On a remote, icy planet, the soldier known as Breq is drawing closer to completing her quest. Once, she was the Justice of Toren – a colossal starship with an artificial intelligence linking thousands of soldiers in the service of the Radch, the empire that conquered the galaxy. Now, an act of treachery has ripped it all away, leaving her with one fragile human body, unanswered questions, and a burning desire for vengeance.
Before I go any further I’ve decided to put the synopsis of a book before my reviews. This will be either directly from the book, or from goodreads. I will not consider anything mentioned in this synopsis a spoiler, and I will not post any warnings before talking about it. When I do touch on something that might be a spoiler I will be changing the font color to match the background. Just highlight the selected area if you wish to read it.
Okay, let’s start with the good because there are a few things here that I love. First, this is a space opera which I realize for many is a red flag, but for myself is a huge plus. I love epic adventures in space. I love the space battles (although there aren’t any in this book), the tech (which is more cool than hard science technical!), all the new and exotic worlds, the ships, AI etc. I just love it all!
I should note, again, that in this space opera there is a distinct lack of space battles. There are actually only a handful of fighting scenes of any variety in this book for that matter. That said there are a few as well as other cool scenes peppered in. The action definitely ramps up more toward the end of the story.
Ancillary Justice also switches between POVs which slows the story down a bit in the beginning, and if you aren’t used to that sort of thing might make it harder to get figure out what’s going on. If you’ve read Jemisin or Rothfuss you’ll have no problem staying with the story. (If you haven’t.. OMG you need to do so asap!) Likely you will put the pieces together very early on. I know I did. All told I felt the story actually moved at a pretty brisk pace even when nothing much was happening.
Second, the story follows an ancillary of the starship Justice of Toren who is on a mission for vengeance some 20 years in the making. Ancillaries are basically humans wiped clean, and re-purposed to serve advanced AI ships. Ancillaries are extensions of starships much the same way an arm is an extension of a person. More like a tool/weapon actually. They share an identity with each other and the ship, but are also self aware as well. Quite a few reviews that I’ve read didn’t really like or connect with out ancillary, but I personally loved her/it/them.
Third, I’m very intrigued by the Lord of the Radch. She has many clones of herself spread throughout the empire to help her rule. It also makes her basically immortal. As far as I know she isn’t herself an AI with ancillaries, but like them her many clones share an identity while being self aware. A thousand years ago there was a rift between the main identity. Now parts of her are at war with each other. They have been playing a kind of cold war to keep the majority of her clones in the dark, and so to keep this war from her greater identity. Once this is let out of the bag the cold war moves to a civil war. I really look forward to seeing how this plays out!
The Radch itself felt rather vanilla to me. Don’t get me wrong Leckie does enough world building to make it feel real, but at the end of the day it was just another empire. I did like how the book gives multiple points of view. For instance from the Radch perspective they are simply an expansionist empire spreading civilization. From the ‘uncivilized’ the Radch they are evil murderous bastards. Leckie also shows how injustice is done outside the empire as well as how there are those inside the empire who decry the empire’s treatment of others.
Okay now for my only real complaint. Leckie decided to make the Radch, and by extension our ancillary blind to gender. Their language doesn’t distinguish between genders. They just by default use the feminine pronoun regardless of sex/orientation. This book has been out for a few years, and with all the buzz around it I knew this going in. I didn’t really think much of it, but it ended bothering me quite a lot.
I mean I get that Leckie wants to make a statement about default male in literature, and the world in general. The thing is that the way this is done kept throwing me out of the story completely. I kept trying to keep track of who was what, and eventually I just decided that they would all just be females. It was just easier. Plus lots of lesbians so yay! Seriously it would have been just as jolting we called every female character by a male pronoun even when we knew they were women.
If Leckie’s goal was to create a society that was truly genderless she failed in two ways. First the Radch empire isn’t genderless!! The empire is made up of many cultures with each one we see having multiple sexes, and their citizens acknowledging these different sexes. Calling them all she doesn’t change that fact.
Second, the very act of assigning every sex a female gender as a way of making them genderless actually draws more attention to gender! If she had wanted to point out that they were all equal, and gender had somehow no longer become something worth mentioning then why not call the sexes them, they, it, you, human, citizen, or something, you know, genderless!
Besides which saying that humanity could ever get to the point where we don’t acknowledge gender at all is beyond naive. Even in a perfect utopia where all people are treated equally irregardless of sex, race, religion etc. we are curious beings who constantly try to define the world around us. It would be like saying in the future we now ignore colors. All color will now be referred to as gray. Not because we are color blind, but because all colors are equal.
And I could make the argument that Leckie was doing exactly that because her ancillary was basically color blind in regards to gender. It just couldn’t tell, or care enough to try to tell the difference between male or female. (Again why not go with citizen, human etc.?) I could make that argument except this isn’t just an AI thing. No it is supposed to be an entire human civilization thing.
So yeah at the end of the day this just felt like a gimmick. One that pulled me out of the story over, and over again. Despite all that I loved the story itself and highly recommend it. So much so that I might have given this 5 stars, but settled for 4 instead. I do still want to finish the series, and actually have already checked out the next book from my library.
My Rating: ☆☆☆☆