REVIEW: Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

Ancilary Justice

Nineteen years, three months, and one week before I found Seivarden in the snow, I was a troop carrier orbiting the planet Shis’urna.

This is a hard book to review, mainly because what I really want is to find lots of other people who have read it, have them over for tea and discuss at length the politics of space-faring, the treatment of gender, AI’s as opposed to humans and the reality or not of free will. Potentially, there could also be biscuits. However, as tea and biscuits don’t generally work through the medium of the internet, I am going to try for a review.

Ancillary Justice is space opera at its best; epic, exciting and insightful. It is told in a most unusual first person voice, and moves fluidly between flash-backs and present day. Seeing as the protagonist is over 2,000 years old, it is a mark of skill that Ms. Leckie manages this without ever jarring the reader.

Set in the sprawl of a vast space-faring empire known as the Radch, the book is narrated by a character who has gone by many names; in the present day she is Breq of the Gerentate. Once, she was the space ship Justice of Toren with thousands of bodies and a simultaneous awareness of all of them. She is an AI.

The story is told in appropriately precise language; a reflection on the nature of our narrator. Language is also a factor in the building of Ms. Leckie’s world; for example, everyone is referred to as ‘she’ except for very rarely in direct speech. This is because, although the Radchaai have different sexes, they have only one gender (it’s okay, take a moment to digest it. There are different biological sexes, but no gender differentiation. It’s absolutely fascinating to read). Another example is laid out in the particulars of the language of the Radch; “Radchaai” is someone from the Radch empire or something particular to it, however “Radchaai” also means “civilised”. Someone who is not Radchaai cannot, by definition, be civilised. This is rather telling of their perception of other cultures. Outside of Radch space, “Radchaai” is practically an insult.

A certain precision lingers around the descriptions of the characters as well. Quite often, we will be given the exact amount of pins and jewellery adorning a person, or we will be told exactly what their face is doing, but given no clues as to why. This could potentially have become frustrating, but Ms. Leckie judged this style very finely so that we are being shown a non-human point of view while still being able apply our personal knowledge of human emotion and behaviour to decode the pointers that our narrator cannot.

The characters themselves are full and varied, quietly inhabiting the paper as if it were their natural environment and drawing the plot along so naturally that one almost believes it is coincidence rather than author design that their lives make such a good story. Most of the plot is driven by the single-minded obsession of Breq/Justice of Toren One Esk (our narrator), an obsession that has driven her for the last twenty years. I, unfortunately, cannot say anything else of her quest for fear of spoilers.

This is a story that touches on many things; revenge, justice, motivation, love. However, the question at the tangled soul of this book is ‘what makes something a person?’ It is not a question that the book tries to answer, though it showcases many differing views and options.

For example; AI’s live for thousands of years, and, if equipped with ancillaries, inhabit thousands of bodies as well as their ships. They are vastly intelligent, are known to have favourites among their soldiers, and can even go mad. AI’s are not considered to be people, even by themselves. Outside Radch space, there are races of humans so intertwined with technology that they are described as being machines with a biological interface. Their society is insular, and they do not ask questions. Ancillary Justice does that most wonderful thing; it inspires thought at a deep level, and I could honestly write pages and pages about the ideas that it contains.

However, rather than go on for hours about how much I love this book and how much I want to debate and discuss all the thoughts it has inspired in me, I will simply recommend that everyone read this superbly innovative work, and that they then leave me comments on this post so that we can chat about it.

A fantastic piece of work.

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5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Geoff Palmer's Knee
    May 29, 2014 @ 17:55:56

    Tangled soul? Mine’s a custard dream.

    Reply

  2. Intellectus_Speculativus
    Jun 03, 2014 @ 11:38:07

    “what I really want is to find lots of other people who have read it, have them over for tea and discuss at length the politics of space-faring, the treatment of gender, AI’s as opposed to humans and the reality or not of free will”

    Welp, Zoe and I have both read the book, and both enjoyed it tremendously (if I recall rightly re Zoe’s response). Sooooo… grad week?

    Reply

    • Meredith
      Jun 04, 2014 @ 10:48:51

      Yes! I can bring biscuits 🙂 Apparently there are more books planned in this series, which I really hope is true and not an awful internet rumour designed to fill me with false hope…

      Reply

  3. Trackback: Just finished the Imperial Radch Trilogy | Meredith Debonnaire

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