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Book Review: Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie

Friday, April 21, 2017 - 19:12
book cover: Ancillary Sword

I actually meant to get this review up a week ago, and then a project at work fell on me like a ton of bricks. And then I figured I'd have all week to write it up to make this week's customary Friday review slot, and then...well, let's just say that I could have gone yet another seven years without a burglary and not missed the lack. But here it is, still Friday, and I'll get the review in. I have a mental block against starting a new book until the last one is reviewed.

Ancillary Sword is the second book in Ann Leckie's "Imperial Radch" series. It's an interesting experience reading books that I have overheard being discussed as thoroughly as these have, when reading them well after everyone else in the world has done so. I'm not spoiler-averse, but it's curious to discover the contrast between the focus certain events and people have received in discussion versus the amount of page-time they received. (For example, I was a bit startled to discover how brief the stage time of translator Dlique was. But never mind.)

The joy in reading Ancillary Justice, the first of the series, was the joy of bending one's mind around a non-linear narrative in which all the usual notions of voice, character, and causation are thrown to the winds. The joy in reading Ancillary Sword (for me) was more that of a cozy mystery. If a planet can be a quaint country village. There was the same sense of teasing out the residents and relationships, of tracking down motives and means, of looking for the anomalies and inconsistencies. There is murder, or something like it, and attempted murder. There is the confrontation and revelation and confession. Given that I had absorbed the premises and assumptions of the setting in the first book, this one was far less brain-stretching. Quieter and less surprising (which is not to say predictable). We're given a number of secondary characters that we're clearly meant to become attached to, providing the right amount of worry and suspense.

The prose, as before, is smooth and polished with the sort of technical invisibility I like in a good read. The protagonist Breq is becoming more familiar and I start to see the cracks and gaps between what she is supposed to be within this universe and what she actually is...or is becoming. It is a comfortable middle book: building on what came before, encompassing a tidy independent plot arc, and yet leaving the larger question of what's happening in the Radch empire hanging for future resolution.

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