Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie
Published: Orbit, 2014
Series: Book 2 of the Imperial Radch
Awards Nominated: Nebula and Hugo Awards
Awards Won: Locus SF and BSFA Awards
“Breq was once a human segment of a spaceship’s AI, comfortably integrated with machines and other bodies’ perspectives. Now she has only one human body left, and she knows who to blame for her loss— Anaander Mianaai, Lord of the Radch. That same Anaander Mianaai has chosen to adopt Breq into her family, to give her command of the ship Mercy of Kalr, and to dispatch her to Athoek Station, the home of Lieutenant Awn’s sister.
Athoek is a relatively peaceful system that was annexed 600 years ago, and is now mainly concerned with the growing of tea. However, old class and cultural divides are still causing problems, the Station’s AI is mysteriously unhappy, and not everything the leaders say seems to add up. Athoek is going to be a difficult knot for Breq and her crew to untangle. ~Allie
This is the second novel of the Imperial Radch, and this is a series in which the books should definitely be read in order. So far, this series has been hitting all the right notes for me, and I’m looking forward to Ancillary Mercy!
Ancillary Sword picks up after the events of Ancillary Justice and follows the same protagonist, Breq the former ancillary. The story this time is a smaller-scale, slower, and more intimate, as it focuses on the interpersonal and intercultural relationships within a single system in Radch space. Since it takes place entirely within Radch space, where no one considers gender, the use of female pronouns as default is less noticeable than in Ancillary Justice. I still enjoy how clearly this one choice demonstrates the irrelevance of gender to the story. Breq’s role is more complicated in Athoek than her narrow focus of the previous novel, but she does her best to apply her own sense of rightness and justice to every situation that arises. The social problems she addresses are pretty black-and-white (such as oppression, slavery, and domestic abuse), but it seemed sadly realistic to see how difficult it was to force people to understand that the problems even existed.
There is no longer a past storyline, through which we could see Breq’s existence as an ancillary, but I appreciated that she is still something slightly different than human. Her ability to process information allows Mercy of Kalr to feed her information on the activity and emotional states of the crew, so the single-narrator format is not quite as limited in perspective as it could have been otherwise. It was also interesting to see how she struggles to cope with the loneliness of a single-body existence. As for the rest of the cast, while I wish Seivarden had played a slightly larger role, there were plenty of other memorable new characters. In particular, I enjoyed Breq’s mentor-like relationship with the teenage Lieutenant Tisarwat, who is struggling with a crisis of identity on top of her more ordinary teen problems. I hope that she continues to play a major role in Ancillary Mercy.
In some ways, Ancillary Sword does feel a bit like a middle book. Though there’s plenty going on, not much of it concerns what I’d considered the major questions of the series, such as the civil war within Anaander Mianaai’s mind or the stability of the treaty with the mysterious Presger. However, even though these threads may not have progressed, I enjoyed the focus on a single location and group of people. There were many things happening on Athoek on a variety of scales— oppression of populations, interpersonal problems, crime, potential diplomatic incidents, and so on. Everything seemed to fit together quite naturally, making a story that was very easy to follow and enjoy, and the conclusion tied up the novel nicely. I’m looking forward to seeing how Breq’s life will continue in Ancillary Mercy!
My Rating: 5/5
Ancillary Sword is a wonderful sequel to the book that took many awards by storm last year, Ancillary Justice. The story is quieter and set on a smaller scale than the first book, with a more character-oriented focus. Since it takes place entirely in a system of Radch space, the default use of female pronouns is also less noticeable. The plot mostly involves Breq coming to a new system and doing what she can to address injustices on both small and large scales, and I have continued to enjoy following her perspective. Of the new characters, my favorite storyline would have to be that of the young Lieutenant Tisarwat, who Breq (sort of) takes under her wing. I’m looking forward to the conclusion of the trilogy, Ancillary Mercy, which is planned for publication later this year!