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Imperial Radch #2

Ancillary Sword

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Seeking atonement for past crimes, Breq takes on a mission as captain of a troublesome new crew of Radchai soldiers, in the sequel to Ann Leckie's NYT bestselling, award-winning Ancillary Justice. A must read for fans of Ursula K. Le Guin and James S. A. Corey.

Breq is a soldier who used to be a warship. Once a weapon of conquest controlling thousands of minds, now she has only a single body and serves the emperor.

With a new ship and a troublesome crew, Breq is ordered to go to the only place in the galaxy she would agree to go: to Athoek Station to protect the family of a lieutenant she once knew - a lieutenant she murdered in cold blood.

Ann Leckie's Imperial Radch trilogy has become one of the new classics of science fiction. Beautifully written and forward thinking, it does what good science fiction does best, taking readers to bold new worlds with plenty explosions along the way.

400 pages, Kindle Edition

First published October 7, 2014

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Ann Leckie

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 3,808 reviews
Profile Image for Felicia.
Author 28 books128k followers
December 10, 2014
If it's possible, this book is BETTER than the first one. This is just a great Sci-Fi book, wonderful worldbuilding, that focuses on CHARACTERS rather than every planet and ship and technical science thing in the world. Some of that stuff, while interesting, make big sci-fi for me a bit less compelling. This, however, has it ALL! And, contrasting with the first one, it is very clear about POV and stuff. The gender ambiguity is still there, but in a streamlined way, so you don't question things as much in your head. The plotting is excellent, and its just a great sci-fi read. Highly recommended for M/F looking for a good space drama that doesn't have a cast of thousands!
Profile Image for carol..
1,504 reviews7,556 followers
May 24, 2021
In a move perhaps unsurprising to no one, I continue to swim against public current on Leckie’s Ancillary series. I had been warned that the pace of the second book was oh-so-very-slow and contained gallons of tea. Be warned that everything from here on out is spoilery in one form or another. There is simply no way I’m going to remember either what went on or my reactions.

The tea part was true; the pacing, not as much. I actually I found it to have more internal tension than the first book, which was almost non-existent in the parallel timeline. However, here Breq ends up involved in a series of puzzles that kept me intrigued. In the first one, the ship is preparing to gate to Athoek Station. Breq is very tightly wound, tense and angry with the crew, and neither they nor the reader has any idea why. The problem and solution, when it becomes apparent, is both clever, evil and harsh. It also gives the reader more insight into the process of making ancillaries and the utter callousness towards human life.

Once arriving through the Gate, they are faced with the puzzle of an ancillary Sword running from them toward a permanent Ghost Gate, though they hailed as friends. That resolved, somewhat, Breq is confronted at the Station with the puzzle of the Underground, an unsanctioned habitation that was previously damaged and left unrepaired. Captain Hetnys, of the Sword that had run away, is parochial and suspicious of alien infiltratrators, and the Station Administrator is hardly any better. When the alien translator is killed because of a malicious prank by the sociopathic Raughd, daughter of an influential citizen, Breq is forced to go into a ritual morning in hopes that the alien Presger will not take action against the Station.

This then, is where it goes off the rails. The next puzzle is the socio-economic culture of the planet, and the tea plantation–formerly a temple–where Breq is residing. It ends up largely being an exploration of sharecropping, and contains large paragraphs of didactic text detailing the ethnic and economic injustices. Perhaps as part of the trip here, Breq discovers two final puzzles: the particularly fine and ancient tea set that Captain Hetys supposedly procured, and that of a peculiar ethnic population distribution. Once Breq returns to the Station, she sends her own Ship and Seivarden on an investigation run.

Because of all these small puzzles, I was drawn along and had a hard time putting the book down. However, when we reached the tea plantation section, I found myself particularly disappointed with the turn of the writing. Though some of the social issues had been simplistic up to that point, the plantation seemed to drag on, being more concerned with ‘slice of life’,’ perhaps reader education, and a discussion on ‘justice,’ than moving the greater arc forward. Over a hundred pages of the book are wasted on discovering those final two puzzles.

