I remember where I was when I read this first time, and I distinctly remember reading the first third or so of this book and just being profoundly confused about what was going on, but also thinking to myself, when I re-read this, it’s going to make so much more sense, and that turned out to be true. But what did surprise me on re-read is that not everything is completely clear, and I don’t think it’s meant to be. This book does what good art, good literature, does, and that’s allow you to dive deep if you want to, to go digging into the book and see what you find. Though it does make muuuuch more sense after the first time, it’s never going to be an easy book. And to be honest, I love that about it!
I rag on lit-fic a lot, because it seems to me that a large portion of it is too concerned with impressing other people, or rather, being judged by other people, to actually say something that feels real. (Also, it’s way too full of middle-aged white men coming to terms with their inevitable deaths by way of sex and drugs.) I tend to gravitate towards genre writing because in my experience, genre writers aren’t afraid to limit themselves, and do not care about being “important” or “respected” as much as they care about telling a cool story, or an emotional one, or just the story that is inside of them that they need to get out. This isn’t to say that genre writers wouldn’t like acclaim and respect from the people that dole those things in an official capacity, but I do think that because it is generally assumed no such accolades will be coming, genre authors have a freedom that lit-fic authors do not. And that is beautiful.
Basically what I’m saying is that this book is capital L literature, even though it will most likely never be recognized that way. And it is that while AT THE SAME TIME (like magic!) being a cool sci-fi story about an artificial intelligence who once inhabited multiple bodies, but is now grappling with the experience of living in a singular body, and coming to terms with her past actions, and the vengeance she is seeking on those she deems responsible. It is a story that examines humanity and human feeling through the lens of an inhuman (or, more than human) narrator, while at the same time being a story where a cyborg seeks an indestructible, undetectable gun in order to shred as many of the bodies of her enemy as she can find. And it’s a story about how we can change and learn and grow, and a story about prejudice and bias, and a story about friendship. It’s a story about post-colonial human relationships. And a story about talking spaceships!!
And this first book just has such a clean narrative. Split between flashbacks of Breq’s time as the ship Justice of Toren, but more specifically the ancillary unit One Esk assigned to Lieutenant Awn on one of the Radchaai’s colonies (the last new colony the Radch will ever make, supposedly they’re done with expansion and colonization now, but talking about why would be spoilers), and the present day, where Breq (now stuck in a single ancillary body) is tracking down that gun to seek revenge on the Radch’s emperor, Anaander Mianaai, for the destruction of her ship and those living inside of her. But it’s a futile quest, because Anaander Mianaai has multiple bodies. Kill one, there’s five more to take her place.
If you haven’t yet checked out this series, I will once again say to you that is worth checking out. It’s got a very specific style, so it may very well not appeal to you, but it’s worth giving it a shot.