Thursday, December 4, 2014

Book Review: Ancillary Sword

37. Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie

If Ancillary Justice was an epic space opera bursting with its core concept, Ancillary Sword is the magnifying glass pulled closer, examining the implications of this universe, and this character, on just one planet.

One of my favorite aspects of Ancillary Justice was the twin story arcs, one from the past, and one in the present, that cohered to explain the narrator, Breq's, identity. The first book had an epic ending to go with its epic scope, but the second book picks up in the same place. Going forward is slower going and makes for a different, but no less thoughtful, novel. The pace is different, instead of a race to discover the corruption at the heart of civilization, this is a slower, more revealing investigation of the injustices on just one planet (okay, solar system).

Breq, now Breq Mianaai, official cousin to Anaander Mianaai, leader of the Radch empire, is sent to protect the Athoek System from the recently outbroken war. It contains the only person she longs to protect, Basnaaid Elming, the sister of her beloved lieutenant Awn Elming, whom she knew when she was a ship. When there, we see Breq behave instinctively like Lieutenant Awn in the first book, gravitating towards the lowest on the totem pole. There are plenty of social injustices for Breq to mend, and the reader gets a fuller picture of gender and social dynamics in the Radch empire. Sadly, we realize that, with or without feminine pronouns, rape and exploitation continue.

The reader receives more clues here too about Breq's body, which for me, lead to some unanswered questions--do ancillaries age, and is it or is it not possible to revive original memories after becoming an ancillary? The hints on these topics are, I think, intentionally blurred, and while I'm betting there will be more answers in the next book, I don't expect to discover Breq's actual gender, for example. The books only work on a conceptual level with certain layers of mystery intact.

If you haven't yet read Ancillary Justice, I highly recommend it. If you are a fan, you will probably like Ancillary Sword too, but you should know that it's a different sort of book. I wouldn't jump into this sequel without having read the first, because you'll miss a lot about Breq's character, though it could still work on the social injustice thread level.

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