Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie (2013) – Well, I see what all the fuss is about now. I read a lot of space opera. It’s my favorite genre. But, I have to admit that sometimes it gets a little formulaic. There’s a hero, some political situation, big space ships, possibly aliens, and blasters.
Ancillary Justice is anything but predictable. In fact, when it started out, I wasn’t sure who the narrator was. Is he or she the ship? The servants assisting the people in power? The soldiers taking over new planets for the government? It turns out he or she is all of these things and more. I’ll complain about the gender ambiguity later, but the narrator on the Justice of Toren (one of the troop carriers) is actually an ancillary, one of the conquered, mind-wiped and placed in storage for hundreds of years. The ship is run and soldiered by a gestalt group of linked individuals with no memory of who they were before.
This story is told in two linear streams: the ancillary trying to protect its crew on a newly annexed planet where the supreme leader (also in an ancillary body) screws up the takeover for suspicious reasons, and a lone ancillary who has lost his or her ship and is trying to save a drug addicted former lieutenant on an ice planet. The ancillary is hiding the fact that it’s a “corpse soldier” and mingling among humans as one of them.
Okay, I’ll address the gender thing. In the language of the ancillary races, there is only “she.” At first, I thought the government and the ship were run by women, but the lieutenant she saves is addressed in other languages as “he.” It’s very confusing, and I’m still not sure what sex the narrator is. Sexual relationships are interesting when there are no pronouns.
On the ice planet, the hidden ancillary is searching for a means to kill the supreme leader. It’s because of her that the ancillary is alone, a very unusual thing. The supreme leader is also acting strangely. She’s stopping the ancillary program and the annexation of new worlds and making some of the powers that be very uncomfortable.
The ancillary suspects what’s going on. He or she gets the weapon on the ice planet they need to destroy the supreme leader and travels with the lieutenant to the nearest palace to do the job, but his or her intentions are discovered and there’s a knock-down-drag-out at the station where the palace is located.
If that’s not exciting, I don’t know what is. The name of the book is clever. Not only is there justice for the ancillary, but the ship they are on for a great deal of the time is a Justice. There are also Swords and Mercys, coincidentally the names of the next two books. I can’t wait.