And so to the final installment of the Ancillary series, and the first of the books I’m reading actually to be nominated for a Hugo (more on that in a few posts). I actually finished this over a week ago, but have been struggling to sum up what I feel about this book without ending up going over the same territory as the previous Leckie post, or giving away huge plot spoilers. So it’s just going to be a short post, more than made up for by the next one (which might be a bit on the long side).
It’s a great book. It’s great in the same way the previous two are great. It introduces some new things and develops ideas further… but it’s the same good story-telling and characterisation that we’re used to. If anything, I think slightly better, because it builds to more of a crescendo than Ancillary Sword does. And because we get resolution to some of the issues that have been bubbling up throughout the series (though, in a perversely satisfying way, not all of them). It strikes me suddenly that this series treads a very neat line. There have been a few books (like Sailing to Sarantium, for example) that I complain… well, not exactly complain as such, but observed how they seemed to have a strange calm to them and not feel actually like stories… instead just like events unfolding, one after another, so they never feel like they reach a stopping point, and never get particularly dramatic and thrilling. I don’t know if it’s just pacing, or if the content has any bearing on it, but I’ve read a few of these (and I’m often quite favourable about them, but I have to be in the right mood) and they seem to be a style. Ancillary Mercy is not quite that… but nor is it quite a normal story either. It has something of the calmness and the steady unfolding of events about it… but it still feels like a story, with drive and direction and resolution. It feels like it has an ending, a real one, and one that I enjoyed reading. It’s still quite a calm book to read – there is still that measured anti-drama to it, like many of the other books of the sort I’m discussing – but not at the expense of feeling like it has a purpose. And all of the series are like that… I just didn’t spot it until now.
I don’t think I can really rank the three books in the series, though I have had a think about it. They’re all immensely good, and they all fit their own purpose well. Justice is a great first book of a series, throwing all the new stuff at you and getting you interested, without overwhelming you, and building the foundations of a great deal of care for the characters. Sword develops what Justice has done, and takes it onwards in a new direction, focussing more on adding to what we have and setting the stage for a finale. Then Mercy takes all that careful work and brings it to fruition. They’re very similar books, but also very specifically different, and they each work really well at what they’re doing.
So Ancillary Mercy is an excellent end-book. It manages to bring us to a great closing point but, and in my opinion this is one of the best things about the whole series, it doesn’t give you a happy ending, but it does give you all the pieces to let you make one for yourself, in your head. Or not. It’s very much a stopping point without, exactly, being an ending. I almost hope the story never does go on from here, because it’s a wonderful way to close things… but more of me wants to know more. If Leckie writes a sequel series, I would read the heck out of it.