Back in early October I mentioned a book review which, though I didn’t name names at the time, was for Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice – but look, weeks have gone by and it hasn’t appeared here yet. Anyway, finally, here’s what I thought of one of the most talked-about SF books of the year:
Not every ‘hot new debut’ lives up to the hype. This one does.
To start with, there’s a startling and intriguing premise behind Ancillary Justice: the main character is a starship. Actually, that’s not quite true, but any further explanation leads us into spoiler territory. What can be safely said is that she (and I’ll come back to that pronoun later) is on a mission.
The book is SF but not quite Space Opera. It draws on existing tropes yet goes to new places. It is also a page-turner from the start, mixing mystery, action and some of the most convincing and original world-building I’ve read in a long time. It’s hard to believe this is a debut novel, given the author’s skill in sucking us in then taking us through the story to a satisfying resolution.
If I have one small niggle it’s that travel between worlds is too simple, treated rather like a short sea voyage might be in contemporary fiction. When a book is narrated by a being who has lived in space for millennia, one might expect a few more words to be devoted to life off-planet. But then, she’s moved on now, and the book focuses on people, not space.
This future is the familiar milieu of a galactic civilization consisting of several distinct humanoid races. One race is imperial and sure of its own superiority – but these are the people we’re with, the aggressors who perform acts the reader may consider barbaric, even evil. It is a testament to Leckie’s skill that she takes characters we may find morally repellent and makes us care about them.
Finally, I loved is the fact that her master-race, the Radchaai, are all nominally ‘she’. Not females, because they don’t see gender as relevant most of the time, more gender-neutral. But the pronoun used isn’t the one we default to in English, which is male, but the female one.
In short: I trusted this book to deliver, and it did.
I’ve been reading the teasers for this for a while and I am looking forward to reading it, which will be the next time I pop into Forbidden Planet. It hits all the right notes IMO.
Read this whilst tucked up in Cornwall recently. It does indeed deliver. One of the more thought provoking as well as enjoyable novels of the year.