It’s been so long since I’ve read a right and proper, complex, deliciously well-written space opera that when I finished Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie I broke my no new library requests until the end of February ban and put myself on the list for the next book, Ancillary Sword. I’m number 4 so I hope I don’t have to wait so very long. I already mentioned how the book plays with gender. It stopped being so weird after awhile to have everyone be “she” and slipped right into the background.
What’s the book actually about? It’s a complex story with lots of interlocking pieces. Breq, our narrator, used to be a troop carrier, a ship called Justice of Toren. Breq, or rather One Esk segment nineteen, is an ancillary of Justice of Toren, a human body connected to the AI of the ship. The troops Justice of Toren carries are all ancillaries of herself. They are all connected and can see and hear what is going on through each segment and Justice of Toren controls them all. The Ship has consciousness and her human crew, the captain of the ship and various lieutenants in charge of the brigades of ancillaries have implants that allow them and Justice of Toren to communicate directly to each other. The humans think the ship is just a computer but they are mistaken. Ships have favorites, and Justice of Toren’s favorite is Lieutenant Awn. Got all that?
So the first half or so of the book moves back and forth between present and twenty years ago. Twenty years ago Breq/One Esk was with Lieutenant Awn on the planet of Shis’urna, a planet that the Radch, an ever expanding empire, had annexed. They had been on the planet for five years, making nice with the new citizens and helping them adjust to being part of the Radch empire. Everything was going pretty well until it wasn’t. It turns out there is a plot afoot involving the ruler of the Radch empire, Anaander Mianaai who herself is made up of no one knows how many ancillaries. I’m pretty sure the original Anaander was human but she has lived on for thousands of years through her numerous ancillaries, expanding her empire and growing ever more powerful.
In the present, Justice of Toren was destroyed and Breq is all that is left of the ship. She is on a mission, out to take revenge against the one who destroyed her. People from the past keep showing up and she has to work hard to hide who she really is or else her plans will all be ruined. She is pretty sure she will end up dead when all is said and done. Does she get her revenge in the end? Yes and no. Does she die? She comes pretty darn close. And instead of the end she thought it all would be, it turns out to be only the beginning. I said this was a space opera right?
So great plot. Great pacing. Lots of cool stuff. But the best part is that is not all of the book. Because the book is also about empire and politics and class and war, about following orders (or not) and taking responsibility for your actions. And most of all, it is about identity. Breq is Breq and One Esk segment nineteen and Justice of Toren. She is not human but is often more human than the humans. She struggles with being lonely since until twenty years ago she has never been an “I” and never been alone. She discovers that while she is now singular, she is not actually alone. Breq also often battles with and is hindered by emotions. She makes choices she doesn’t fully understand. She is a spark about to ignite the dry tinder that the Radch Empire has become.