Thursday, October 27, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie

The third and final book in the Imperial Radhch trilogy by Ann Leckie is Ancillary Mercy. The first book in the series (Leckie's debut novel), Ancillary Justice, is one of the most celebrated works in science fiction awards history, having won basically every award a speculative fiction book can win (Hugo, Nebula, Clarke, Locus, BSFA). All of the books were nominated for multiple awards and each of the entries in the trilogy won at least one major award, although only the first book won either the two most prestigious awards (the Hugo and the Nebula). In my reviews of the first and second books, Ancillary Mercy and Ancillary Sword, I felt that overall their widespread acclaim was generally deserved because the books include a decidedly brilliant premise, which is the central concept of the narrator denying gender classification to any of the characters, by referring to EVERYONE as female (*i.e using her and she exclusively). In addition, the central character of Breq used to be a ship controlling many thousands of bodies, called ancillaries. Questions of loss and how one identifies the self are integral to the story being told in the Imperial Radhch trilogy.

But lest you think this is some experimental feminist work of literature (not that there's anything wrong with that!) the Imperial Radhch trilogy is definitely space opera (there are lots of space ships and artificial intelligences and battles in space and hyperspace gates) but it's also about manners and cultural norms. In my view there is FAR too much drinking of tea, but the detailed depiction of various cultural practices of the societies Breq visits on her journeys is part and parcel of how Leckie builds the world in which the story is set.

To be honest, though, I probably would have been just as happy with just reading the first book and skipping the last two. I think Leckie was caught in a trap of her own making after the first book. The scope of the story is simultaneously too big (the primary antagonist is the Lord of the Radhch who is 3000 years old and controls dozens or hundreds of star systems with probably thousands of planets and trillions of human lives) and too small (the protagonist Breq is obsessed with one particular tragedy involving a specific Lieutenant who served on her ship Justice of Toren). So, while the trilogy attempts to resolve the conflicts that animate both (the big and the small) stories it really only satisfactorily deals with one of them (I won't say which one!) by the end of Ancillary Mercy.

Overall, I am very glad that I purchased, read and completed Ann Leckie's entire trilogy and would strongly encourage any fan of science-fiction/fantasy to at the very least put Ancillary Justice on their must-read list. If they agree with that book's status as the most celebrated SFF debut novel of all time, then you will probably also be happy with  reading its two sequels.

Title: Ancillary Mercy.
Ann Leckie.
Paperback: 368 pages.
Date Published: October 6, 2015.
Date Read: December 31, 2015.


OVERALL GRADE: A-/B+ (3.58/4.0).


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