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Imperial Radch #1

Ancillary Justice

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On a remote, icy planet, the soldier known as Breq is drawing closer to completing her quest.
Breq is both more than she seems and less than she was. Years ago, she was the Justice of Toren--a colossal starship with an artificial intelligence linking thousands of corpse soldiers in the service of the Radch, the empire that conquered the galaxy.
An act of treachery has ripped it all away, leaving her with only one fragile human body. And only one purpose--to revenge herself on Anaander Mianaai, many-bodied, near-immortal Lord of the Radch.

From debut author Ann Leckie, Ancillary Justice is a stunning space opera that asks what it means to be human in a universe guided by artificial intelligence.

331 pages, ebook

First published October 1, 2013

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Ann Leckie

49 books7,387 followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 10,088 reviews
Profile Image for Patrick.
Author 90 books232k followers
November 16, 2014
This book caught my eye mostly because it's been winning just about every award ever this year.

So I picked it up when I was on tour. And as soon as I started it, I could see why it was getting such attention. It's exceptionally well-written. I was almost immediately pulled in.

I should mention here, it's Science Fiction. I don't review much sci-fi these days because I mostly read fantasy. For the most part, what's where my taste lies these days.

But that wasn't always the case. When I was younger, I read sci-fi almost exclusively. It's pretty much all I read for several years....

So in some ways, reading this book was like going home again. I could feel it stretching my brain in ways it hasn't been stretched in a while. Making me think in different directions than I'm used to.

It was good, gritty, realistic sci-fi. Far-future. Big differences in tech. But what really makes this book great are the big *cultural* differences in the world. I've read a fair chuck of sci-fi, but I've never run into anything like this before. I love it when I run into something fresh and new.

This book will make you work a little. It's not going to spoon feed you. It's going to drop you in the middle of the story and let you figure out what the hell is going on by yourself, no long explanations of how the culture developed because of blah blah blah.

Nope, this is a novel that leave you to make up your own mind about things. It leaves room for ambiguity. That's a rare thing in books these days.

And I love it. I've already ordered the sequel, so I can see where the next piece of story leads.

If you're willing to work a little, this book is absolutely worth your time.
Profile Image for Rick Riordan.
Author 509 books403k followers
February 10, 2017
Ann Leckie's series drops us right into a universe both familiar and terrifyingly different. It may take you a while to understand what is going on, because many of your assumptions about point-of-view will be stripped away. This is because the main character Breq is an ancillary -- a human body that has been 'slaved' to the artificial intelligence of a giant spaceship, in this case Justice of Torren. In the empire called the Radch, each spaceship is sentient, crewed by legions of ancillaries who are all connected to the same central mind. Because of this, Breq can be in a thousand places at once, watching events unfold all across the surface of a planet, wherever her soldiers are stationed, or on the ship orbiting above.

Where do ancillaries come from? The Radch is a military empire. It exists by annexing other star systems and enslaving huge swaths of the native population, putting them in cryogenic storage until those bodies are needed -- their old minds wiped away and reprogrammed as part of a ship's AI. If that sounds horrifying, it is, but Breq knows no other life -- until a terrible event separates her from her mothership, which is destroyed in hyperspace, leaving Breq alone, the last remnant of Justice of Torren. An ancillary is not considered to be human, but now Breq must find her way through space, hiding and pretending, until she can find a way to discover the truth about how her ship was destroyed, and take revenge on the person she blames -- who happens to be the leader of the empire.

There are three books in the Radch series, and I read them all one after the other. Once you are sucked into this world, you don't want to leave. Another really cool thing about the world which Leckie creates -- the Radch do not pay attention to gender. Gender exists, but their language does not even include words for 'he' or 'she.' Because of this, all characters are labeled 'she' and you can't really be sure, nor does it really matter, what gender they are. Breq struggles whenever she is in another non-Radch culture, since she has to look for subtle clues and remember not to insult males by calling them female and vice versa. I just loved this. I found the second two books a bit more slow-moving than the first, but that was okay. By that time, the story was a drama I cared about, and the Radch are all about taking time, observing propriety, and having tea. You have to accept them on their own terms at their own pace. If you are looking for a brave and terrifying new world to immerse yourself in, definitely give this series a go.
Profile Image for David Sven.
288 reviews445 followers
December 4, 2013
Unexpected. When I started this book I thought I was looking at a 3 to 4 star book. Even by halfway I was still thinking 4 stars at the most. But really, it was always going to be a five star book and it took me to the 80% mark to grudgingly acknowledge this deserves a five star. I say grudgingly because this book is not my usual cup of tea.

Call me shallow and infantile but generally speaking, I like my space operas to have lots of space battles, lots of fighting/battle scenes with a plethora of pew pew and viscera with smoldering slag in the aftermath. I like my protagonists to have a sense of self assured cool about them. Instead of cool I got ethereal (and still a bit of cool) – Instead of the hero that shoots from the hip while watching a multitude of alien heads go pop pop pop – this protagonist sings.

WHA...!? How does singing-dancing-Broadway wannabe beat scary-but-cool tough guy with big gun that makes pew pew noises? Well, for a start there’s no dancing – but more importantly our protagonist is a spaceship AI. Furthermore, not only does our protagonist inhabit a warship, but it also inhabits thousands of “corpse soldiers” or “ancillaries” –human bodies that are reanimated and incorporated into the single consciousness of the ship. THATS FREAKING INSANE!!! And when this machine intelligence, thousands of years old sings through her multiple human voices, everybody listens. That’s the ethereal part – and it’s pretty cool as well. That’s not to say there is no violence – but Leckie uses it sparingly – and though it may not be as gratuitous and visceral as I generally like, it really didn’t need to be. When Ann Leckie does violence she times it for maximum punch and impact.

Leckie also does a good job of communicating what a multi-bodied intelligence would feel like from a first person perspective. The story is told from the POV of the ship “Justice of Toren” mostly from the perspective of her human bodies. So you have a first person POV that is not limited to a single perspective and often does the job of an omniscient perspective and in a single coherent passage we can get multiple conversations and activity through bodies that are separated by distance – all alongside the perspective of an intelligent warship operating and monitoring from orbit. We also get those instances where one body will be doing something from the first person POV while a separate body is watching from a distance also still within the same first person POV.

The other mind bending concept in this book is that the Radchaai (the culture our ship AI belongs to) don’t emphasize gender, and they use gender neutral pronouns. Leckie opted to use “She” as the English proxy for the Radchaai gender neutral pronoun so as a consequence, the protagonist’s narrative voice always uses “she” regardless of whether referring to male or female. Also, the ship AI has trouble identifying gender and is constantly misgendering characters who are non Radchaai and often uses the wrong pronoun (still usually “she”) until corrected. This left me with a few Oh moments when discovering characters I thought were female were actually male. There are still some characters in the book that I’m not sure about – not that it matters. But I found that fun rather than confusing.

I also like how Leckie gradually opens up what turns out to be a complex universe with complex cultures and concepts without info dump or spoon feeding. This means there is a little disorientation at the beginning, but the process of discovery as the book progresses makes it all worthwhile and very cool. Plenty of “Aha” moments.

Mind spinning concepts aside, this is very much a space opera set in a universe which features galaxy spanning Empires in a Universe where Earth is long lost to memory. The story was interesting, the pacing perfect and the concepts were well executed with plenty of meat for contemplating the nature of consciousness, freewill and what it means to be human.

This is the first book in what is to be a series. It can be read standalone but it has definitely wet my appetite for the next installment. All of my various segments with one mind and voice rate this....

5 stars
Profile Image for Doctordalek.
98 reviews19 followers
January 31, 2016
This really seems to be a case of a bandwagon gone insane. I was looking forward to this book after seeing very high recommendations from a lot of high-profile people: Veronica Belmont, John Scalzi (I think?), Felicia Day, NPR books, I know I am forgetting more... and nearly every review here is five stars. How could I not love this one? Well, recently, I have discovered that I am really not fitting in with the mainstream. I have had terrible luck lately with ridiculously popular books and Ancillary Justice is no exception.

