Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
It's hard to measure up to the amazing first book of this series, mainly because, in the sequels, the things that made the first one astonishing are no longer completely new. Still, it continues to be wonderful, doing extremely clever things with point of view that are only possible because of the speculative setting.
Something I didn't feel as much in this third book is the deliberately induced cognitive dissonance of the Raadchai language only using female pronouns, and not considering gender as a significant category in social interaction. I'm not sure whether this was a function of familiarity and adaptation on my part, or a difference in the writing, or a combination, but I found that I'd defaulted to assuming everyone was male, despite the pronouns - not ideal, but that's how my brain seems to have worked. YMMV.
The story itself is one of those beautifully layered, in some ways slow-moving stories that doesn't feel the need to insert conflict into every scene. There is certainly conflict, but this is far from being a thriller. I'm personally comfortable with that, but it won't be to everyone's taste; if it's not to your taste, though, you will have given up on the first book without ever getting near this one.
The book is structured more by an unfolding of meaning than by a traditional plot, too. Events occur and are linked together; you could write down a plot summary; but the real structure (IMO) is the emergence of theme, and the theme centres around independence, interdependence, love, trust, and power. Power has been a theme throughout the trilogy, and here the questions are made explicit: Do you hand power to the person who has demonstrated that they are only interested in how you can be useful to them, or to the person who has demonstrated that they are always interested in your wellbeing? (And what is a person, exactly?) This is shown not only through the main plot, but also a couple of subplots.
It's a good theme, and well handled, and beautifully told, with depth and richness and a lot of intelligence. I'm going to give it the full five stars, even though it's not as amazing as the first book, because if I had encountered a book this good as a standalone I would have five-starred it.
View all my reviews