June 13, 2014

Review: Ancillary Justice

Ancillary Justice
Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is apparently very popular at my library. I had to get on a hold list to check it out, and there are people waiting to read it after me.

The reason for this could be the little award it just won (among several others, and I will bet money it will pick up a Hugo as well) called the Nebula Award for Best Novel.

Seriously, it's fantastic.

And I say this as a reader who had a bit of a hard time getting into it. In the beginning, the writing style comes off as almost flat...it's very detached, pragmatic, and unemotional throughout. (Except for when Breq saves Seivarden's ass. S/he [I use this deliberately; if you've read the book, you know why] doesn't know why s/he did this, and I really don't either. It seems like s/he would be much better off without his whining presence. Hopefully this will be addressed in the sequel.) It's only later on that you realize this narrative voice is perfect for the story...because the protagonist is not human at all, but an artificial intelligence downloaded into an organic body, the last surviving segment of the troop carrier Justice of Toren.

This is definitely not a quick beach read. It's a book that demands your full attention, to be read slowly and savored. There are nuances here that I think it would take more than one reading to puzzle out. (Which is why I'm late returning it...I'll have to pay a fine, but oh well) The roots of this story run deep, literally three thousand years, in the case of the antagonist, the dictator Anaander Mianaai. (Leckie definitely likes her doubled a's.) But the antagonist, like the protagonist, is not necessarily a bad person (and both are/were not really people at all, but intelligences split between multiple bodies), but a complex character with motivations who is the hero of his/her own story, whether or not the reader agrees with the methods and outcomes.

There's so much here I literally can't list it. There's two storylines running at ones, present day and twenty years ago, with overtones centuries old. There's a unique concept of artificial intelligence (and a really creepy scene where a human kept in stasis in Justice of Toren's hold is defrosted to be pressed into service as an "ancillary," to be taken over--in reality, killed, not bodily but the personality completely erased--by the starship's AI. This person is never identified as anything but "it," which it would be, to a galaxy-spanning starship). There are scenes written from the simultaneous viewpoints of the starship and several ancillaries, with an omniscient POV like nothing I've ever read before, as the narrative bounces from head to head...and it totally works, because this is the main character, and this is how the story has to be written. This is why I say you have to read it slowly, because otherwise you won't understand anything of what's going on. There's the empire of the Radch and the purity its Emperor, Anaander Mianaai, is trying to maintain, by any means necessary, at least until his/her three-thousand-year-old identity suffers a disassociative split. (I believe that's the term now, Disassociative Identity Disorder, for what used to be called split personality.) And last but not least, there's the fact that in the Radchaai language, the pronouns are genderflipped and everyone is referred to as "she," whether or not the person is biologically male.

At the end of the book, I realized I didn't know if Breq's ancillary body was male or female, and it didn't matter in the least.

This book deserves all the accolades it's been getting. I've never read anything quite like it. The only thing I don't care for is the cover; it's dull as dishwater, and doesn't reflect anything of what's inside. Ignore this and buy this book anyway.

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