I definitely read the first in this series after I started ‘blogging (especially considering it came out after I started ‘blogging). I am completely certain I read it. But I have no idea when, or why I didn’t post a review. My assumption would be that it happened while I was in Oxford and thus probably distracted by essays or exams or something… *checks publication date*. Nope. It came out in October 2013, when I was already gone. Huh. A mystery, then.
Whatever the reason, I didn’t post a review, which was shockingly remiss of me considering that I did really rather like the book. Ancillary Justice is some proper space opera that I actually got on with, and that is a vanishingly rare occurrence (as I seem to be getting pickier and pickier), so it should have been noted. It is intensely readable, pleasingly paced, and the lead character is just fantastic to follow. The universe Leckie creates is genuinely original and inventive, and she reveals it at exactly the right pace to sate curiosity without overloading with exposition (I particularly love what she does with language in her space future). All in all, it’s a solidly good book, even if not one that encroaches on my personal favourites.
So, when I finally got round to reading the sequel, I was expecting good things. And I was not disappointed in the slightest. Breq is still fantastic, for a start. We don’t get the flashbacks we got in Ancillary Justice, but this is more than made up for by the sheer amount of thought and emotion we get from Breq… all the time. It’s great. I feel more immersed in her thought processes than I remember being in AJ, but that might just be distance of memory. It’s one of those books where you get so much from the main character that their presence sort of overwhelms the characterisation of anyone else… but I enjoy reading Breq so much I just don’t care. We got a fair bit about Seivarden in AJ, but she’s been dialled back a bit in this one, so we just get snapshots of other characters, and then a lot of input/reading/speculation from Breq about Tisarwat, the new baby lieutenant. But it’s so heavily filtered through Breq that it feels quite distant and impersonal – it tells us more about what Breq thinks and feels than it does about Tisarwat herself. And I don’t really mind. How Breq thinks, for me, is one of the massive good points of the books, and I am totally ok with getting that full on, all the time. Tisarwat is interesting though, and the information we get from Breq is ever so slightly incomplete… Breq will observe an emotion in Tisarwat but not the cause, which the reader is left to infer, and that small gap is a pleasant one, interesting to try to fill as you continue to read.
We also get to see more of the unpleasant sides of the Raadch’s citizenry, particularly characterised in one Raughd Denche. The tension of Breq’s handling of her, while continuing her political manouevering is very fun to watch. That said, while Breq does seem to have a strong sense of justice all the way through, that too feels quite distant and impersonal, as though there’s a step missing somewhere we can’t see, and it’s holding us back from *feeling* what Breq is telling us, rather than just knowing it. It slots in nicely with Breq’s character presentation, and I find it quite a skilful balance on Leckie’s part to create and maintain it without mishap.
On the whole, the book is very very much more character-driven than plot driven. In some ways (see aforementioned Breq love) this is great, but in some ways it does let things down a little. I never felt tense at any point in the happenings of the book. I never worried “ooh, what’ll happen next” or “oh no, I hope this turns out ok”. That slight emotional remove comes across in the narrative as well as how we see Breq’s feelings… and in the narrative I slightly regret it. I want to feel invested in what’s going on, rather than interested (which is what I do feel). I mean… I still enjoy it, and I like feeling interested, but I want to really *care* as well… which sometimes feels like it’s lacking. We can see Breq caring, but we can’t quite join in, and it can get a bit frustrating. And it does feel like it takes any drama out of the pacing and the plot as a wider thing, rather more that it’s just Breq’s diary entries for a few weeks, and then it sort of… just ends. There’s a dramatic occurrence and resolution, but it doesn’t *feel* like a crescendo as you’d expect in a novel. And it is just vaguely unsatisfying like that.
Despite this, I still really enjoyed it as a book. It is, as I said of AJ, intensely readable, and Leckie has a great way with words – emotions aside, she understands how to show not tell, and pictures her world in both simplicity and detail. I’ll be buying the third, Ancillary Mercy, after I finish my current pile (I have quite a lot to read so have imposed a temporary purchasing hiatus on books). But it’s never going to be an absolute favourite. I’ll recommend it widely, because it is objectively good and some of the things it does are brilliantly original and very cool to read… but it’s just a little shy of hand-wavingly, face-clutchingly fantastic.