I was excited to see Ann's treatment of gender due to the now famous use of "she" as the default pronoun in the book. Unfortunately, it doesn't work at all. What could have been a very interesting take on gender became a gimmick that just didn't fit. "She" in this case comes across as a mistranslation. It is a word that, in English, is very closely associated with the feminine. There are a few exceptions, like boats, guns, or cars, where people will refer to the genderless object as a she. If translating from a language or culture that doesn't recognize a difference between masculine and feminine, one would definitely not choose "she". Sure, it doesn't make for such clever marketing. However, before I get drowned out by cries of "misogynist!", one would not use "he", either. We already have a word for the neutral gender: "it". If that seems too impersonal, one could refer to "the person" throughout the book. It doesn't flow very well and definitely doesn't hold any gimmick value, so it is a lame choice, but it would still make more sense.

Now, aside from the gender issue, the book was a muddled mess. Ann apparently had terrible difficulty with descriptions, using "angry" or "anger" just about a hundred times by my count. She used the word "gesture" a hundred times, as well. There were gestures for everything: polite gestures, gestures of "ambiguity" - whatever they would be, apologetic gestures, negating gestures, more gestures of ambiguity, "abortive" gestures, gestures showing a lack of concern or helplessness. It really came across as what it was: an author's first time at bat.

The story seems to have been thrown together by the writer making angry gestures while holding a pen. Characters would be walking along, talking - and then falling, suddenly. Ok, so you needed to get the story going, but just a sudden fall down hundreds of meters? Maybe my copy was missing a few pages? The story focused on local, regional and galactic/universal politics. If that is your bag, give it a shot. In my mind, though, it read like Tom Cruise's movie Mission Impossible: convoluted story lines going everywhere but nowhere at the same time, characters that were undeveloped to the point where I was indifferent to their fates and actions, and a stupid plan that was the foundation of the whole plot.

Stupid plan? That isn't nice! Honestly, the whole idea of the book is that a guy has a terrible plan. Somebody wants to steal a gun and kill thousands of bad guys, yet she (see what I did there? Gimmick!) knows she may only successfully kill a small handful? To make it worse, there are mind-reading ships that can tell if you are stressed or sweating, which just may be significant if your goal is the assassination of one thousand clones of the galactic empire's supreme leader! Conveniently, though, these clones all seem to hang around common ships and hang onto the outside of escaping ships, trying to shoot their way in. Lazy. Wow. This is the last Ann Leckie book I am going to waste my time on. Sorry, Ann, I don't mean to hurt your feelings, but I am sure that my review certainly won't sink your next book or movie deal.

I have written low star reviews of popular books before and have received angry messages from fanboys intending to intimidate me into giving more stars (really!), so I feel it necessary to provide this explanation of what a book review site is: it is a collection of different opinions. If you don't like somebody's opinion of your favorite book, sending messages to that person to give a better review completely reduces the value of the review site as a whole. If every offended person here got everybody else to give a book give stars, every book would have five stars. How does that help you find your next book to read? Instead, there are a billion five star reviews for Ancillary Justice and a few low ones. If you agree with the tastes of the low star reviewers, maybe the book isn't for you. If you want to play the numbers game, read the book, you will probably love it.
Profile Image for Felicia.
Author 47 books128k followers
January 28, 2014
I'm almost wanting to give this five stars, because I LOVED it, but the first section of the book is very confusing ( in some ways by choice) and I think that could put some people off so there you go. 4 1/2 stars, ha!

This is a great sci-fi adventure following a character who is not man nor woman, and don't even try to figure it out, that's the confusing part. But the character is fomerly HUNDREDS of people, and a spaceship. All at once. Yeah, ok once you can wrap that around your head, it's SO GOOD this book. How the author accomplishes the changes of POV when someone is more than one person, is beyond me. It was deftly handled. And the plot is gripping and interesting, the other characters flawed but fascinating, and I was angry when the book came to a close, because I wanted the next one SO BAD.

Like I said, the whole gender thing was confusing (the lack and confusion of the main character about said subject), I understand it's a big idea and concept that is clever and unique, but I'm not sure I followed it entirely. A re-read would help. And maybe I'm just so weighted in NEEDING a gender for characters that I couldn't back up and relax about it? Who knows. Anyway, definitely a great book, makes sci-fi character based, and great world building. Highly recc!
Profile Image for Zen Cho.
Author 54 books2,363 followers
October 11, 2013
Things I liked about ANCILLARY JUSTICE: a list

- Everyone is she (not everyone is actually she)

- The protagonist is a SPACESHIP

- There is a scene where a space station is mad at the protagonist and the space station throws a tantrum and a spaceship who likes the protagonist is like, “omg space station is such a jerk” and it is super cute omg

- A spaceship with FEELINGS

- People are hostile and angry at each other but then they become friends and then they are super LOYAL AND DEVOTED

- The spaceships are basically like dragons in Pern only they are spaceships

- Protagonist is one of those super stoic characters who have a lot of feelings but refuse to admit it. I love that kind of character!

- Semi-soul-bonded spaceships!

- It’s about an evil empire that’s trying to stop being quite so evil (it is told from the POV of someone from the evil empire, but you get a lot about the perspectives of the people and places that have been invaded and colonised by the evil empire)

- The different cultures in the book are well fleshed out and feel like different cultures. I particularly liked the evil empire religion, though I didn’t get the sartorial conventions (gloves??).

- It is structured so that alternating chapters recount two storylines — one about a mystery that happened in the past, and one about the mystery of what is happening in the future — and I like stories that have a mystery at each end of the stick

This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for J.L.   Sutton.
666 reviews868 followers
July 17, 2019
“If you’re going to make a desperate, hopeless act of defiance you should make it a good one.”

Lots of fun! Before reading Ancillary Sword (the 2nd book in the Imperial Radch Series), I decided to re-read Ancillary Justice, a thoroughly compelling space opera and debut novel from Ann Leckie. I enjoyed Leckie’s depiction of One Esk whose story is told over three different time periods spanning a thousand years. There are also different versions of One Esk, who is both the consciousness/sentience of the Radchaai spaceship, Justice of Toren, and ancillary versions of this ‘self.’

These points of view take some getting used to, but there’s a big payoff as the intersecting stories unfold. Parts of the book seem like a detective story. What motivates One Esk? Is there a single event in the intersecting stories which reveals One Esk’s new purpose or is it more complicated than that? Ancillary Justice is an exploration of identity and cultural imperialism (depicted during Radchaai annexations of planets). Ancillary Justice more than held up to a re-read. Changing my rating from 4 to 4.5 and rounding up!
Profile Image for Lyn.
1,868 reviews16.5k followers
February 19, 2019
Standing on the shoulders of giants, author Anne Leckie has produced a mature, post-modern sci-fi gem.

Coming out of the gates with her debut novel, but with a lifetime of science fiction knowledge building and percolating up to the top, Leckie hit a home run and, more accurately, won the science fiction triple crown by grabbing the Hugo, the Nebula, and the Arthur C. Clarke, as well as a host of other awards and nominations.

So what’s all the fuss about?

Linking influences from Ursula Le Guin, Frank Herbert, Andre Norton, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein and John Varley Leckie has produced a future classic that could not have been produced 40 years ago, Ancillary Justice is in many respects the culmination of decades of science fiction evolution.

Like Poul Anderson, Leckie began with a great concept, a unique confluence of great ideas that work together to build a powerful whole. Leckie describes centuries old AI technology that links spaceships and individual units, ancillaries, together. Further, these AI conciousnesses can operate together, or in psychological civil war, to rule over a galactic empire headed by a tyrannical and aristocratic hierarchical system. Akin to Star Trek's The Borg, civilizations can get annexed into the larger whole (and assimilated - resistance is futile!)

Modern novels like China Mieville’s Embassytown and Alastair Reynolds The Prefect come closest to a similar world-building masterwork like what Leckie has accomplished. Like David Weber’s Safehold series, Leckie has woven a detailed tapestry of a fictional universe that breathes with its own life and presents the reader with a wealth of questions to be answered.

