liv: Bookshelf labelled: Caution. Hungry bookworm (bookies)
[personal profile] liv
Recently read: Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie; (c) Ann Leckie 2014; Pub Orbit 2014; ISBN 978-0-356-50241-0.

I loved loved loved Ancillary Justice when it was the new hot thing in SF. I've put off reading the sequel because I often find a whole trilogy is more than I want to swallow at once, I generally do prefer to leave space between books in the same series. So I was excited for Ancillary Sword and I wasn't disappointed.

I just loved the experience of reading it, I was completely immersed and cared about all the characters and didn't want to put the book down. That used to be how I felt about almost all books except really terrible ones, but now I only get that experience with particularly good books. And I still absolutely adore Breq as a viewpoint character, the ways she's not quite human nor perfectly moral, and she has a certain amount of effective superpowers but also some real limitations. That said, I think AS is a bit middle book ish, and isn't as outstandingly wonderful as AJ was.

Part of the problem is the stakes; AJ was masterful in the way it moved between interpersonal concerns and galactic scale politics, but AS is basically all about Breq's mission to one particular planet and really only the small number of people she interacts with directly there. There is a larger picture, but it's very much in the background and I assume will be explored in the third book. (Please don't spoil me for Ancillary Mercy!) And secondly because there's no clear plot twist or reveal. Precisely because it's a sequel, it can't exactly make the surprises from the first book still surprising. In fact the first person narrative directly tells the reader, even repeats several times, the key fact about Breq's history and identity which only gradually becomes apparent in AJ. And the whole surprising story with Anaander Mianaai which formed the climax of AJ is again repeatedly just described to the reader, and set up as something that's going to be important for the plot of the concluding volume. The real weakness in AS is that there's no new mystery about the background and worldbuilding of equivalent power.

This may be primarily a consequence of this, but the need to make clear to / remind the reader what happened in the first book makes the tone seem rather didactic. Like, in AJ Breq almost appears to be talking to a reader of her own timeline and context, and the reader has to infer how her world is different from ours, but here, Breq is almost directly addressing a twenty-first century Earth reader. That slightly broke my suspension of disbelief, because to whom is Breq supposed to be explaining the really standard customs of the Radch and the basic, used by everybody, technology? And she is still an unreliable narrator who does hide some of her plans until the appropriate moment of the plot, but it's nothing like as gloriously disorienting as in AJ.

I mean, it's quite nice that Breq and crew manage to expose a domestic abuser and a corrupt official, and help to improve conditions for some of the oppressed groups on Athoek. But it all felt a bit wish-fulfillment-like. Very much a classic example of Bujold's fantasy of political agency. And there is some consciousness of this, you get characters who comment that it's all very well for a high-ranking Radchaai official to swan in and meddle a bit but it's not exactly solving the fundamental problems with the Radch as a militaristic, expansionist colonizing power. Also the high tension scene towards the end seemed to be over too quickly; I never really had time to believe that anyone was actually doomed before the miraculous rescue.

Currently reading: In a time of gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor, sort of, though really I haven't picked up anything new since I finished AS yesterday.

Up next: I so much want to spend time in Breq's viewpoint that I am tempted to break my usual rule and go straight on to Ancillary Mercy. (Side-note: I don't understand why books two and three are named this way round, since most of the plot of Ancillary Sword takes place on a Mercy. But hey.)

(no subject)

Date: 2016-11-23 02:44 pm (UTC)
seekingferret: Word balloon says "So I said to the guy: you never read the book yet you go online and talk about it as if--" (Default)
From: [personal profile] seekingferret
I had the sense in reading Sword that Leckie had intended to make Breq more unreliable as a narrator than she actually comes off, that we as the reader are supposed to understand more clearly that when Breq says she's going around fixing everything, she's actually causing more problems than she is acknowledging. But I think the ending doesn't quite make that as clear as it should- as you note, the high tension scene at the end ends too quickly and the connection between it and Breq's failures is not rendered clearly enough.

(no subject)

Date: 2016-11-24 05:09 am (UTC)
monanotlisa: Diana as Diana Prince in glasses and a hat, lifting the rim of the latter rakishly. HOT! (Default)
From: [personal profile] monanotlisa
I agree it's very much a middle book; both AJ and AM are stronger, in my humble opinion, but I do feel AS literally grounds the series a little -- we are catching up with the intricacies of a small system in a later state of colonialism (versus the conquest stage of AJ), and how Breq continues to develop both herself and the world around her.

(no subject)

Date: 2016-11-24 02:19 pm (UTC)
princessofgeeks: (Default)
From: [personal profile] princessofgeeks
I loved all three books, and I loved the closeup we get in the second book of a particular world. What really stayed with me from that book was the worldbuilding, and the amazing use of Breq as an unreliable narrator. That's catnip for me -- the reader often understood way more about the relationships Breq was dealing with than she did.

You're right -- the scale was totally different, and that was part of the charm.

I too thought the ending was a little clunky, but I really loved it. When I finished it I started it right over.

In fact I've read the whole thing at least twice through, and will definitely do so again. It's a series that is so interesting upon multiple readings because different things become foregrounded and clearer in light of later information.

Thanks for the review.

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Miscellaneous. Eclectic. Random. Perhaps markedly literate, or at least suffering from the compulsion to read any text that presents itself, including cereal boxes.

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