At the end, I found myself puzzled that Breq seemed concerned about justice on the plantation. Not that I minded it as an issue, but as Breq pointed out, “And over the ridge lived dozens of Valskaavyans, they or their parents or grandparents transported here for no better reason than to clear a planet for Radchaai occupation, and to provide cheap labor here.” Breq, as she mentions, is thousands of years old in this Empire. Why does she care? Perhaps I'm missing the point, because I don’t think Breq knows what she is doing. Though she says they need to prepare to be closed-off from other systems, does she realize this is all tea plantation, and no one has done anything to change tea to vegetables? Is she stabilizing the society or destabilizing it? Even worse, I have the sneaking suspicion that Leckie doesn't know what she is doing. Is this occurring because a millennia-old AI is mostly an independent human again? I'm missing the internal conflict that lets me know whether this is deliberate, and am left with the sinking sensation that this might just be sloppy characterization.

As a side note, narrative this time is in one time-line, although since Ship knows Breq is an ancillary, it allows Breq access to a bit more information than the average human. Thus, Breq occasionally ‘dips’ into the perspective of both officers, Seivarden and Tisarwat, and rarely, Lt. Ekalu. There’s no chapter or page breaks, only paragraph, so the first couple of times it is a bit disorienting, but after that, flows relatively well.

Verdict? Much more readable than expected, but much less sophisticated than expected. I had the feeling of watching one of those Olympic ice-skating routines where the skater aims for a triple something and ends up landing badly. I wish she would have tried a little less and performed perfectly. Yes, I still want to read the last!
Profile Image for J.L.   Sutton.
651 reviews827 followers
March 3, 2019
While I enjoyed Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Sword (the 2nd book in the Imperial Radch Series, I don’t think it measured up to the complexity and sheer scope of the first book in the series, Ancillary Justice. Leckie’s attention to details in ritual and language continue in this book and maybe was more thoroughly explored. It might be difficult to convincingly say, in a space opera, that you enjoyed the intricacies of tea ceremonies along with the choice of accompanying dishes, but it is compelling (as it relates to both cultural identity and the Radch annexation of planets). That said, the plot lacked a clear direction. And the complexity of competing storylines seen in book 1 was absent. I still like the protagonist, Breq and her perspective (having been the AI for the spaceship Justice of Toren as well as ancillaries of this self). I’m still thinking about what happened (and didn’t happen in this follow up book), but the writing is very good and I’m looking forward to finishing this trilogy; I’m bumping 3.5 stars up to 4.
Profile Image for Charles.
17 reviews3 followers
October 14, 2014
Ancillary Justice was a spectacular debut, but its successor is a lot less sure-footed. Leckie's attempt to marry Space Opera with domestic tragedy feels a bit too much like Sense and Sensibility and Spaceships.

It's clear by now that Leckie is keen on promoting a particular political sentiment, and Ancillary Sword is all about the confluence of the personal and political. Unfortunately the domesticity becomes a little tedious, and the cooking lacks any flavour.

Anaander Mianaai's Radchaai imperium is, not surprisingly, rotten to the core. Esk Nineteen--now Fleet Captain Breq Mianaai is sent to secure a neighbouring system by the slightly less odious part of Minaai's fractured self, and discovers a rat's nest of corruption and abuse. The reader may be puzzled by the early focus on the quality of the Fleet Captain's china, and regard it as some sort of interlude. Don't. The book never really rises above this level of tedium. If you don't regard such domestic trivialities as important, you'll miss the important clue that the quality of one's tea service provides later in the book. Yes, it's laid on with a trowel.

Leckie's politics are a lot more heavy-handed than in AJ, and there's a lot less going on to divert the reader's attention. It also becomes rather painfully clear that Leckie has only the slightest idea how real soldiers, either male or female, actually think and behave. The most awkward part of the whole book comes with her attempt to characterise the human crew of Breq's ship, which feels more like a girl's boarding school than a military unit in a rapacious and brutal empire.

Maybe the third book will be better. It's hard to see how it could be worse. I was wildly excited by Ancillary Justice, and maybe that explains my disappointment in its sequel.
Profile Image for Neil Hepworth.
221 reviews47 followers
April 30, 2015
Downton Abbey...in SPAAAAAACE!

No, it really is. The novel is filled with tea, and fine china. There’s polite meetings in polite society. There’s blushing in abundance at the smallest of social faux pas. There’s tears from the young ‘uns when their jobs are just a bit too overwhelming. There’s snooty-as-hell top of society landowners with brat children to match. There’s tea. There’s gossip amongst the servants, and resentment amongst the slaves. There are gardens. And tea. And dressing expectations. And a funeral with a proper and lengthy period of mourning and doing nothing. And because everyone is bored with life, there are accepted and expected trysts galore. Also tea. 95% of the “action” in the book falls somewhere between “a snore” and “a boring college professor’s lecture.” There is, to be fair, a bomb. And there is a murder. But everything, and I mean everything, is dealt with such straight faces and such inhuman emotional reactions (and I do understand we’re working with ancillaries here) as to make the producers over at the BBC stand up and wildly applaud (though quietly and politely, and certainly without smiling, unless it is wryly). And tea.

