sci-fi readers expecting something a little faster paced and a little more commercial in feeling (like say Ann Aguirre’s Sirantha Jax series) may be left feeling confused and bored. There is a ton of necessary world-building in this book, and the political back and forth can be a tad confusing at times. But die hard sci-fi fans looking for something new will most definitely find it in Ancillary Justice. All in all, the book does what sci-fi should (and doesn’t always) do well: take the reader to a place both familiar and alien as well as tell a damn good story.

I highly recommend Ancillary Justice for fans of good old-fashioned sci-fi and everyone looking for something satisfyingly different.

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