Not an especially easy read, her gender-neutral narrative and alien cultural design can be difficult to follow; it is nonetheless a breathtakingly ambitious project that satisfies and entertains.

Profile Image for Nataliya.
745 reviews11.9k followers
December 24, 2022
“And you don’t like my saying that, but here’s the truth: luxury always comes at someone else’s expense. One of the many advantages of civilization is that one doesn’t generally have to see that, if one doesn’t wish. You’re free to enjoy its benefits without troubling your conscience.”
This novel won the science fiction Grand Slam in 2014, earning Hugo, Nebula, Locus and Arthur C. Clarke Awards. So no wonder it aims high, tackling a whole bunch of important and even existential questions and themes. Like what it means to be a person — even if you are not thought of as quite human. And the oppressive horror of a culture founded on the idea of conquest and forced assimilation as well as the fallacy of relying on one’s social origin as a proxy for worth. And even how a new whole can arise from the shattered remnants of something else.
“On one level the answer is simple—it happened when all of Justice of Toren but me was destroyed. But when I look closer I seem to see cracks everywhere. Did the singing contribute, the thing that made One Esk different from all other units on the ship, indeed in the fleets? Perhaps. Or is anyone’s identity a matter of fragments held together by convenient or useful narrative, that in ordinary circumstances never reveals itself as a fiction? Or is it really a fiction?”

Does it do an amazing job in all of these, worthy of its status as the quadruple-crown winner? Perhaps not — but nevertheless it is an entertaining space opera and an easy, enjoyable read, even if it falls quite short of anything earth-(or space-)shattering.

“Nineteen years, three months, and one week before I found Seivarden in the snow, I was a troop carrier orbiting the planet Shis’urna.”
“I had once had twenty bodies, twenty pairs of eyes, and hundreds of others that I could access if I needed or desired it. Now I could only see in one direction, could only see the vast expanse behind me if I turned my head and blinded myself to what was in front of me.”

Our protagonist Breq, formerly known as Justice of Toren One Esk Nineteen, used to be a giant troop-carrier spaceship — or rather one of its “ancillary units” — colonized people whose consciousness was erased to make them basically corporeal extensions of the spaceship AI — basically its appendages that can interact with the world and be good obedient soldiers that the ever-expanding Radch Empire needs in its endless bloody annexations of other worlds. Breq is not considered human; she is “the ancillary, the non-person, the piece of equipment”, disposable and replaceable. But a bloody chain of events leads to the destruction of the ship along all other ancillaries, and Breq - a lone fragment of greater AI consciousness inhabiting a somewhat augmented human body - is the only survivor who is now on the determined revenge quest, “the last remaining fragment of a grief-crazed AI” as one of the characters succinctly puts it, and we learn the details of what actually happened and what she seeks through two timelines that eventually converge.
“Imagine. Imagine your whole life aimed at conquest, at the spread of Radchaai space. You see murder and destruction on an unimaginable scale, but they see the spread of civilization, of Justice and Propriety, of Benefit for the universe. The death and destruction, these are unavoidable by-products of this one, supreme good.”
“When you grow up knowing that you deserve to be on top, that the lesser houses exist to serve your house’s glorious destiny, you take such things for granted. You’re born assuming that someone else is paying the cost of your life. It’s just the way things are. What happens during annexation—it’s a difference of degree, not a difference of kind.”

This story is driven by the relationships that our AI-fragment Breq forms. In the “then” timeline we see her attachment to Lieutenant Awn, a person who seems a bit different from her war- and class-obsessed peers who sneer at her lower-class upbringing and provincial accent — but her kindness and reason earns her a permanent place in the heart of supposedly non-human equipment/AI. And in the “now” timeline we see the now-alone Breq rescuing an officer she knew a thousand years ago (cryosuspension, if you need explanations), and we see how this rescue eventually leads to a tentative friendship that shakes up the former entitled jerk Seivarden into something of a decent human being.

Actually, Seivarden’s character growth was probably my favorite part of the story. It’s not easy to wake up after a battle and realize that a millennium has passed and everything has changed, and that you are completely alone, without the social standing you took for granted, not to mention people and culture (and as we learn later, even language). But then he learns to use his thinking muscles and is forced to reevaluate what he used to see as unchanging paradigms, raised in the world where his privilege supported him feeling extra-special. Not to say that his character growth does not veer a bit into the overdone territory — but he shows strength when it matters.

Still, a bit of crucial character growth happened off page, when it would have mattered to see more of it on page, and I’m a bit disappointed by that.

Is this book a bit heavy-handed in telegraphing its approach to the old sins of classicism, snobbery, colonialism and prejudice? Absolutely. Could it have had a touch more subtlety? I think so. Could it have integrated questions about gender in a smoother, less gimmicky way? You betcha*. Should more of Seivarden’s transformation from a jerk to a passable human being have happened on page? Of course — I think we needed to see much more of that. Could everyone have drunk less tea? I don’t know, maybe the book was sponsored by Lipton — not everyone’s cuppa.

* Apparently the elephant in the room is Breq’s use of “she” as a default regardless of gender, as Radchaai society has a gender less language and apparently does not distinguish people by gender or pay any attention to it. Gender discrimination is apparently one of the few sins Radch is not guilty of, and actually is pretty easy to get used to after a few pages. But it does seem a bit overdone — not in the idea but in neverending struggles of Breq to pick up cues in gendered societies. It’s been nineteen years, Breq, use your observational powers to read the cues!

But focus on the pronouns above all does serve as a reminder how obsessed with duality society is. And yet The Left Hand of Darkness did it better half a century ago. Good thing this book does not depend on this gimmick alone. And at least for me, it was the smallest part of the story.

But still, it does bring interesting ideas of collective mind and emergence of separate consciousnesses and identities from what was supposed to be the greater cohesive whole. Plus, I’m a sucker for a compelling AI story, and for all of my frustrations with Breq I enjoyed the journey she took me on, and I’m curious to see what kind of a team she can hopefully form with Seivarden in the future, given how good of an influence those two have been on each other, and intense loyalty that develops between the two, helping fix these two broken people just a bit.

I was struggling a bit with my final verdict, because with so many themes I can instantly think of books that did it better: Ursula K. Le Guin in The Left Hand of Darkness, Arkady Martine in her Teixcalaan duology, Martha Wells in her Murderbot series. And yet Leckie still succeeds in creating an interesting space opera that tackles important issues and makes me want to read more of it.
“If you’re going to do something that crazy, save it for when it’ll make a difference. But absent near-omniscience there’s no way to know when that is. You can only make your best approximate calculation. You can only make your throw and try to puzzle out the results afterward.”

Overall, 3.5 stars rounding up to 4. What can I say, I’m a sucker for Seivarden’s loyalty and redemption.

And I also have serious cravings for tea, the most important character in this book, hands down.
“It’s easy to say that if you were there you would have refused, that you would rather die than participate in the slaughter, but it all looks very different when it’s real, when the moment comes to choose.”


Buddy read with carol, jade, Jessica and Stephen.


Also posted on my blog.
Profile Image for carol..
1,537 reviews7,879 followers
April 23, 2021
It’s complicated.

I bought Ancillary Justice awhile ago, knowing I needed to read it. Everyone, it seemed was raving, from the Hugo/Locus/Nebula Awards to the Incomparable Podcast to the friends who are responsible for 4.11 average rating. And while I get parts of the love–it’s far more readable than I expected–it feels very much like a first book, with the accompanying challenges in world-building and plotting.

There’s a dual narrative, a prior timeline and a current timeline. Leckie uses a classic sci-fi approach and drops the reader into it with the past timeline which takes place on the last assimilated world of the Imperial Radch, and shepherds the reader a little more with the second timeline on a snowy, more isolated planet. The reader gradually understands that the narrator is a ship artificial intelligence who has multiple bodies in the past timeline and only one single humanoid body, ‘Breq,’ in the current. One of the tensions of the story then is not only understanding the past society of the Radch, but how the narrator changed circumstance so drastically.

