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review 2017-10-18 18:46
"Ancillary Mercy - Imperial Radch #3" by Ann Leckie
Ancillary Mercy - Ann Leckie

It's been some months now since I read "Ancillary Mercy". I held back from reviewing it, not because it wasn't good but because what made it good was so pervasive, so delicate and so intricately linked to the two preceding books, whose meaning it subtly modifies, that I didn't know where to start.

 

I'm writing this review now so that I can capture how it felt to read, "Ancillary Justice" and finish the Imperial Radch trilogy before I read Ann Leckie's latest book, "Provenance" which set in the same universe but with a very different focus.

 

Firstly, I was left with a real sense of progression and completeness that I always hope for in a trilogy but rarely get. This completeness comes not from the unravelling of a mystery or from an exponential growth of world-building but from somewhere much more interesting, the emotional growth of the main character.

 

There aren't many science fiction books I can make that kind of statement about, even fewer when the main character is an AI (although Joel Shepherd's last three books in the Cassandra Kresnove series also do this well).

 

The first book, "Ancillary Justice", Breq, an AI in a human body who was formerly the warship Justice of Toren, was alone, recovering from crippling betrayal and seeking vengeance. Even then, she seemed to me to be a better person than many of the humans she encountered.

 

In "Ancillary Sword", Breq has a command of a ship, an imperial mission and an opportunity to repay a debt of honour to the family of one Justice of Toren's officers. In that book, Breq has moved beyond simple vengeance to the consideration of just use of power and the nature of personhood. She is building relationships, administering justice and recreating herself into a person with a very different view of life than the one Justice of Toren had lived within.

 

What I liked most about "Ancillary Mercy" is that Breq not only completes the building of her new identity but, in doing so, she changes many of the people and AIs around her. Breq has replaced a hunger for revenge with something much more important, the need and ability to love and be loved. She wins the love and loyalty of her human crew. She prompts other Ships and Station AIs to consider their own personhood and desires and she brokers a the opportunity for a kind of peace.

 

I'm aware that this is not necessarily the explosive ending some people were looking for. I've seen the reviews that complain that too much time in this book is spent making tea.

 

Tea, in Breq's world, is an archetype of civilization. It is about thought, courtesy, respect, discipline, hospitality and refusal to have one's will drowned in the torrent of events. It is about making choices and exercising will. Tea is Breq's alternative to weapons of mass destruction and, in my view, shows that she has transformed herself from an intelligent military asset of the Empire into a person seeking freedom for herself and others.

 

If you don't find those ideas interesting, then this probably isn't the book for you.

 

There is, of course, more to the book than tea. There is brinkmanship, warfare, encounters with the disturbingly alien and clashes between cultures and classes that are as old as time. There is perfectly paced storytelling, that holds you in suspense but never tempts you to skip ahead and most of all there are many, many believable characters who make the story rich and credible.

 

I'm sure the Imperial Radch trilogy will become one of the classics of science fiction. I know I will read all of it again. But not until I've read "Provence" and anything else new that Ann Lecke publishes.

 

Ajoha Andoh's narration of all three books is perfect. Listen to the SoundCloud extract below to hear for yourself.

 

[soundcloud url="https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/244874811" params="color=#ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&show_teaser=true&visual=true" width="100%" height="300" iframe="true" /]

 

 

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2017-10-16 15:14
Provenance - Ann Leckie
Provenance - Ann Leckie

After the runaway success of the previous trilogy, Provenance almost feels like the difficult second album in book form - I enjoyed it, so while I'll definitely be buying the paperback when it comes out next year  in the UK (yes, what is up with that?), but I guess those books were a very tough act to follow!

 

Anyway, in case you're wondering, Provenance is set pretty much at the same time that (over in Radchaai space, far away but not quite that far), the Presger are making noises about their treaty and a certain space station AI has declared itself to be human. Those events are mentioned in passing, so this stand-alone novel doesn't need you to have read Ann Leckie's other books to enjoy this one.

