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.