“Except for those hours when communications had been cut off, I had never really lost the sense of being part of Justice of Toren. My kilometers of white-walled corridor, my captain, the decade commanders, each decade’s lieutenants, each one’s smallest gesture, each breath, was visible to me. I had never lost the knowledge of my ancillaries, twenty-bodied One Amaat, One Toren, One Etrepa, One Bo, and Two Esk, hands and feet for serving those officers, voices to speak to them.”

I felt a lot of echoes of other works. Definitely The Left Hand of Darkness in setting and theme (snow, intimacy, gender studies), but also Star Trek‘s The Borg and Seven theme (one of many), and more recently, Wells’ Murderbot. But Justice lacks the subtlety and world-building of LHD, the danger of the Borg and the humor of Murderbot. What Justice really has is one obvious big hook of gender non-conformity, and a clever plot point told in an engaging way.

“Which, since I didn’t exist as any sort of individual, was not distressing to me.”

One of the best points about the story is that despite the dual timelines and empire, Leckie is an engaging writer. By using a pastiche of the familiar, the reader is able to fill in a lot of the details. The story read much more quickly than I expected. As the story progressed, the characters gained emotional complexity, leading me to change my mind about continuing the series. Would I continue for information about the Radch Empire? No. Breq/One Esk? Yes.

I quite thankful to my group of fellow readers for many reasons, but one thing that became clear as we discussed is that many of the underpinnings of the story don’t hold well under stress. The most obvious point is the language device of an A.I having trouble telling human gender and defaulting to female when forced to linguistically choose. Ultimately, it seemed unlikely for my for an A.I. that’s been interacting with humans for over two thousand years. Regardless of whether you accept it, it became obvious just how arbitrary it was when Leckie has Breq continue to use the wrong pronoun after others would point out the correct one. That, my friends, is just an asshole maneuver. And if the Radch were truly a society where gender didn’t matter, wouldn’t they have a gender-free pronoun?

“She was probably male, to judge from the angular mazelike patterns quilting her shirt. I wasn’t entirely certain. It wouldn’t have mattered.”

A significant plot problem surrounded the ending. At the risk of spoilers I won’t say more on my WordPress review, but Stephen astutely pointed out the logic error There were also smaller story-telling problems. Specifically, there was one section where Leckie had been organically building up her plot points and world in the past, and then one of the lieutenants comes in and literally summarizes everything that just happened. On the one hand, I guess it was nice to have the comprehension check, on the other hand, what the hell, comprehension check?

Ultimately, good reads pass the ‘interesting’ test, along with the ‘not-offensive’ rider, and Ancillary Justice certainly does that. Leckie did an interesting enough job with relationships that I want to continue with Ancillary Sword. However, should it stand among the must-read greats? I’m doubtful.

Major shout outs to my reading team who motivated, kept me oriented (haha), and provided thoughtful discussion. Thank you, jade, Jessica, Nataliya, Stephen, and Daniel (with guest appearances by David)! You all are the best and make reading so much more fun.
Profile Image for Will M..
304 reviews615 followers
September 2, 2015
I hope no one kills me because I know most of the people who read this really enjoyed it in the end. This is another one of my unpopular opinions, so bear with me as I try to explain what went wrong, for me.

Every time I pick up a sci-fi novel, I always read the synopsis. I like my sci-fi brutal and heavy on battles and politics. It's the mixture of both that made me really like the genre to begin with. The premise of this novel didn't seem like it was going to offer no action at all till the end. Ancillary Justice was all talk, and unfortunately the talk wasn't even interesting.

The idea of artificial intelligence will always be interesting for me. That reason alone made me want to read this novel already, so it's safe to say that I'm quite disappointed in that aspect of the novel. I didn't get what I wanted because Leckie didn't really tackle much on A.I the way that I wanted her to. I wanted to see how A.I. could really mess up humanity, and while it did mess up humanity in the novel, it wasn't adequate. I was underwhelmed with the overall plot.

Speaking of the plot, did it really develop? For me, it didn't. To begin with, the alternating timelines were tremendously confusing because what was happening didn't interest me. How would I continue reading enthusiastically if the plot wasn't even engaging. My attention span was of a five year old while reading this. I wanted to do other things, anything to be honest, just not read this novel. The only reason why I finished this was because I wanted to get it over with. I didn't want to put this on my did-not-finish shelf because I know that eventually I'd be giving it another go anyway.

The characters were also terrible. They were dull and underdeveloped. No one really made an impact, or even appeared as interesting. I didn't care about those who died, and I wouldn't have cared if the main character and her companion died. What could be worse than a boring plot? Terrible lifeless characters.

After all the hatred mentioned I still gave this a 2 star rating. I honestly don't think it deserves a one star, and my current mood might have influenced my experience with this one. You see, it was boring, but not bad. There's a difference for me. Most of my 1 star novels received such a rating because the ending was disgusting, or the plot was useless. This one was boring, but I see why people loved it. They loved the plot, and the issues tackled by Leckie. I personally didn't, and honestly that's why I didn't enjoy this.

2.5/5 stars. Will I be reading the sequel? Yes, because the ending of this first novel was good. Not a genuine cliffhanger, but engaging enough to make me want to read the next one in the future.
Profile Image for Chris  Haught.
576 reviews214 followers
December 8, 2014
Chucked at 10%. I should have known better. How many times have I seen all those awards listed in a blurb and been suckered into trying a book?

I'm just not doing it. Maybe it gets better, but no. I'm not getting trapped into losing a couple of months of my life because I'm determined to finish a China Miéville/Gene Wolfe-type experience. Maybe I'm not smart enough to grasp this genre.

Or more likely, I just don't give a damn.
Profile Image for Niki Hawkes - The Obsessive Bookseller.
725 reviews1,204 followers
May 4, 2018
I’ve been systematically devouring as many of these sci-fi series as I can get my hands on (fueled by James S.A. Corey, Ann Aguirre, Martha Wells, and Rachel Bach, to name a few), and I’d been saving Ancillary Justice for a rainy day. I was certain I was going to love it… but unfortunately it fell a little short of my expectations.

For the first third of the book I thought I was having an issue with my ability to concentrate. I found the writing really dense and it was often difficult to figure out what was happening. Sometimes rereading passages would help, but more often than not I felt like I was missing something. It distanced me from the story and made me feel disconnected from the characters. Around the 30% mark, it finally started to draw me in with a few action scenes and got better from there. By the time I finished, I was glad I’d read it, but holy cow that was a rocky start. My conservative rating is a reflection of that and the fact that the book lacked some depth.

The potential for political intrigue was one of my biggest motivators to keep reading. The dynamics were so interesting early on that I really thought it was going to expand into something profound. All the ingredients were there, they just didn’t get manipulated enough for any sort of payoff. It lacked a nefarious edge to really get me down and gritty with the story, so I came away feeling like I’d just read a whole lot of fluff (with potential).

I did have some positive takeaways: The book started with a great concept and maintained a strong voice throughout. It also boasts one of the more fascinating POVs I’ve come across (non-human, which was a delightful surprise). Those items alone saved it to a “I liked it” rating.

I’m kind of an outlier when compared to the mass majority of stellar ratings, but I do have a Goodreads friend who had similar issues with this book, but explained them a lot better [see his review]. He talked about his theory for it’s success based on people being fascinated by the various stylistic elements and I’m not ashamed to admit I’m one of those people – I really love when an author can show me something I’ve never seen before. But the rest of his points were spot-on with my impressions of this book (nice review!).

