I loved Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie so much I was a little worried that I might be disappointed by Ancillary Sword. I began reading, holding back just a little, expecting disappointment and not wanting to invest too much but before I knew it I was in deep and happy as a clam. When I turned the last page I didn’t want it to be done. More please! There will be more. In October Ancillary Mercy will be published. I fear that will be the conclusion to the story and I will be bereft.
Ancillary Sword picks up right where Ancillary Justice left off. Breq, who is an ancillary and used to be a ship called Justice of Toren, has been given the command of Mercy of Kalr. She was given the command by the Lord of the Radch herself. Mercy of Kalr no longer has an ancillary crew, though the previous ship’s captain required all her crew to behave as if they were ancillaries. An ancillary is basically a human who has been implanted with all kinds of equipment and forced to become part of the ship’s AI. The ancillaries are soldiers but also the eyes and ears and mobile bodies controlled by the ship.
Breq in the singular is rather lonely. She could become an ancillary of Mercy of Kalr but she would then no longer be Breq. Because Breq used to be an ancillary she can communicate with Mercy of Kalr in a very different way than a human captain would be able to. All of the humans on the ships have implants that gives the ship access to their eyes and ears as well as their body’s functioning (heart rate, blood pressure, etc). The job of the ship AI is to take care of her humans. Because Breq is an ancillary, the ship can actually show her what the crew is doing through their eyes and ears. It is a small comfort to the lonely Breq.
Mercy of Kalr is sent to guard Athoek Station. On this station is the sister of the lieutenant Breq loved when she was Justice of Toren. So there is an interesting plotline there. We also have Lieutenant Tisarwat who is brand new and only seventeen, assigned to the ship by the Lord of the Radch. But Breq figures out pretty fast that Tisarwat is actually an ancillary of the Lord of the Radch and the ancillary bits are not working out so well in that body. There is also another ship, Sword of Atagaris which does still have ancillaries. The Radch empire is falling apart and there is a question about whose side Sword of Atagaris and her captain is on.
Toss into all this the continuing questions of identity that began in the first book. But add in another question — what is justice and what does it mean?
‘What is justice Citizen? […] We speak of it as though it is a simple thing, a matter of acting properly, as though it’s nothing more than an afternoon tea and the question only of who takes the last pastry. So simple. Assign guilt to the guilty.
Of course it is never simple and perfect justice can never be truly dispensed.
The writing is great. The pacing excellent. Since Breq can see and hear through the eyes of her crew (they have no idea she can do this) the perspective is constantly changing but is never confusing. It works really well for keeping all the balls in the air and all of the plotlines moving ahead together at the same time, there is no “meanwhile back at the ranch” kind of thing. Leckie does a good job of giving depth to even minor characters. And it’s just an all around great romping story. Ancillary Justice won a Hugo and a Nebula. Ancillary Sword is currently up for a Nebula. I can hardly wait for Ancillary Mercy!