It’s an impeccably written novel. Handling a few literary conceits that are confusing to narrate, confusing to conceive of for the reader, and confusing to fully articulate is pretty amazing. The book itself is pretty terrifying at times as well. Imagine needing or feeling deeply compelled to face down an enemy, for revenge!, that may very well possess a kind of immortality that you have to deal with as well. It’s like trying to kill a god. And worse, there’s many many many of them too.
So the plot here is that Breq is the final ancillary form on an AI ship that shared a consciousness and control over its thousands of subordinates. What all this means is that the ship is controlled by a collective AI and also controlled the minds of every worker, officer, and inhabitant of that ship through a kind of mind melding. Now though, the ship has been destroyed, and Breq is the last remaining corporeal form of that vast multiple consciousness. Breq is on an ice planet, and planning revenge over who destroyed them. So the narration involves portraying multiple consciousnesses, gender identity completely distinct from the bodies they inhabit, a timeline of present tense, 20 years past, and a thousand years past.
In addition, because Breq is trying for revenge, the very being they’re trying to kill is like them, a multiple consciousness. It’s liking moving toward a boss fight where you know you’re only killing one nearly impossible to kill form, and there’s potentially thousands more.
The book is dense and layered and mostly very satisfying, but also frustrating. It feels like a lot of the energy of the book is trying to handle just the job of explaining things.
The book feels a lot like Ursula Le Guin, Samuel Delaney, Iain M Banks, CJ Cherryh, and plenty of other similar writers all had a big ole baby and produced a book that reflects more about the times now then when they were writing the bulk of their novels.
And there’s two more!