Recommendations: I’m not as wide read with sci-fi as I’d like to be (yet), but I’ve definitely read several I liked better than Ancillary Justice. Despite that, it’s still recommendable for its interesting concept, characters, and overall story. It’s not the first book I’d hand you in the genre, but it would certainly come up in conversation. Keep this one in mind after you’ve read my other sci-fi recs first. ;)

Via The Obsessive Bookseller at www.NikiHawkes.com

Other books you might like:
Perdition (Dred Chronicles, #1) by Ann Aguirre Leviathan Wakes (The Expanse, #1) by James S.A. Corey Fortune's Pawn (Paradox #1) by Rachel Bach All Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries, #1) by Martha Wells Beholder's Eye (Web Shifters, #1) by Julie E. Czerneda
Profile Image for Henk.
851 reviews
May 11, 2023
An intriguing story of identity, morality, exploitation, civilization and colonialism. There are a lot of coincidences needed, but overal this science fiction worked for me
Luxury always comes at somebody else their expense. One of the many advantages of civilization is that one generally doesn’t have to see that if one doesn’t wish. You are free to enjoy its benefits without troubling your conscience

We are not what we used to be the main character of Ancillary Justice thinks and that is definitely true from the perspective that she is no longer a ship controlling thousands of zombies (for lack of a better word) but just one of those ancillaries after the destruction of her ship.
Ann Leckie follows two timelines, one on how the main character came to be as she is now, and one of her making a way in the world, gathering along the way a stray noble.

Things are as they are, but the world building is definitely the most interesting part of the book. The Radch is an imperialistic space empire, stilted in its expansion due to a peace treaty with aliens. Besides drinking tea, having gender neutral speech (where everyone per default is she), a social taboo against bare hands, AI ships controlling ancillaries and clientage contracts with more powerful families that organise themselves into houses, there is also a Lord of the Radch. This person is the Cleon genetic dynasty from the Foundation TV series on steroids, with clones ruling various palaces and serving as final judge on all matters.

The storytelling and world building does raise some questions, like why does the AI controlling people need to sleep? And how does technology not advance in 1.000s of years?
Why doesn’t the AI rule the empire? Or why don’t humans use them to gain an edge against each other or the aliens? How did humans became interstellar, just to be annexed everywhere by the Radch?

Still I was captivated and liked this book more than the later, and in themes similar A Memory Called Empire, which also focussed on imperialism, culture vs "barbarians" and relations with non-human entities.
Definitely there are large questions to the coincidences that the author needs to keep her story going, but still enjoyable and I feel I will read the other parts of the series at one point or another.

It all looks very different when its real, when the moment comes to choose

Underestimating her own importance was never one of her failings

Unity, I thought, implies the possibility of disunity. Beginnings imply and require endings.
Profile Image for Kyle Aisteach.
Author 8 books19 followers
October 19, 2013
OK, Ann Leckie owes my students an apology.

I picked this book up at Barnes & Noble because I know Ann and wanted to help make sure she moved copies of the book early in its release, knowing full well that I don't have time to do any pleasure reading until the semester is over. Well, I made the mistake of flipping it open, and now I'm four days behind in my grading. And it's all this book's fault.

Ann Leckie has a real gift for clarity which I admire greatly. This book should have been a muddled mess -- two braiding timelines plus flashbacks, a POV character who is capable of being a thousand places at once in one timeline and a solitary individual confused by the concept of gender in the other, and a story which hinges on nuances of several nonexistent languages -- and yet it's clear and engaging from the first page. The story hovers somewhere between space opera, military science fiction, and feminist literature and really warps perception in fun and interesting ways.

This is the story of a woman who was once one of a thousand "ancillaries" -- mindless human bodies linked to and controlled by a ship's artificial intelligence -- but has been cut off from her ship and is now its only remaining consciousness left in the real world. Set thousands of years in the future and spanning generations, the main character finds herself caring for a man (though she can't see him as a man as everyone to her is female) who is addicted to drugs while trying to arrange revenge on the person who caused her separation.

Now, I have to put in the obligatory "who won't like this book" section. Despite the space-opera setting, if you're fond of epic space battles and two-dimensional characters, this book isn't for you. Also, be warned that the inciting incident is a coincidence of mind-blowing proportion (personally, I'm willing to roll with that in an inciting incident, but this one would make Charles Dickens blush). Because the main character has a hard time perceiving gender and the descriptions of characters don't conform to our gender stereotypes, the effect is deliberately confusing and may be off-putting to some readers. But, really, it's a good story with characters I care about, and is a rare example of a book that has me excited about it.

Strongly recommended.
Profile Image for Lee.
351 reviews192 followers
October 15, 2014
Never have I gone into a book with so much expectation to be utterly disappointed. I think that if I hadn't seen all the rave reviews and up talk about the story and I went in unencumbered with expectation, it might have, maybe got a 3 star. For being a bit different.

The concept and idea is sound, it has had potential. Ship and her ancillaries soldiers, the political games and omnipotent tyrant. But it all fell very flat for me. I understand that part of the issue I have in the complete lack of emotion and unremarkable character is the fact that the POV character is an technically an AI robot. But the other characters just didn't do anything for me either.

I listened to this on audio and that probably ruined any chance of a 3 star because I really didn't like the narration. Yes, I understand the expressionless tone was technically correct for a ship AI, but gods it was hard to listen to for 8 hours long. The other main characters; Lt Ahn had loads of potential to work with, but the narrator voiced her into a whiny high pitched seemingly weak person, at odds with how I would have read her in my own head. Sauvardin (or however you spell it) was poor, I didn't like the way the character was written, basically a tag along key for the end story, with a not really believable storyline in the middle. Probably Anander Meania (probably spelt that wrong too) was probably the only character with any interest and the complications of that character certainly made me listen with a little more attention.

And there is the crux of it all. I couldn't concentrate on the story, it meandered and dribbled along with inane chats and conversations with little emotion. Often I found myself thinking of other things to suddenly come back to the story. There was very little world building. The earlier part of the story being recalled wasn't too bad in describing and setting a scene. But the present day part was completely without description of anything but the two characters, it seemed not part of the story and I felt like we just had two characters in a bubble drifting to the end chapters.

Which when we got to the end chapters added some action, emotion and interesting dialogues. The last 20% of the book held my attention and really developed a great storyline and I don't just mean by means of an action scene. The interaction between characters improved and there seemed a sense of something actually happening and coming to a moment of importance to the overall plot. Alas, I needed to read the other 80% to get there.

I can't see myself reading book two to be honest. I want more from my stories and I want to be a lot more engaged than I was with this. I do wish I had read this, rather than listened to it as I do think that it probably would have given me an additional star.
Profile Image for Gavin.
863 reviews393 followers
December 14, 2017
This was the best sci-fi book I've read in a long time. It was one of those rare books that got the blend of ideas and story perfect. It made you think but also engaged and entertained.

The premise of the story was a good one. On a remote icy planet a lone individual is closing in on the tools that will finally give them a shot at the vengeance they have longed for for nearly two decades. Any stranger would assume the women going by the name of Breq was ex-military. They would be right. What they could not guess is that the mind in the body was once known as Justice of Toren, an AI system that controlled a battleship and thousands of ancillaries (corpse soldiers). Betrayal has reduced it to just a single ancillary body!

The story was very engaging and entertaining right from the very start. Ann Leckie had an engaging writing style and Breq was an intriguing main character and one who was surprisingly easy to root for. The world building was also excellent. Leckie created an interesting sci-fi world. Easily the most interesting sci-fi world I've encountered since reading the Hyperion series. The most prominent culture was the most fascinating one. The Radch. An expansionist Empire with a ruler who is thousands of years old and a society that places no emphasis on gender.

It was a good story that touched on issues like racism, classism, colonialism, and gender identity without ever letting those issues overwhelm the story itself.

All in all I found this story compelling and interesting. It is the best of the Hugo and Nebula books I've read and one of the few I feel is actually deserving of such an accolade!

Rating: 5 stars.

Audio Note: This was narrated fantastically well by Adjoa Andoh. Her general narration was excellent and so was her voice acting. She had an excellent array of accents.
Profile Image for Beth.
1,145 reviews114 followers
October 20, 2013
What's the point? Admittedly, science fiction isn't my favorite genre, but if you're looking for a novel with a concept that would be intriguing were it not the the novel's centerpiece, and completely unsupported by story - well, this is your book.

Ancillary Justice is barely more than its concept. The slim plot unfolds oh so slowly over over hundreds of pages, and the book ends just as the conflict is starting to heat up. Characterization is no more than actions and memories, and the concept itself, drummed into the reader over and over, doesn't hold up to close examination.