 

Our main character is Ingray, who has decided that the only way she can impress her adoptive mother is to pull off something audacious - the weakest part of Ingray's motivation, given how she says she feels about this relationship and her own later acts - in this case rescuing someone from life imprisonment. This book is set on Hwae, in a society where 'vestiges' are important, usually things that are associated with famous people and events, and the someone in question supposedly stole a whole load of them from his family. Except that the person whose rescue she pays for turns out to be a) possibly not the person she was supposed to be rescuing, and b) not actually a thief. 

 

Ingray's plan does, however, involve her with the Geck - a mysterious water-based culture who communicate with the outside world via odd, spider-shaped mechs - as well as a plot to overthrow the government of Hwae by means of a murder involving someone who is staying with Ingray's mother. It all works out in the end, however, with Ingray managing to impress her mother as planned, thwart the takeover of the government and also prevent a major diplomatic incident along the way. 

 

I don't think there's ever going to be anything Ann Leckie writes that I don't enjoy, but it did feel like I'd read some of this before (for example, instead of zany alien translator, see zany alien ambassador via spider mech). I also felt a bit short-changed with Ingray, as I didn't really care about what happened to her in the same way I felt about Breq and the others in the previous books. If anything, it was the supporting characters of Tic and Garat that I wanted to know more about, Tic in particular (if you'll pardon the semi-pun!), and their experiences. Anyway, I still enjoyed Provenance and look forward to seeing what comes next: fantasy, I believe, rather than science fiction? *rubs hands*

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review 2017-10-10 04:38
Mostly did not work for me
Provenance - Ann Leckie

Following her record-breaking debut trilogy, Ann Leckie, winner of the Hugo, Nebula, Arthur C. Clarke and Locus Awards, returns with an enthralling new novel of power, theft, privilege and birthright.

 

A power-driven young woman has just one chance to secure the status she craves and regain priceless lost artifacts prized by her people. She must free their thief from a prison planet from which no one has ever returned.

 

Ingray and her charge will return to her home world to find their planet in political turmoil, at the heart of an escalating interstellar conflict. Together, they must make a new plan to salvage Ingray's future, her family, and her world, before they are lost to her for good.

 

Review:

Dear Ann Leckie,

I enjoyed your “Ancillary Justice” trilogy well enough to spend thirteen dollars on this book. Unfortunately I will not be in any hurry to buy your next one.  I want to get something out of the way first – I thought it was technically well written and well edited, so I absolutely can see how it could be a five star read for other readers. I however was mostly disappointed with the plot and characterization.

The book takes place in the “Ancillary Justice” universe, but I think you can easily read it as stand alone. It had been awhile since I read the trilogy and I was not confused at all. Radchai ambassador is a minor character and certain political treaty which I think was about to happen at the end of the trilogy is being mentioned more than once, but it is mostly part of the setting and serves as rare amusing plot point (because it must not be violated but our heroes do certain things which technically violated it more than once).

This story is mostly about completely different human culture which Ingray is a part of, although another alien culture also makes a more detailed appearance in these books.

So why was I disappointed? First and foremost I hate it when the book blurb does not play completely fair with the reader. Oh there are no outright lies in there of course, but I thought it was should we say misleading. Ingray indeed wants to return some priceless artifacts which were supposedly stolen (one can debate as to how valuable those artifacts really were, but her people think them very valuable) in order to gain favor of her idiot mother who is a successful politician, but who thought that encouraging her foster children to compete against each other is the best way to make them succeed in life. Add to this that one of Ingray’s foster brothers was forced to leave her mother’s house ( or so she thinks) and the other seems to be an asshole who is happy to embarrass, blackmail, humiliate his sister in order to gain favor of their parent and here you have it.  I already hated the woman from the first pages of the book and wished Ingray would grow up and realized that it was not worth it. Note, calling her an idiot is my interpretation of course, she is very smart and supposedly very talented politician, I just find her behavior towards her children idiotic.

But let me go back to explaining why I think the writer of the blurb did not play completely fair with the reader. Second sentence read to me as if Ingray will be freeing somebody from the awful prison, right?

Well, not quite. I mean she certainly freed that person from the prison but it was already done in the very beginning of the book and there was certainly no exciting action I was expecting based on the blurb. Now I was even more disappointed. The first problem Ingray truly tries to solve is how to transport her and the person she freed to her home planet.

