Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Review: Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie

Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie
Published: Orbit (2015)
Series: Book 3 of the Imperial Radch
Awards Won: Locus SF Award
Awards Nominated: Nebula and Hugo Awards

The Book:

For a moment, things seem to be under control for the soldier known as Breq. Then a search of Athoek Station's slums turns up someone who shouldn't exist - someone who might be an ancillary from a ship that's been hiding beyond the empire's reach for three thousand years. Meanwhile, a messenger from the alien and mysterious Presger empire arrives - as does Breq's enemy, the divided and quite possibly insane Anaander Mianaai, ruler of an empire at war with itself.

Anaander is heavily armed and extremely unhappy with Breq. She could take her ship and crew and flee, but that would leave everyone at Athoek in terrible danger. Breq has a desperate plan. The odds aren't good, but that's never stopped her before.” ~WWEnd.com

This is the conclusion of the Imperial Radch trilogy, and I would strongly recommend reading the series in order (Ancillary Justice, Ancillary Sword, Ancillary Mercy). I would also particularly suggest reading the last two in quick succession.  The third novel picks up right after the second, and my year gap in reading left me scrambling to remember who everyone was and what was going on.  It would have been a much smoother transition if I’d read Ancillary Sword more recently.

My Thoughts:

Ancillary Justice had an epic scope, as we followed the starship-turned-individual Breq in her quest to avenge her grief on the multi-bodied leader of a galactic empire.  Ancillary Sword shifted to a smaller and more personal scale, as Breq took a new spaceship to the backwater Athoek Station in search of her beloved Lieutenant Awn’s sister.  I had expected that Ancillary Mercy would shift back to the broader stage of the galaxy, but Breq and her crewmen remain with Athoek Station to the end.  Many of the questions and problems brought up in Ancillary Sword are resolved, but there is very little conclusion regarding the wider political concerns from Ancillary Justice. Anaander Miaanai’s civil war and the fragile treaty with the alien Presger both come into play in some sense, but it turns out that neither is really the focus of the trilogy.

Instead, I see now that the trilogy is more concerned with ideas of personhood, identity and relationships.  The three books chronicle Breq’s journey from being a starship’s ancillary to accepting that she is a person in her own right.  Even after the events of the first novel, Breq is convinced that she is a replaceable object, and expresses discomfort with accepting the captaincy of another AI-starship, a role she believes a person should have. In line with this, Breq’s narrative generally focuses heavily on the people around her, often neglecting her own feelings and reactions.  Despite her self-negation, Breq actually does have a strong and charismatic personality, and I enjoyed watching her progress in self-awareness and in finding a place where she truly belongs.  

While the novel involves some excitement and action in the struggle against the Anaander Miaanai that comes to Athoek, much of the story focuses on quieter character moments. Two new characters are also introduced that serve mostly as comic relief, a cranky ancillary of the ancient ship Sphene and the absurdly clueless new Presger translator. Seivarden plays a larger role in this installment, and we see her forced to confront her arrogance, her addictions, and the mental and emotional instability that she has been patching up through her loyalty to Breq.  Tisarwat’s arc is more concerned with her coming to terms with her own identity, and the fact that it has been heavily influenced by Anaander.  The various other AI in the system all have personalities that are somewhat similar (as they are programmed to take a deep and abiding concern for the well-being of ‘their people’), but it was interesting to think how the events of the story might change them.  This was not really the kind of conclusion I expected for this trilogy, but I enjoyed reading about the characters I have come to love.  There is so much left unresolved, though, that I hope Leckie returns to this universe again in the future.

My Rating: 4/5

Ancillary Mercy, the conclusion of the Imperial Radch trilogy, retains the tighter focus of the trilogy’s middle novel.  While many of the questions of Ancillary Sword are addressed, the trilogy leaves some of the larger-scale concerns of Ancillary Justice unresolved.  Instead, the novel focuses on events at Athoek station, as well as the personal development of Breq and her troubled officers.  It was satisfying to see Breq maneuvering against an Anaander Miaanai again, but the novel ends before we get to see the longer-term consequences of her interesting decisions in this confrontation.  While this does close out the trilogy, I hope that this is not the last novel about the Imperial Radch.   


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