There's no beginning and end to this novel, no true story. There's just a slice of present day and a fragmented dose of the past and an abrupt, notable lack-of-ending that screams "buy the sequel."
Profile Image for Rachel (TheShadesofOrange).
2,090 reviews2,956 followers
November 8, 2022
4.0 Stars
This was a brilliant, complex space opera that challenges concepts of gender and personhood. This was technically a re-read and, once again, I adored the beginning, but I feel like the story loses focus in the second half.. I love how the novel explores themes of oppression and control through a classic revenge narrative.
Profile Image for Michael.
1,094 reviews1,510 followers
August 22, 2015
The pleasure I got from this far future tale from the perspective of an AI on a mission ripened over time. One reader friend found it missed some spark in the characters or emotional engagement that muted his satisfaction. But you have to expect an AI to fall short in endearing human characters. Thus, the mind bender for me was in how far I was led to identify with the hero as a fellow self up to a noble effort in life’s challenges. In the line of sci fi that makes you question what it means to be human, the innovations Leckie pulls off have progressively dawned on me over the weeks since completing my reading.

The lead character, One Esk, renders her story from three different time points over more than a thousand year span. At the early phase, when the artificial intelligence is the brain behind an imperial government spaceship, we also get the viewpoint of several different instances of its self in the form on “ancillary units” all continually linked into one computer entity. This spread of self over time and space in the narrative presentation was a fresh and marvelous performance to me. When the destruction of this ship leads to the ancillary unit going it alone, the sense of diminishment and loneliness makes her feel more human.

The premise is that once death removes a human consciousness, the body and brain can be recycled with the right hardware implants as an all-purpose soldier and crewman under governing control of an AI. From Asimov on down, we’ve seen many imagined versions of self-conscious computers and robots, with some trying hard to achieve human ethical sensibilities like android Daneel Olivaw and Star Trek’s Data, but most sinister from missing key emotional values, like Hal or Skynet. Leckie’s creation feels emotions, which is in line with recent inferences in artificial intelligence science that simulation of feelings is needed to motivate a software intelligence and allow it to valuate choices, and thus put it on a path to the grail of becoming a conscious entity.

But just when we begin to get comfortable in the mind of One Esk, she will speak of consciously controlling her facial expressions, and a bit of a chill over her being a robot of sorts sneaks through. That she is capable of lying and faking motivations make her a bit alien and human at the same time. I got a similar reaction from experiencing her efforts of reading people’s intentions and motivations in the same inferential way we all do, by interpreting facial expressions, gestures, body postures, and verbal intonation. Even more odd, I got a sense of her superiority over humans from seeing their concern with gender and class differences as effectively arbitrary factors that govern human social interactions. The programming to be loyal to serving the empire, the military, and the greater good of mankind seems not too far from the human kind of programming. How she deals with conflicting loyalties is the core of this tale and pushes boundaries when we find ourselves rooting for her over her human adversaries.

But what of the world building, the human characters in this story, or what to expect on the plot trajectory? They were satisfying to me on all counts. We are in a situation of an imperial colonization of a human society with rural-urban social differences and a hierarchy based on class and wealth similar to our own. Like the Roman Empire Leckie admits to borrowing from, giving the locals citizenship and commercial privileges is the carrot and the rest are traitors to be crushed. One Esk serves a lieutenant in the transition force she admires, and both make friends and appreciate the provincials, especially their music. A threat by apparent subversive elements sets the stage for tragic events and choices that put them both in trouble. The Emperor herself is a major character and dangerous prime mover One Esk must outwit and harness to the good of humankind. She is human, but has the same features of a distributed self that made One Esk’s multiplicity with her ship so weird. The Emperor works through many clones throughout the empire, kept in self unity and registration through automated tech implants. That such a system for omnipresent dictatorship might be unstable and subject to breakdown is a welcome prospect, but when it happens, it makes for a supreme purpose for One Esk to overcome somehow.

In the end, I have to up my rating over this for its mind-bending journey and for getting me into thrilling action situations with a lot at stake where I root for an AI over humans. I applaud the choice for Hugo and Nebula awards and look forward to the next in the series. I leave you with a sample of Leckie’s prose that reveals the engaging qualities of One Esk’s mental struggles to make sense of her selfness:

It seems very straightforward when I say “I.” At the time “I” meant Justice of Toren, the whole ship and all its ancillaries. A unit might be focused on what it was doing at that particular moment, but it was no more apart from “me” than my hand is while it is engaged at a task that does not require my .full attention.
Nearly twenty years later “I” would be a single body, a single brain. …It was something that had always been possible, always potential. Guarded against. But how did it go from potential to real, incontrovertible, irrevocable?
On one level the answer was simple—it happened when all of Justice of Toren but me was destroyed. But when I look closer I begin to see cracks everywhere. Did the singing contribute, the thing that made One Esk different from all the other units in the ship, indeed in the fleets? Perhaps. Or is anyone’s identity a matter of fragments held together by useful or convenient narrative, that in ordinary circumstances never reveals itself as a fiction? Or is it really a fiction?

Profile Image for Mir.
4,862 reviews5,006 followers
February 17, 2014
One of the most intelligent, original, and complex works of science-fiction I've read in ages.
Profile Image for Ryandake.
404 reviews48 followers
April 17, 2015
you know, one shuffles up and down the stacks at the bookstore and hopes each time that the next sf book one reads will:

be well-written
have at least one character you care about
be well-plotted
have intelligent commentary
include some aliens who are really alien, or,
include some humans who are not quite human and
leave you with something really knotty to think about.

actually finding one happens about once a year, and it feels like a gift from the gods.

in this case it's a gift from Ann Leckie, whom i desperately hope will be gracing us with another book soon.
Profile Image for Penny.
172 reviews345 followers
August 11, 2016
I thought this had some really brilliant ideas that were cleverly executed. It's fantastically well written, particularly for a debut novel. It fell short of the five star mark for me because it just missed some element I can't quite put my finger on and I felt the ending didn't quite round off the way I would have liked it to.

The ancillary concept is really awesome. It took a while to figure it out but I've always preferred the style of world building that lets the world come to life around the protagonist rather than have things explained in what is usually a fairly unnatural manner.

I enjoyed the time split from two points of view. (No not like that). I found myself enjoying one time frame more than the other at certain times during the book and I enjoyed the fact that every second chapter bounced between the two. I also thought it was a very good way to slowly explain how Breq had ended up where she was.

The gender question was interesting and I'm not sure I fully understand why it was significant. Everyone was called "she" although not everyone is in fact female. The second realisation came later than the first and some people may find themselves uncomfortable with a book made up entirely of female characters. It raises a question of why. We then discover that not everyone who is called "she" is in fact female so the reader can breath easy. It did help to distinguish where you were from if you could easily identify gender, so it did play a role in the novel itself, but I think it might be more powerful in the external reader reaction context.

There were also interesting questions of morals and ethics in terms of war and murder. Ann Leckie exposed some of the fundamental hypocrisies of who we're ok with killing and how vs what is going over the line.

I'm excited to read more in the series. I'd like to meet some of the alien species we've heard about but haven't encountered as of yet. I'm also very excited to see where this is going next. I have high hopes for this one.
Profile Image for Althea Ann.
2,232 reviews1,016 followers
July 29, 2014
A new favorite author? It could be!

This is just exactly the kind of hard sci-fi that I like: it’s got the right balance of compelling, believable characters, serious examination of both theoretical and relevant social issues, and plenty of pure action with spaceships and blaster guns, all in an original and fascinating universe.
I am so glad that my book club decided to read this, because the initial description of the book I’d read didn’t capture my imagination at all. Somehow, with the review’s mentions of sentient ships, hive minds and military action, it just didn’t grab me. Yes, the book has all that – but although the main character IS a sentient ship, and has been part of a group consciousness formed of enslaved corpses, this character currently has only one, human body. Although some of the other characters may feel that this circumstance equates to non-humanity, Breq is one of the most human characters you’re bound to encounter while reading (which, of course, is one of the main points of the novel.)

