Review: Ancillary Justice (Imperial Radch #1)

Ancillary Justice (Imperial Radch #1)Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Only my third 5-star review for 2019, but boy does Ms. Leckie deserve it here. It’s everything I love about SF including a gigantic, fully realized world with a culture that makes sense as a consequence of the world she’s created. It really reminded me of the worlds I’ve come to know in Brandon Sanderson’s Cosmere.

Interestingly, for a year in which I also read The Just City, Radch society seems to be a corrupt Plato’s Republic and/or Confucian China situation where tests determine how awesome you’re supposed to be, but some apparent corruption affects parts of the narrative, esp with Lt. Awn. As always with one of these narratives, there’s the tension between feeling like the powerful families are powerful because they’re meant to be (whether because of God or not). There was also the cocus on tea, Bollywood-like films, and many-armed gods and goddesses. South Asian/Asian (if you look at the Confucious stuff) space culture maybe? So I thought it was interesting she mentions Roman society during the extra interview included at the end of my ebook version. Of course there’s some of that too, particularly in the social stratification among the powerful families.

I love how language and body language plays such a role – like when the protagonist has to explain that certain words have different connotations in Radch or the gender/mis-gendering thing. Also, all the gestures – assent, agreement, etc – I am not sure I’ve ever read a book so rich in those. Plus, as I’ve only really seen well done in The Forever War, the progression of language over time contributes to Sievarden’s alienation.

I think the most interesting thing is how Ms. Leckie told the story. To my father, when I was recommending it to him, I compared the narrative to a cartoon snowball on a mountain. It starts off small and slow and soon is the size of the entire screen and moving at breakneck speed. When I was at 51% according to my kindle app (and really further along because of the extra interview and preview chapter from the next book), my wife noticed I was spending a lot of time reading and asked me what the book was about. I thought for a second and replied, “I…don’t really know…” to which she told me she would have abandoned the book by then if she didn’t know what it was about. But really what I meant was if I didn’t to describe the book the way my 7 year old does (by telling every single thing that happens in the plot rather than being able to summarize), I couldn’t articulate what the protagonist’s goal was because it hadn’t been revealed to us yet. Instead, Ms. Leckie jumps back and forth each chapter between the present and the past (sometimes 1000 years ago and sometimes 20 years ago) in order to properly set the emotional stakes so that when we finally find out what she wants, we are prepared to accept it.

Even though I’ve enjoyed the book enough to give it 5/5 stars, I’m still a little confused on a few points. First of all, why the use of “she” as a pronoun in Radch as translated to English? Between latin languages and English, I don’t know of any language where everyone is the same gender. In mixed groups Spanish uses the male pronoun, but not otherwise. It was weird vs using a different neutral pronoun and I kept forgetting that Seivarden was a guy. Also, in my head Anaander Mianaai is definitely a woman. But I have no idea if that’s true or not. Same goes for Awer and Awn. The (I think) sexual tension between them – was it between two people of the same gender or not? Does it matter? Am I just being too parochial?

Second, I’m slightly confused about what happened to Mianaai. I get the basic outlines of it and why it sets off the plot (even though we don’t realize that until 60% or so), but I’m still not sure exactly how it was caused and why it manifested the way it did. Maybe I’ll find out in a future book or maybe it’ll remain a mystery.

Either way, this book was great and I recommend it to anyone who likes a good, involved Space Opera.

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