Author: Ann Leckie
Published: October 2013
Characterization and badassery
Breq. I can honestly say that I’ve never seen a heroine like her. She is female, that’s clear, but the treatment of gender in this book is so unique that it doesn’t matter. I love that. In this book, most of the characters’ genders remain ambiguous because gender just doesn’t matter. Think about that for a minute. Isn’t that how all books should be? Hell, isn’t that how life should be?
The gender thing was the second aspect that drew me to this book. The first was the concept of a ship’s AI ending up in a human body. Both of these devices pulled me in and kept me engrossed all the way to the end.
Plot and pacing
This one is a hard start. You’re plunged into the deep end and the worldbuild is elaborate. The learning curve is steep. By the end of the book, there are things I’m still not sure of. The pace is awfully slow at first and the point in slow in coming.
Usually, this kind of stuff puts a book right into my DNF (did not finish) pile. Definitely, this book could have been written tighter and paced faster. Nonetheless, this book is so different than anything else I’ve read that I just had to keep at it to find out what it was about. My perseverance paid off in a story that lit up the imagination centers of my brain. A very worthy tradeoff.
Prose and editing
The prose is simple and to the point. I noticed no grammatical or typographical errors. As mentioned above, this could have been a tighter, cleaner read, but at the same time there are moments where the description of an experience is so evocative that I was spellbound.
Nope, not funny. Actually, there’s a lot of sad. And macabre. While I don’t do a lot of “dark” material, it’s the right milieu for this story. In spite of the grim details, Ancillary Justice still manages to avoid being a big bummer. Points for that because it’s quite a feat.
“I had once had twenty bodies, twenty pairs of eyes, and hundreds of others that I could access if I needed or desired it. Now I could only see in one direction, could only see the vast expanse behind me if I turned my head and blinded myself to what was in front of me.”
Pretty much everything about this book is different. I imagine that’s why it won a Hugo and a Nebula award. Fans of sci-fi and fantasy know that it’s tough to find something that is truly different. This book is it. It’s not easy reading but the point of view is unique, the antagonist is unique, and the refusal to prescribe to accepted gender identities and rules is revolutionary. I loved it.
Frankly, I’d be terrified to write a book like this. I’d be afraid that people wouldn’t “get” it. Looking at reviews, many don’t. They find the lack of gender too confusing. Without knowing a person’s plumbing and sexual orientation, how are they to mentally categorize the characters? Now stop and think about that for a minute.
Why should gender and sexual orientation have any effect on the story, if those details are not specifically part of the story? This reader stumbling block showcases some of the reader biases that we don’t even realize we possess. We come to a book with unconscious framing. We expect certain preordained factors to make a story fit into the formula we expect. But we don’t realize we even have that expectation. I don’t know about you, but I find that disturbing!
Which is exactly why Ancillary Justice is so different and so exciting. Ann Leckie had the guts to write something out of the box and weather the certain upset of many readers. But it’s the things that shake people up that make a mark, and Leckie has done so with this book, in epic style. Well done.