Breq was one part of the great military ship of the Imperial Radch – the Justice of Toren. Now, solitary and alone, Breq has sworn an oath to take down the Lord of the Radch, Anaander Mianaai. Through gradual flashbacks, the reader comes to realize the motivations for this goal – and also the true enormity of the task.

I cannot wait for the sequel! (Although this book does end at a perfectly satisfactory and conclusive point.)

Recommended for fans of both Iain Banks and Ursula LeGuin.
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 6 books3,978 followers
June 9, 2014
A very satisfying space opera, with characters that are very fascinating. Evil is strange, indeed, but the protagonist has a number of quirks that equal or even surpass her object of revenge.

Honestly, I had no problems with the gender labeling. The idea came across perfectly clear that sex had nothing to do with the story, and I appreciate the whole attempt for what it is. The fact that a whole society defaults to a "she" and doesn't find any grammatical desires to differentiate was refreshing and wonderfully odd.

What really shone like a beacon in the novel was the many aspects to oneself, at least if you're one of the AI. I found myself really enjoying the unspoken questions throughout the story and rocking to the reveals. The action sequences were tight and the depth of the societies make the novel really special.

Even if I didn't know this was a hugo nominee for the year, I'd have been thinking about this novel for a long time. That's an excellent reason to read it, if nothing else. I cannot wait until more come out.
Profile Image for jade.
489 reviews290 followers
April 22, 2021
“that,” i said, “is why i hate you.”

she laughed, as though i’d said something moderately witty. “if that’s what you’re willing to do for someone you hate, what would you do for someone you loved?”

i found i was incapable of answering.
ancillary justice tells the story of one lone soldier of the radch empire on an almost insurmountable quest of vengeance. why? this soldier was once many; an artificial intelligence controlling a warship called justice of toren and dozens of human bodies called ancillaries.

but the ship and most of the bodies were destroyed, and now all the soldier has left is one frail human ancillary against an incredibly powerful antagonist.

i simply did not vibe with this book. that’s the easiest way to say it.

reading it felt very emblematic of the experience i usually have reading older sci-fi: i liked the themes and core concepts, but i found the execution and characters thoroughly lacking, and in certain ways it even felt dated.

even though it deals with a lot of issues that i tend to find fascinating -- colonialism and the effects of imperialism, how class and status inform one’s position in society, the concept of identity and gender, and how an advanced AI might function amidst all that -- i didn’t feel leckie’s approach was holistic or evocative enough.

probably because i had trouble connecting to its characters and its prose, and also because i couldn’t help but think that every theme or concept i found lurking around was done better by another SF story.

so fans of this series, be warned. this review will be critical.

© cover art by John Harris

ancillary justice is written from the first person perspective of breq, the aforementioned former soldier of the radch empire. there are two timelines in the narrative as well: one taking place during current day, and the other a flashback timeline.

the current day chapters follow breq in the shape of one human ancillary while she hunts for a powerful weapon on an icy, desolate planet for purposes yet unknown. this is breq without resources and lacking a lot of computing power, while also having to deal with saving an asshole of a stranger who might not be so strange to breq after all.

the flashback chapters take place about twenty years earlier when breq was still enlisted with the radch empire, and still a warship and dozens of ancillaries at the same time. this details all the disasters that led up to the destruction of justice of toren and breq’s current predicament.

one of the largest challenges of a character like breq is obviously how to establish a highly sophisticated, 2000-year-old artificial intelligence who is multiple bodies and a spaceship at the same time, while flipping to future breq who is only one just one ancillary.

breq’s multiple perspectives in the flashback chapters were really well done. there are subtle differences between different ancillaries; never enough for non-AI characters to consider them very different (or human, for that matter), but breq herself notices it.

and the interweaving of different scenes and dialogues was also a nice touch. several ancillaries of breq’s will be shown having conversations at different locations on wildly different topics with a lot of different people, and it somehow never gets complicated or convoluted.
“or is anyone’s identity a matter of fragments held together by convenient or useful narrative, that in ordinary circumstances never reveals itself as a fiction? or is it really a fiction?”
i could believe how breq was interconnected and how her identity weaved in and out of being one and the same to being multiple instances whenever her ancillaries and ship fell out of sync. the utter dread at suddenly no longer having access to certain information and this idea of dozens of ancillaries suddenly diverging was very palpable and interesting.

it was a fascinating look at identity, and how it can wax and wane in subtle ways.

i’ll also easily admit that i preferred the flashback chapters over the current day ones, mostly because they give us more glimpses into the worldbuilding than the current day timeline does.

the radch empire, known for its brutally effective annexations using mostly ancillary soldiers, is a fascinating beast reminiscent of a roman empire or a ruthless colonial power. as an artificial intelligence and warship, breq is an intricate part of it, but still very much considered a tool rather than a person.

she exists in service to the radch military; the various lieutenants that she liaises for as ancillaries or keeps safe in her ship in orbit. much like the annexed cultures that the radch pluck their ancillary bodies from.
“you’re the ancillary, the non-person, the piece of equipment, but to compare our actions, you loved her more than i ever did.”
both timelines eventually strive to paint a picture of breq beyond that of a monolithic, unemotional, non-involved AI. there’s emotional growth here, even though it is subtle, and won’t fully come to fruition until the main motivation for breq’s vengeance and the antagonist are revealed.

still, the current day chapters were so slow. i found them a slog to get through, as well as including several aspects that felt so badly motivated and even illogical from breq’s perspective that i could only really see them as planted there by the author.

first up, breq’s plan for vengeance is absolutely atrocious, and i can’t really believe that she’d be the first to start hunting for the powerful weapon she needs for her plan. i’ve had some trouble believing how much she sacrifices for a certain stranger she saves from freezing to death, too, but at least i can chalk that up to the necessary emotional arc.

the same goes for some aspects of the worldbuilding. the radch empire has existed for thousands of years, but somehow its methods and the way it operates have not changed during that stretch of time at all. it’s also never made clear just how the lord of the radch got to her power, and how she kept it during all those eons.

nor do we know how their AI developed or how it actually functions (ancillaries included).

that said... now we get to the gender gimmick.

according to breq, the radch don’t make the same sort of gender distinctions that other cultures do (even though they are not genderless), and they don’t have gendered language/pronouns, nor explicit signifiers (clothing, style, etc.).

thus, breq struggles in correctly gendering people from non-radch cultures (very valid), and the author chose to use she/her pronouns as a stand-in for a neutral pronoun to show that breq doesn’t gender the other characters in her thoughts at all.

the result is this: (1) it’s not clear what gender most characters are which i assume was one of leckie’s goals, (2) characters get annoyed at breq misgendering them, and (3) it very much looks as if breq is continuing to misgender them when these characters refer to themselves as he/him or male, and breq’s inner train of thought keeps using she/her.

though i think it’s nice to confront your reader with how silly gendered assumptions and stereotypes are especially when it comes to a story’s characters, i really think it’s only a surface-level ‘narrative’ device here. because there is no genuine, in-depth exploration about the concept of gender within the narrative of this book.

also, i just cannot believe that breq is one of the most sophisticated AIs in the world, having existed for over 2000 years, and having encountered numerous annexed worlds in which gender distinctions are a thing, but is yet unable to learn or integrate ANY of this knowledge and just constantly puts her foot in it and misgenders the shit out of everyone. i can’t.
“the gender thing is a giveaway, though. only radchaai would misgender people the way you do.”

i’d guessed wrong. “i can’t see under your clothes. and even if i could, that’s not always a reliable indicator.”
so yes. i found that aspect annoying, even though it doesn’t really affect the actual story; so perhaps it’s the acclaim for this part of the novel that annoyed me the most, to be truly honest.

but i digress. back to the rest of the book.

the prose was the final nail in the coffin of not particularly enjoying this story.

breq’s perspective is distant and devoid of emotion or any particular warmth, presumably to illustrate the experience of an AI. even to the point where the emotions of other people in the book are often described through gestures alone (i.e., “she made a dismissive / angry / tired gesture”), not through any other means.

but that distant, nearly philosophical tone, as well as certain phrases or habits being overused (see: the aforementioned gesturing, but also drinking tea for some reason), didn’t make it a pleasant reading experience for me.

i found it difficult to connect to the characters, even the more emotionally-involved ones, and as a result, i tried to focus more on plot -- but that only served to lay bare a pace and other plot elements that i didn’t find enjoyable, either.

