Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie, is a dense space opera that depends heavily upon character growth and interaction. I initially picked it up due to the slew of awards it won (A Hugo, A Nebula, and the Arthur C. Clarke to name a few) and found myself a little disappointed. The start of the book is quite dull, and I can see it deterring more than a few readers. If you manage to climb the hill at the start of the book, you’ll be rewarded with ample character growth, interesting relationships and some thought-provoking philosophy. I would warn you against picking up this book if you’re looking for science fiction though; there is little science to be had, as this book is definitely a space opera. While I think Ancillary Justice is worth a read (if you’re up for a dense one), don’t let the long list of awards it won lull you into thinking you’re going to read something revolutionary.
- The characters were written well and you could watch them grow and change over the course of the book. They all felt tangible to me, and I really enjoyed watching their relationships develop over the course of the book, particularly the relationship between Breq and Seivarden.
- The book poses some very interesting philosophical questions, probing areas of constant debate such as “what is it that makes us human?” and “are we the sum of our parts, or do our individual fragments potentially make up more than the sum they amount to?”.
- The story, while a bit clumsy and slow at parts, was told well enough to keep me wanting to read (after I got past the somewhat boring hump that is the beginning).
- I feel like one of the keystones of excellent science fiction and fantasy is to remain similar enough to be familiar, while being different enough to still be exotic.One of the biggest complaints I have about this book is fictional words and names: Seivarden, One Esk One, One Esk Nineteen, Justice of Toren One Esk One. I believe this was all done to enhance the idea that this story takes place in a distant future or alternate reality, but when paired with the already abstract nature of the book and writing, it was simply too much for me. I was quickly reminded of when I was reading Frank Herbert’s Dune, except the exotic names and words never stopped coming, so I could never catch up and become truly acclimated.
- As I read the book, I became more and more concerned with one single fact: huge amounts of time transpire between the start of this story and the end of it (roughly one thousand years from the protagonist’s point of view). It’s a space opera, a subset of/science fiction, yet technology doesn’t advance. Over the course of a thousand years, a culture that has developed engines that burn star-hot, heat shields that contain star-hot engines, force shields that can save you from bullets, AI that can control human bodies with the correct implants, various cybernetic implants, and space stations develops no new technologies. They technologically stagnate. This makes no sense.
- Leckie’s writing is somewhat verbose and the start is slow. I have to admit that if I hadn’t begun reading this book as part of the National Readathon, I probably would have put it down and never finished it.
- One of the defining things about this book is gender neutral nature of the main character. She (he?) comes from a culture that places zero emphasis on different genders, and as a result they don’t have gendered pronouns. They refer to everyone as a she and use the female form of words (daughter, she, and the like). To me this felt like more of a gimmick than anything else. It did next to nothing to enhance the book for me. I felt like it would have been more effective if the author had put some thought into how to work non-gendered words more effectively, or took some of the creativity she put towards making up ridiculous names and focused it on creating gender neutral words and titles.
- The AI in this novel is smart enough to infer emotions and then make very accurate guesses based upon those facial expressions, but it has problems figuring out the differences between males and females in other cultures that it is familiar with? That seems a little convenient to me.
Breq is no longer what she once was. Long ago, she was Justice of Toren. She was an entire ship. Now she is little more than a single frail person, alone on a desolate, icy planet. Her burning desire for vengeance has brought her here in search of the one thing that can harm the object of her ire. However, she’ll find much more on Nilt than a thousand-year-old gun. Ghosts of her past will come back to haunt her in ways she can’t comprehend.