There were certain potential dangers they were about to face due to the captain of the ship they booked having certain secrets in his past, but nope, once again any promise of fun action dissolved right in front of my eyes and they got to Ingray’s home safely.

When Ingray, the person she freed and the captain arrive to her home world they are indeed thrust in the complicated political issues waiting to be resolved, hopefully peacefully. People talk with each other, they talk a lot, over and over – at some point I became very bored.

Remarkably, the hints of the action to come kept coming. At some point of the book *murder* happens. I love mysteries. Alas, that was not to be either.   Everybody in the story called the murderer few pages afterwards.  Even more remarkably, unless I missed it, closer to the end of the story somebody tried to cast doubt upon the alleged murderer’s identity, but since no new revelation took place I have to assume that this person did it. At least I hope so.

Readers, understand please I am fully aware now when I am finished that the story is not a mystery. I am a little bit at loss as to how characterize it, but mystery it was not. However surely I could be excused for thinking that maybe mystery is happening when the dead body pops up in the book and the investigation started?

Oh, almost at the same time when everybody calls the correct person the murderer wrong person is accused of murder (same person that Ingray freed from the awful prison) and briefly detained. It seemed like it will require a lot of scheming and a lot of effort to free the guy and clear his name and sure, a little bit of scheming took place? But action did not happen once again. I thought it happened quite easily overall.

I want to say I was rewarded with some action at the end of the book. Last five or six chapters certainly moved much faster than the rest of the book but quite honestly by now I was not sure how satisfied I could be.

I talked about lack of action, but if I have the great characters I can relate to, I am okay with slower moving plot. I remember for example how much I enjoyed “Goblin emperor” and that book did not move fast either.

Ingray does grow up quite a lot by the end of the book, so I suppose she has a coming of age story arc, but I did not quite warm up to her even at the end. In the beginning somebody pretty much pulls a fast one over her, she was also involved in the scheme I could not relate much to, basically she bored me.

I appreciated seeing her as a kind human being, as somebody who grew to realize her own worth and deciding to pursue her own very worthy goal at the end, but as I said, I wanted to relate to her from the beginning and I just could not.

"And after all, she was just Ingray, nobody special, not beautiful or brilliant or particularly important to anyone. No. She was Ingray Aughskold, who had freed a wrongly convicted person from inescapable Compassionate Removal. Who had, completely unarmed, faced down Danach threatening her with a huge dirt mover. She’d had some help there, but she was also a person who sometimes had help from mysterious and unnerving aliens. She might have help here now."

 

Her relationships with her brother, mother and nuncle (no, I don’t know what is the difference between nuncle and uncle) were indeed interesting, but could have had so much more depth.

I have to say something about pronouns. Those of you who read “Ancillary justice” remember “pronouns controversy” I am sure. Well, I am just going to give you an example with the caviat that “e” and “em” show up very often in the narrative and you will decide if writing style in this story will suit you or not.

"E looked so much like Pahlad I said something to em about it, but e said e wasn’t. And I got to talking to em and e said e was stranded and out of money and had no one to help em get home, so I thought I would help.”

Grade: C/C-

 

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text 2017-10-07 16:40
People are apparently reporting Provenance's third gender pronouns as errors

 

Although I experienced a bit of confusion the first time I came across an instance of "e" (it was capitalized and I thought it might be the person's name), it wasn't that hard to figure out. It never occurred to me that people might report it to Amazon as typos. O_O

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text 2017-10-01 04:35
Reading progress update: I've read 438 out of 438 pages.
Provenance - Ann Leckie

Well, I'm done. Hmm. My immediate reaction is something along the lines of: it kept my attention and was fun, but I doubt I'll find myself wanting to repeatedly reread it the way I did Ancillary Sword and Ancillary Mercy. And I'd say that Ancillary Justice was probably a stronger book overall, but this one would probably work better for a wider audience.

 

If I had any artistic abilities whatsoever, I'd be creating fan art of Tibanvori, the Radchaai ambassador to the Geck. All of it would feature her trying to make halfway decent tea and Radchaai food with subpar tools and supplies.

 

Oh, and this means I've filled my Aliens square in Halloween Bingo.

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