It is intrigue and revenge set in space with AI's, aliens, advanced technology, and galactic politics-- science fiction, anyone? Ann Leckie does something fresh and deep with her multi-award-winning debut novel.
Set in a futuristic world, the Radch empire (the “true” humans) has been conquering and “civilizing” entire planets and civilizations for generations. They possess AI’s who control entire ships and many human bodies called ancillaries (humans who were “annexed” from the conquered worlds and reprogrammed for AI use). These ancillaries are not considered human. One ancillary, Breq, has lost her ship and the rest of her “body,” stuck in one body for the past thousand years, and is now on a mission of revenge against the empire.
This novel is more sophisticated and subtle than a revenge or action story. It is a fascinating character study of Breq who is not human but pretends she is to survive and take revenge, as well as a character study of the world under Radch rule. It seems incongruous one person can take revenge against an empire effectively, yet Leckie makes it work with a carefully structured world and story.
More than just excellent world building, Leckie excels with a “show, don’t tell” way of capturing this world and what being human means. There are flashbacks to moments that eventually build a picture of the Radch empire, its use of ancillaries, the political atmosphere, and the changes over the years, all inter-connected to Breq’s mission. Leckie captures how advances in technology have changed lives and perspectives. One intriguing nuance is the use of gendered pronouns—the “civilized” world uses “she” to describe everyone, and there are some interesting culture clashes when they meet people who are “less” civilized and still used gendered pronouns. All these together make this story such an intriguing read.
There is a supporting character that balances the story and reveals information about Breq and the Radch world. Seivarden Vendaii was someone somewhat high ranking and now is practically nobody. She was in stasis for a thousand years and has been reawakened, getting her own culture shock. Breq and Seivarden are both insiders and outsiders in this world, and Leckie captures these perspectives well.
Look for Ancillary Justice and its sequel, Ancillary Sword, in the VBPL Catalog. For another introspective look at minds with disposable bodies, try Chaz Brenchley’s Rotten Row.