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Book Reviews Ancillary Justice

Published on January 8th, 2014 | by Michaela Buckley


Ancillary Justice – Ann Leckie

I don’t get round to reading new books often, but this was touted as a very promising debut novel published late last year, Ancillary Justice is written by a female Sci-Fi writer, Ann Leckie, and is on first glance, a military sci-fi, judging by the cover, however it is actually more of an Action Sci-fi, utilising a high concept socio-cultural theme, much like Herbert’s Dune and Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness as well as adopting similar gender themes as the latter comparison.

Ancillary Justice is difficult to summarise without mild confusion, it follows the consciousness of a military warship formerly under servitude to a large empire called the Radch. She exists in a single human body called an ‘ancillary’ and is on a mission to exact revenge.

The story is told in first person, meaning everything is seen from the protagonist’s perspective, who goes by many names, most notably ‘One Esk’, and as a ship who used to function using multiple units, she has difficulty adjusting to the form of a single entity, there is some pretty absorbing depth to the novel as it tackles hive-mind and/VS individual identity issues, by way of the well-conceived dual plotline featuring the present and past that the book operates on.

There is a fantastic scope with this format we first begin to follow the personal events of One Esk in the present, known as Breq an individual ‘ancillary’, learning about her newfound isolation from… herself and her former identity, she explores these conflicting emotions whilst journeying with another, rather problematic, character.
The other storyline is a brilliantly conceived Space Opera take on the universe, with The Justice of Toren in her former glory, a large cast of characters, political intrigue that socks it to the Borgias and a vast and believably realised world backdrop, whose environment and culture reinforces the rich immersion here.

Ancillary Justice cover

The novel features characteristic sci-fi elements, however subverts them by using gender roles in a unique way, unlike The Left Hand of Darkness which features a single male pronoun for the featured fictional gender-neutral race, Leckie’s work features a race which doesn’t identify gender and does so by using all-female pronouns.

The gender identity themes are very unusual and differ greatly in content and results as well as execution in comparison to The Left Hand, and manage to make the entire book self-revelatory. By making the character not relate in gender form and having other race characters mention their deficiency, it allows the reader to explore their own idea of the misnomered true gender of characters, and then inevitably feel guilty when they realise their own gender bias.

The essence of the novel comes from the perspective, the unique outlook, that One Esk has, as a ship amongst humans, and also what sets her apart from other vessels. She is a part of the the large colonial empire of the Radch whose powerful reach spans entire galaxies whose religion is assimilated into the vast mosaic of spirituality which culminates with an all-powerful figure who is the focus of One Esk’s vengeance. These people use an unusual form of hierarchical systems and customs from which the ship has adopted its views and mannerisms, which further alienate her from her new peers.

As well as Le Guin, Ancillary Justice has been compared to Iain Banks’ work on Sci-Fi, due to the noir-ish and morally ambiguous ‘protagonist’ as well as hard-boiled action scenes, however, Leckie isn’t a Banks clone, the perfectly woven commentary within the plot is more  cautionary than Banks’ work.

Overall the book reads impeccably, the pacing is good, which is difficult (as The Lord of the Rings goes to prove) especially when dealing with multiple scenarios, as often the stories can become lopsided, leading to the reader just wishing to remain on one of the diverging paths instead of eagerly loving both. The brilliant ideas and concepts feel new, unlike many modern sci-fi I have read, it feels almost like it was written during the Golden Era of Sci-fi.

This is the first book in a while that made me feel genuinely excited about the genre, and is a perfect and engrossing read whether you’re into cyberpunk, space opera or sci-fi action, as there is something there for everyone.

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