Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Review: Ancillary Sword

Ancillary Sword Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's hard to write a good Book 2, especially of a trilogy, and very especially when your first one has won basically all the awards. Ann Leckie, for my money, pulls it off.

I did consider dropping this one to four stars. It's a touch unfocussed, and most of the best stuff (the setting, the multiple POVs from one first-person narrator, the gender thing) isn't new any more, because it was in the first book. That's another problem when you have to follow an amazing, innovative Book 1: Book 2 either has to be just as innovative in a new way (and risk losing people who loved the first book), or keep on in the same vein (and risk not having the same impact the second time around). I went for five stars, though, for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, like Book 1, it's almost completely error-free. I noticed two missing quotation marks, and one place that I personally would have put in another comma. That level of quality is vanishingly rare, even in trad-pub, because most authors--no matter how good they are at story-telling--make more errors than their editors catch. Leckie appears to be one of those rare authors who just don't get it wrong in the first place. The writing is smooth, confident, and at a high level of competence, meaning I can relax into it and focus on the story without being distracted by language glitches.

Secondly, there's some depth to the story, which is one of my criteria for awarding five stars (along with being excellently done). The author has clearly thought a lot about power dynamics, protest, access to authority for remedies, the human ability to fool ourselves, human nature in general... it's a mature, sophisticated book with some important ideas in it. Breq is a wonderful character, and while she has a pragmatic reason for bringing what justice she can (so that disaffected populations can't be used to cause disruption), she clearly has a degree of moral idealism as well. She's also taking zero deliveries of any crap from anyone, something I enjoy and applaud in a main character.

The main improvement I thought could have been made is that the story question could be clearer. Is Breq:

1. Attempting to stabilise the system in order to prevent it becoming the site of conflict in the potential civil war?
2. Attempting to atone for her earlier actions by bringing justice to the oppressed?
3. Trying to help her former lieutenant's sister, again in order to atone?
4. Trying to regain the sense of multiple-self that she had when she was a ship?
5. Trying to help her "baby lieutenant" through a crisis into which she has unique insight?

All of these are things she works on, and succeeds at to one degree or another, but it's not as clear as it could be which ones are most important to her or what she's striving to achieve, and this takes a certain amount of tension out of the story which would have been relatively easy to put in.

Aside from that, this was excellent, and I look forward eagerly to Book 3.

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