Wednesday, June 18, 2014

WEDNESDAY REVIEW: Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

Title: Ancillary Justice
Author: Ann Leckie
Publisher: Orbit
Publication Date: 2013
Genre: Science Fiction
Price: $9.99 (ebook), $15.00 (trade paperback)
Where to Purchase: Powells   |   Amazon   |   Barnes & Noble
Reviewed by: Julia Dvorin

Hello fellow Heroines of Fantasy readers! Julia here again, this time with a little bit of a “cheater” review. Why “cheater”? Well, because I usually try to review something from a small press here, and this time I’m reviewing something from a member of the Hachette Book family (Orbit). But I just had to read this book...not only because it just won the Nebula Award for Best Novel and got nominated for the Tiptree Award, which alone would have made me curious (especially as a debut novel)—but because I just met the author, Ann Leckie, at WisCon, and she was such a nice, fun to be around “bird of a feather” that she was instantly absorbed into our writer posse. I do try to buy books from people who impress me personally, and I’m always worried that I might not like their work as much as I like them—but whew, in this case that was not a problem. I loved the book. And here’s why.

First of all, Ancillary Justice does a great job with some of the basics for why we read science fiction in the first place: it gives us fascinating speculative ideas in a fantastical, original otherworldly setting. It’s basically shaped like a revenge story set in a far future age of high tech civilizations, space travel and interstellar war, but it’s so much more than that. We get some big ideas to chew on here, about identity and the nature of the individual, about revenge and justice, about choices, consequences and what it might mean to “do the right thing”, about culture clash, about expansionism and colonial empire, and about what being “civilized” means, set against a backdrop of galactic politics, alien cultures and intriguing technology.

It’s also really well written. Leckie set herself a couple of major challenges here, and pulls them off beautifully: she switches back and forth between past and present storylines; her main character is a leftover bit of a larger artificial intelligence in a reanimated human body and the story’s emotional punch has to be filtered through this character’s perceptions and understanding; and since the main character’s language does not recognize gender, so all personal pronouns in the book are by default gendered female whether they refer to females or not, which takes some getting used to. Her evocations of the different settings where the story takes place—ice world! Swamp world! Space station! Shipboard!—are really well done.

And finally, the characters are solid and well-rounded. You really do begin to care about the fates of the various characters, and the ways in which they grow and change by the end of the book feels real and keeps things interesting.

Ancillary Justice has all the trappings of space opera, but it is no escapist cartoon- it is a complex, dense, and somewhat challenging read that takes a while to orient yourself to—but when things finally start to click and make sense, it really comes together in a satisfying way.

So if you like your science fiction fresh and mind-bending, with big ideas, intriguing worlds and relatable characters, check out Ancillary Justice.

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