This book is due back at the library today, so this review is written in a bit of a rush. This is one of my infrequent forays into science fiction. I really enjoyed it and may have to explore further. I read that this is a “space opera” a term I am unfamiliar with, but it makes sense in that Ancillary Justice is a big story with heroines and villains.
Ancillary Justice is set in an intergalactic empire of humanoids known as the Raadchai. The Raadchai have spent millennia conquering human civilizations through a combination of brutality and annexation. Their empire resembles the Roman Empire to a certain extent in that they allow local civilizations to retain elements of their religions and cultures. They are deists, and their ruler Anaander Mianaai is embodied in thousand(s?) of simultaneous incarnations. How this works isn’t entirely clear.
The Raadch empire employs both human and AI soldiers. How exactly it is determined which bodies are thawed back into humans and which are made AI is unclear. Perhaps the humans are alive at the time they are frozen and preserved for the future whereas the AI bodies are simply corpses and frozen for later use? The Raadchai do not distinguish people by gender, although they are gendered. The female pronoun is used for everyone. This is somewhat confusing.
The protagonist of the book is Breq, a single survivor of a battleship: Justice of Toren. When the ship was intact, Breq was part of the ship’s collective AI. At this point I was reminded of the Borg of Star Trek. At least that’s how I was picturing it, except that the AI in Ancillary Justice have internal implants rather than external ones. (Maybe more like Data?) I’m embarrassed to admit that Star Trek is my benchmark; it may be the equivalent of white zinfandel being a benchmark for an aspiring wine connoisseur. I digress.
At the outset Breq is alone on a cold inhospitable planet on a quest for a particular item. Stepping out the door, she finds Seivarden, passed out and near death in the snow. Seivarden is a former ship captain for whom things went badly. Breq reluctantly rescues Seivarden thereby complicating her own mission. The story goes back and forth in time, so we learn the backstory of Breq as part of Justice of Thoren and the tragedy that set her on her current mission.
Radch society is a caste system, with older houses controlling wealth and patronage. Members of older houses are snobs and entitled, members of younger less wealthy houses are seen as upstarts and opportunists. Recently annexed peoples are at the bottom rungs of society.
I really enjoyed the complex galaxy that Leckie constructed. Those first chapters are a bit like taking an intro class to a foreign language and just getting familiar with the terminology. Having an AI as the central character is intriguing and Breq, like so many non-humans in fiction, has a great deal of humanity. I will try the next book in the trilogy some time soon