© cover art by John Harris

you can see where i’m going with this: ancillary justice was not for me.

it has clunk (sluggish pacing, improbable plot elements, obvious narrative devices), but it also has many evocative themes and several surprising relationships at its heart that i can understand would very much entice and entertain other readers.

even i was eventually touched by the brushes with religion, and the relationships surrounding lieutenant awn and seivarden. there are some beautiful yet subtle things happening there.

so i find it hard to lay down a final verdict on whether i’d recommend this or not.

i think that if you’re interested in explorations of identity in the context of ancient colonial empires and artificial intelligence, you might come a very long way in reading this. the identity aspect of the book was probably the most intriguing aspect to me, and i loved it as a concept.

for me, however, it’s onto the next SF series.

2.5 stars.

this was a buddy read with carol, David, Jessica, Nataliya, and Stephen, and i cannot be more grateful for the discussion this book sparked and all the things we talked about. you all make me appreciate reading so much more :)
Profile Image for Caro the Helmet Lady.
763 reviews342 followers
May 20, 2018
I feel it in my fingers
I feel it in my toes
Imperial Radch is all around me
And so the feeling grows
It's written on the wind
It's everywhere I go, oh yes it is
So if you really love me
Come on and let me finish the damn trilogy!

Silly, I know. Ok, adding some seriousness here just in case you're still reading and expecting me to come to my senses.

This is a very good sci-fi story, with very interesting ideas and if plot drags on you a little bit in the beginning because of all "she/her" (literally) going on - just wait a bit longer and it won't bother you any more. Empire that reminds a lot of the one from the Dark Side - in a good way, if it's ever possible. Spaceships, AIs, AIs that are spaceships, and spaceships that are AIs, androids in reverse, humanity as you wouldn't imagine, technologies from bad dreams, gender-blindness as cultural thing and so much more.
What I missed is a little bit more explanation on certain things (most of them actually), but I expect to get it in further volumes. But for now 5 stars seems a fair deal to me.

Oh and this again - I wasn't a person, I was a piece of equipment, a part of the ship. I think it will haunt me for a while.
Profile Image for Mogsy (MMOGC).
2,032 reviews2,604 followers
September 27, 2013
3.5 stars at The BiblioSanctum http://bibliosanctum.blogspot.com/201...

There are so many things I want to say about this debut novel by Ann Leckie, but first I just have to express my awe and admiration for some of the themes and concepts in this book. I went into Ancillary Justice after having heard a lot of praise for its originality and imaginative ideas, and now that I've finished it, I can only echo those sentiments.

The book follows Breq, a soldier who is more (and, I suppose, also less) than she seems. An "Ancillary", Breq was formerly one of many corpse soldiers all linked up with an artificial intelligence as part of a massive starship called the Justice of Toren. So in a sense, she is the Justice of Toren. Breq as well as all the other corpse soldier "segments" who were treated as appendages connected to the Justice of Toren were collectively considered part of the ship. It's a complex but incredibly elaborate concept to wrap my head around, but reading about it made me exultant.

Anyway, after an act of treachery, Breq was the only one who made it out of the subsequent disaster, making her the last surviving remnant of the Justice of Toren, left alone and isolated in a human body. Now she sets herself on a path of vengeance to track down and kill Anaander Mianaai, the multi-bodied and near-immortal Lord of the Radch who was responsible.

As I said, I think the ideas here are very inventive and original, and the way they are executed is also quite clever, if confusing at times. Breq's narration reflects the fact that she is a part of a ship, a bigger whole. In chapters where she is linked up to the rest of the Justice of Toren, we see through the eyes of multiple Ancillaries, which in essence are all one entity. Because the ship's Ancillaries are everywhere, the narrator is aware of things happening around all her different segments who are in different places at the same time. This "omniscient effect" is no doubt a challenge to write, and I think Leckie did as well as anyone possibly could.

There were many times, though, where this book made me feel completely out of my depth. The style of the narration I described above is one reason, but also because of other factors such as Breq's approach to using only the female pronoun to refer to other characters. This gender ambiguity is another point to the innovation and cleverness of this book (and since we humans refer to our ships and other vessels as female, seeing it happen the other way around is so deliciously apropos!) but it also made reading this book a slow and purposeful experience, since I did not want to risk missing anything in the writing.

Added to this is the skipping back and forth in time, as well as the massive amount of information piled upon the reader to digest in the first part of the book. To be fair, lengthy explanations and commentary are probably unavoidable given a book with a premise like this, and a part of me also wonders if Ancillary Justice might be better suited for readers with more experience with science fiction, who'd be better able to adapt to the peculiar pacing. I love this genre, and the details don't get too overly technical here, but I still couldn't help but feel overwhelmed and out of my comfort zone at times.

As such, it wasn't until deep into the later chapters that I finally felt settled into the rhythm of the book. Once the time switches come to an end and the plot moves forward, I found myself a lot more engaged with the story. And indeed, this is a compelling novel, and it raises some interesting questions and themes about freedom, identity, independence and choice.

I think I would have liked this book a lot more if I didn't hit so many speed bumps in the beginning, but working my way through to the end was worth it. The finale was pure action and suspense, and as a character, Breq has certainly made herself memorable. The ideas in this book will stay with me for a long time, and this is overall a great debut.
Profile Image for Apatt.
507 reviews781 followers
November 4, 2014
This Hugo / Nebula / Clarke combo winner just demands to be read. I have been putting it off for a while on account of the price, new books cost more on the year of publication and I'm a skinflint. However, this book is just so damn hard to ignore. People keep going on about it in sf forums and now it is going to be a TV show! How am I going to keep up with the sci-fi Joneses if I don't read it?

Allow me to ramble on for another paragraph, I have a theory about sci-fi books which are suitable for new sci-fi readers. Some books are immediately accessible to people who have never read sci-fi before. For examples Foundation, Ready Player One and The Time Machine. On the other hand there are books like Anathem, Embassytown and Revelation Space that I think requires the reader to have cultivated a sci-fi mindset from having read quite a few books in the genre before. I think Ancillary Justice is such a book. It is full of neologisms and I believe it will be hard going for new sci-fi readers unless they are particularly intuitive.

There are a lot of wonderful sf-nal ideas in this book. The protagonist is an AI called Breq (among other names) who use to be a spaceship AI with multiple human bodies under its control. At the start of this book Breq is operating one measly human body, her spaceship body and other human bodies are all one. How this situation came about and what is Breq going to do about it is the main story arc. As for the human bodies they are nicknamed “corpse soldiers” so that should give you are clue of where they come from.

Another novelty is the usage of gender in this book, by default everybody is a “she” regardless of whether they are male of female. The gender of practically all the characters is undisclosed throughout the book though you may be able to infer some of them.

The book starts with a twin timelines of the present day and flashback, they meet somewhere after the middle of the book. I am not normally a fan of this kind of narrative structure but it is quite easy to follow here.

I have no real complaint about the prose style or the dialog but I cannot find anything notable about them either. Ann Leckie writes better prose and dialog than a lot of sci-fi authors, Stephen Baxter for example, but somehow I find Baxter to be more lively. The book is also almost completely devoid of humor which renders the main characters almost (but not quite) unsympathetic. The friendship between Breq and former captain Seivarden is nicely developed, I particularly like the former’s gradual humanization. The book is never dull but sometime on the verge of being dull; the ending is quite abrupt and leaves me a little annoyed instead of wanting more.

I can almost understand the accolade and awards this book has been getting, there is much to admire here, and I have no regret for the time I spent reading it. However, I find it to be somewhat lacking in charm. This is another case of a book being recognizably very good but “not for me”, other titles in this exclusive category are Cryptonomicon, Neuromancer and Blindsight, so I guess it is in quite good company.

About 3.5 stars or 6/10 or some such meaningless measurement.
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