Tuesday, October 29, 2019

83. Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie

The second in the Ancillary trilogy and just as hyped and hard to find used.  Now that I have gotten my reading lungs back up to capacity, I am no longer so worried about reading trilogies and series.  The issue, though, is that I want to start reading them in order without such long waits between books.  It's not like there is a shortage of good science fiction and fantasy series out there, far more than I will be able to read, that I have to space them out.  And I find that when I come back to a series, I've forgotten a lot of the details and story from the previous book.

Such is the case with Ancillary Sword, whose predecessor, Ancillary Justice, I read this summer. 
Actually not that far back, but far enough that I had forgotten most of the secondary characters.  Fortunately, Leckie seems aware of this potential problem and puts subtle catch-up narrations in the beginning and throughout the book.  None of these are intrusive and they are just helpful enough that by the time the plot really got going, I was pretty much refreshed on what had happened in the first book.  Furthermore, this is an entire universe, so she does need to explain a lot to the reader.  Having the main character be an ex-AI, thousands of years old and still connected to a ship allows for the author as Leckie to do a lot of telling that feels like showing.

The story of the vast colonizing Raadchi empire and its slowly unfolding civil war continues with Breck, the aforementioned ancillary (the human bodies used by ship's AIs to do all their physical work) is promoted to Fleet Captain by the Raadchi tyrant and sent to a distant system to check on the shut down gates there (rebellious forces having taken to attacking gates).  Here we discover another colonized planet, this time for its superior tea and the cultures that have been suppressed/assimilated.  Breq and her crew (all women) sniff out the local politics, both uncovering the injustices that have been done to the locals and others while also seeing how they may or may not be connected to the bigger picture of the warring halves of the Raadchi.

This book is kind of a woke post-colonial revenge fantasy. If you had incredible physical power and influence and were say sent to America as the slave trade was starting, what would you do?  This is sort of the question that is asked here, in a science fiction setting.  Berq is sort of a combination superhero/Sherlock Holmes/elite diplomat-strategist caught in a war where both sides may or may not be evil whose goal is to try and minimize damage to the innocents caught in the middle.  It's very satisfying.  While there is a bit of ass-kicking, what I love in this book is how much of the real tension and excitement comes from super-polite dialogue and personality standoffs.  The Raadchi have an extremely polite society (which goes hand in hand with the atrocities of their colonization, which I believe is a point Leckie is making) and there is tons of great diplomacy and oneupmanship that goes on.  I also believe that every single character in this book is a woman (though gender and how it works is not totally defined for the reader) and I caught myself several times assuming that characters in positions of authority were men, even though they had already been introduced.  Old habits!

The climax in the first book was breathless and long with a ton of stuff going down and while I enjoyed it, it took me ever so slightly out of the narrative.  I was relieved that this one did not go down the same path, eschewing an over-the-top climax for something much smaller and more subtle that nevertheless delivered a very exciting and satisfying conclusion.

Great book.  I am very excited for the third one.  My only problem are the titles.  They are kind of interchangeable (as is the trade dress), so I keep getting them mixed up.  They also don't make sense, because there are different types of ships in the Raadchi universe: Mercys, Swords and Justices.  In the first book, she is a Justice (a troop carrier) and the book is called Ancillary Justice.  In this book, Breq pilots a Mercy (the smallest of the ships) and it's called Ancillary Sword.  There is a Sword that plays a significant role, but it's not the main ship or character.  We shall see what happens in the next book, Ancillary Mercy.

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