If there was anything any Radchai considered essential for civilised life, it was tea.
Ann Leckie – Ancillary Sword
I am compelled to agree with this thought, especially as I am right now drinking a green tea from a South-Korean island of Juju, something named Seogwang – and eating Satsumas, but thats beside the point. But where are my manners ? Good evening, and welcome on board of the I.S.S. Rover. It´s time for an excursion that is long overdue. and I´m sorry I made you wait.
Tonight we will take a trip into the Radch empire of Ann Leckie, a universe quite unique in it´s flavour to the usual space – opera settings. Not that she is doing anything radicaly new as I pointed it out in january, when I was writing about Ancillary Justice, but her approach is fresh, not to mention her style; and these were some of the key points when I chose to include her work in the early stages of this then new blog. It was a fresh, gripping work of a first time published writer, doing something new, and this book got published aroung the time I started this blog, where I was searching for a fresh start, going in a new direction, much symbolism there, so the Imperial Radch series of Ann Leckie has become essential to this blog, if not the flagship, as I would say that the flagship of this blog for the 2014 is the Black Company series of Glen Cook. But well we will see how things play out in the long run.
And this October the time has come for the second installment of the series – Ancillary Sword – to be published. And this time I was prepared for it, I didn´t wait till January to read it. I preordered the book, and got it about a week after it´s publishing, and about a week before my birthday: an early present for myself. And not only ordered the book in timely fashion, but I also read the short story Night´s slow poison -you can read it here – as a warm up. And boy was I excited. You can see why, if you read the post I wrote on the prequel. I was more than delighted I found this new exciting Voice so early. I jumped on the bandwagon that expected much from Ann in the future. These expectations seemed to be confirmed, or at least more heavily expressed and acknowledged as the novel went and won five awards: Hugo, Nebula, BSFA, Arthru C. Clarke and Locus. That is a heavy legacy to be established right in the first run. Not that it intimidated Ann Leckie.
The Ancillary Sword picks up right where the Ancillary Juctice finished: the conflict between the fractions/factions of the multybodied emperor/empress of the Radch is escalating, and Breq is unwittingly caught in the middle of it, albeit (s)he just wanted a revenge for him-/herself and someone whom (s)he loved. And although (s)he got what (s)he wanted – or at least partly – the story doesn´t end there. Breq doesn´t get to withdraw, (s)he is forced to take responsibility for the situation that (s)he helped to bring into the public. And as Breq survived the suicide mission of a revenge (s)he planned, that partly succeded and partly botched, what is left for her to do ? Well Breq went for the path of atonement and compenstaion for her own “sins”.
So after Breq got a command of a ship, and the right to command other captains of other ships, practically becoming an admiral without a fleet, she goes off on a search for the sister of the “someone (s)he loved“. And that´s pretty much the starting point. From here the story develops into something very different from what we have seen in the first book. It´s not a bad thing, but not quite what I was expecting from a book in a series that has more than “tight” connection to it´s prequel.
In Justice we had a sweeping, action packed revenge story against a somewhat sketchy, but nonetheless epic background combined with a sophisticated narrative jumping back and forth in time, not forgetting the interesting characters and their portrayal. Now, in Sword for the purposes of the further development of the plot the background needs to be coloured and expanded, and that puts the plot on hold. This also gives the chance to explore some themes and questions not touched upon in the first book, but that might be essential for what is in store for us and the major players of this story.
So we have much more world building here than in the previous book, and that is executed lavishly, but due to this beside the plot the characters suffer too. I was not missing really the jumpint forth and back in time, and what insight that was bringing to us readers as that element vanished somewher halfway through the first book, but the angry, frustrated Breq, who was bent on destroying someone whom he had served suddenly becoming – or reverting – to a “proper and civilised” citizen is somewhat irritating; being allknowing, and having the perfect solutions for all the social problems and tensions that she faces for the first time is a bit unbelievable. Yes, I know … Breq who was Justice of Toren has two thousand years of experience in colonising: administrating and pacifing those newly “acquired” planets. And as the ancillaries are a human component to the AI of the ship – and far from being mindless corpses, as they are not at all corpses as it is explained finally in this book – it helps probably understanding the human behaviour. But still Breq is not anymore Justice of Toren, not even part of it, or any other AI, so I would expect that (s)he acts a “notch” more reserved.
That is a small negative point for this book, but I actually suffered more from the fact that the plot was put on hold, I simply feel that it hurts the consistency of the overall story. Not that I didn´t enjoy the book. I enjoyed reading it, at least as much as I enjoyed the first one, but due to the aforementioned handicaps the memories of that enjoyment are weaker, and that will influence me recommending this book to others in future.
So this time we have colonialism, slavery and other social issues in main view, and the other themes like individuality, identity suffer. And besides Breq the other characters are pushed into the background, although it would be interesting to know more about how Seivarden is faring with the challenging situation he previously ran away from; or how is liutenant Tisarwat affected by the fact (s)he was briefly turned into an ancillary. I feel that there was enough room for them, their development too, but Ann Leckie decided to focus solely on the background that need to be developed. And I think that this decesion hurts the story more than the fact that the plot has been put on hold. But can´t everything be perfect. And despite feeling slight dissapointment over these “failures” I´m still eagerly awaiting the next, final installment of this story arc. If only we had more debutes of this quality I would have hard time choosing what to read next, and to even reread previously read books.
And thats it for tonight ! Soon I will be back with the final installlment of the Black Company (re)read project, and then turn to some different projects. Till then take care ! Captain out and over.