by Anne Leckie
Now, I'm not usually that much of a fan of first person novels. Personal preference. They all sound about the same to me unless the character has a really distinct voice. I picked this book up and (having just read a 1st person novel) couldn't bear it again, especially since the introduction starts you off with pretty much no information whatsoever. However, I came back to it, and I'm glad I did. The MC is both a starship, Justice of Toren and not a ship, as the book takes place across two different time periods which eventually converge. The book's title is made obvious when you learn that starships contain "Ancillaries" -- corpse soldiers slaved to a ship's AI and given superhuman implants. The two timelines contain the ship as is, full of ancillaries, and the future where all that is left is one, and no ship to be found.
This is a book about identity, and the entirety of the book is centred around that premise. What it means to be an individual, what it means to have identity, the little bits and pieces that make us unique, discrete units, distinguishable from other humans or even animals. The Radchaai, the semi-Roman empire whom the Justice of Toren (human name "Breq") serves, is ruled by the Lord of the Radch, a multiple individual with thousands of instances across the empire. The Radch have only one gender (she) and Radchaai often have difficulty determining the proper gender pronouns for non-Radch humans. I found this interesting and fairly novel, mostly in the fact that since this was a 1st person novel, I had no real way to imagine which gender people she was talking to were. There are hints, with non-Radch humans telling the MC she got it wrong, but at times this was a bit anachronistic, since the MC had been a human in non-Radch space for a long time, I would have figured that she'd learn, but I liked the idea from both a moral and literary standpoint. It was interesting to see my brain do flips when certain characters were revealed to be "male."
There's a lot of fine worldbuilding in Ancillary Justice, all much deeper than what we've gleaned from the end of the book. The characters are vivid, full of life, and the author's depiction of life within an aggressive expansionist empire nearing the end of its expansion is extremely interesting. I always appreciate when the "bad guys" are given a closer look. This book was kind of like reading from an immortal Stormtrooper's perspective.
If you're wondering why I haven't mentioned any plot, that's because there wasn't really much of one up until about halfway through the novel, when we discover why the future, singular version of the MC (Breq) is on a desolate icy planet. The pace picks up significantly, although at one point an entire novel's worth of action linking the two timelines is given about four sentences, but I understand that books can't all be a million pages long.
Given Breq/Justice of Toren's pretty much impossible goals, the ending of the book was about what I expected. Half-success, setup for a sequel. I had actually been hoping that this book was a standalone novel, but I'm okay with it being part of a series, although I actually mostly enjoyed the ships multi perspective 1st person, possible because it can look through all its ancillaries' eyes, and that's something that will be lost in following books.
If you're looking for a super action packed thrillride this book is not that. If you are looking for an interesting dialogue on individuality, morality and free will that happens to include pretty awesome spaceships and a very interesting universe, then this book is for you. Ancillary Justice knows what it's trying to say, how it's saying it, and it doesn't deal with all the extra fluff. Everything in this book is for a point, an idea, and one that I think is fully expressed at its end. And that, combined with an interesting look at character development from the inside and out, makes this book worth a read.
ONE WORD REVIEW: B/W/D?