Review: Ancillary Sword

Ancillary Sword (Imperial Radch #2)Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’m a huge world-building junkie. It’s one of the reasons I love science fiction and fantasy. And, as I realized while writing the previous sentence, it’s also why I love history non-fiction books and podcasts. I love learning about the society and what drives people to act the way they act. Humans are all human and have always had the same desires, but how those manifest and how we react to them are defined within our cultural contexts. An insult that might have demanded a duel in 1800s America might now simply result in a screed on Twitter. So, I loved the first book’s building up of Radchai culture. In the first book, the plot was almost incidental. It was a TRUE trilogy in that it reads, in retrospect, as the beginning of an incredibly long book.

This book, being the middle, proceeds with quite a bit stronger plot presence. It is STILL very strongly about culture and the intersection of colonialism and the conquered. It is STILL very much about how a strongly regimented etiquette system (as I’ve seen depicted in historical Britain and, to some degree, modern Japan) regulates what people can say and do in ways that Ms. Leckie uses to great effect. But the plot moves forward in a much more straightforward manner. Kind of….

Because this entry in the series is essentially a political thriller in a Robert Ludlum sense. Breq is sent on a mission by one half of Anaander Mianaai to a planet where he is unfamiliar and has no idea who to trust. Within that context a series of smaller mysteries have to be solved in the service of the larger mystery – all with very large consequences for the space station, the planet it orbits, and the system at large. (view spoiler)

As I mentioned in one of my status updates, between the insistence on drinking tea and the intense feelings of superiority of the Rachai over those they’ve conquered and their inability to even attempt to distinguish various subcultures in the planets they’ve conquered, draws a stark parallel with the British and the way they wreaked havok on the world that we’re still reaping the consequences for; namely the way they created random countries in the Middle East, Africa, and the Indian Sub-continent. Although, their constant use of “Citizen” also feels perhaps Roman. And it does seem that they are having trouble due to over-expansion, as the Romans did.

If there’s one final thing, it’s that it was incredibly spooky to read this book in the wake of the George Floyd protests. This book was published in 2014, which means it was probably done writing and in the publisher’s hands at the beginning of 2014 or end of 2013. And yet, it had the following parts in it that each made me almost drop the Kobo in shock as if Ms. Leckie was reaching into the future when she wrote the book.

First scene, one of the minorities on the station had an interaction with the cops for painting on an unauthorized wall. Things escalate and then Breq has this line:

“That hold,” I interrupted, “is not suitable for use on citizens. And it’s entirely possible to suffocate someone by kneeling on their back that way.”

WHAT!?!? HOW!?!? Then 12 chapters later:

Breq is having a conversation with the Governor:

“…I suppose you know her field workers are threatening to stop working unless she meets a whole list of demand?”
“I only just heard a few hours ago.”
“And by dealing with them in such circumstances, we are rewarding these people for threatening us. What do you think they’ll do but try it again, since it go them what they wanted once already? And we need things calm here.”
These people are citizens.” I replied, my voice as calm and even as I could make it… “When they behave properly, you will say there is no problem. When they complain loudly, you will say they cause their own problems with their impropriety. And when they are driven to extremes, you say you will not reward such actions. What will it take for you to listen?”

Damn. This book isn’t for everyone. If you aren’t a world-building nut, you may find a lot of that tedious. If you hated the first book, I wouldn’t recommend this one either. But if you were even luke-warm on that first book – it was place-setting so that this one could hit so hard. Read this book and experience the amazing work of Ms. Ann Leckie.

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