The first time I read this book, my main complaint was that it didn’t have as obvious of a structure as Ancillary Justice, but on this second time through, I think I’m going to change my mind about it being less structured, and instead say that it’s differently structured.
This book is structured around Breq’s journey from vengeful former A.I. enslaved to a tyrant, to having nearly as much power as that tyrant herself. What she does with that power is entirely shaped by her 2,000 years of experience, of violence and warfare, of people’s personalities, and how systems of power dehumanize people.
It’s also a pretty brutal condemnation of colonialism.
This is the rare second book in a trilogy that manages to actually successfully transition the main character, and provide growth along the way. There is no waffling here. At the beginning of the book Breq is a brand new fleet captain, unsure of how to navigate her new power, and unsure of how to be a human captain, when before she was the ship and its ancillaries. (Only Seivarden and Medic know that she used to be Justice of Toren, everyone else assumes she was in special missions.) She’s also very angry about the position Anaander Mianaai has put her in.
We get to watch as Breq uses all of her advantages gleaned from having been an AI for 2,000 years, and all of her knowledge gained over those years of how to run a ship, how to treat her soldiers, how to solve problems.
By the end of the book, Breq has cemented her position at Athoek station. Not everyone likes her, but she is respected (and feared). Her ship is a well functioning unit, and some corruption has been rooted out of Athoek, some wrongs on their way to being fixed (or as fixed as they’re ever going to get). It’s then at the end of the novel that Breq lets it slip that she used to be Justice of Toren, and you know that’s what book three is going to be about. Marrying Breq’s newfound capabilities and power with her past as Justice of Toren. There was this great conflict during this whole book, where Breq would do her thing, and someone would accuse of her not understanding, because how could she, being the cousin of the Lord of the Radch? There is an assumption of privilege that Breq just lets stand. She never tells anyone that she understands more than most would, because she was once so low she wasn’t even considered human, and that her AI nature let her see more than any human ever could.
I’m not saying anything I really wanted to say, and I kind of already want to turn around and start this series over again, mining it for more detail, but I haven’t even started my re-read of book three yet. Anyway, I don’t think I’m going to let five years pass between reads again. This one will probably go into my regular rotation.