In other words, it’s Downton Abbey...in SPAAAAAACE!

A few other notes:

Note: As others have pointed out, the major theme of the novel of seeing slaves as people is very heavy handed, and cliched.

Note: As others have pointed out, no one in this military acts like someone in the military - even an imaginary military.

Note: I’m not really sure that the title works very well here: Ancillary Sword. There’s not much “swording” going on. Breq doesn’t exactly “cut through” the social expectations, either. She just sorta has tea until the social expectations change. Not very “swordly” of her.

Note: I found this book much easier to read than Ancillary Justice because I knew Leckie’s style going into it, and because the narrative in this novel is focused on one time frame. However, the ideas that made Ancillary Justice so compelling were hardly to be found in Ancillary Sword: the idea of being an ancillary, one of many, was almost gone in this novel. The idea of Anaadnder Mianaai being at war with herself was almost non-existent. The idea of conquering planets and turning the inhabitants into ancillaries was barely present. And the idea that the all-powerful Presger might have been meddling with things, well, the reader is told repeatedly that the Presger are not involved. In summary, all the interesting ideas were taken out (replaced by tea).

Note: In the end my feelings about this book are on par with my feelings about those of Lois McMaster Bujold and her Vorkosigan Saga: books with promise, but that are far too polite.

Final Note: Downton Abbey...in SPAAAAAACE!
Profile Image for Nataliya.
713 reviews11.3k followers
May 29, 2021
Welcome to the continuing adventures of a person who for two millennia used to be a spaceship troop carrier. As before, this adventure has been sponsored by your local favorite tea shop.
“But if there was one thing any Radchaai considered essential for civilized life, it was tea.”

So daintily stick your little finger out and raise a steaming tea cup — and pull out your best china set while you are at it.
“What are Radchaai without tea, after all?”

It’s going to be a sloooow and (very mildly) caffeinated ride.

————
“Because I had once been a ship. An AI controlling an enormous troop carrier and thousands of ancillaries, human bodies, part of myself. At the time I had not thought of myself as a slave, but I had been a weapon of conquest, the possession of Anaander Mianaai, herself occupying thousands of bodies spread throughout Radch space.
Now I was only this single human body.”

In an unspecified future in the galaxy far far away Breq is a former troop carrier spaceship, now appointed a Fleet Captain by the 3000-year-old ruler of Radch who inhabits hundreds of bodies, has a split personality, and is in a bloody war with herself (confused? read the first book of this series, please). Breq’s mission ended, ahem… interestingly in the previous book, and now she’s kinda floating along, trying to figure out what to do next. And she - of course - is steered by that multi-person ruler to a system where something interesting just may brewing.

Of course, the brewing thing may end up being just tea. Gallons and gallons of it. Because Radch Empire is obsessed with tea drinking - even more than your granny who saves her best tea sets for special occasions like the Queen coming to visit. And no wonder that most of the attitudes seem to resemble those of Victorian times - oppressive decorum-laden awful colonial times.
“If Athoek Station had any importance at all, it was because the planet it orbited produced tea.”

Ann Leckie seems to have ambitious plans for the series, and the bones for a good adventure are certainly there. The station with Undergarden conflict. The looming confrontation between Mercy and Sword. The murder that can lead to the wrath of powerful aliens. The Ghost Gate and the that Ancillary Sword is a part of.
“You take what you want at the end of a gun, you murder and rape and steal, and you call it bringing civilization. And what is civilization, to you, but us being properly grateful to be murdered and raped and stolen from? You said you knew justice when you heard it. Well, what is your justice but you allowed to treat us as you like, and us condemned for even attempting to defend ourselves?”

Unfortunately, it grinds to a halt halfway through as we take a detour to a tea plantation on a planet and have to endure long and painfully unsubtle didactic musings on the unfairness of economic slavery in the Radch Empire, and the obvious awfulness of plantation owners, and need for livable wages — with things becoming even more simplistic and heavy-handed, with bad guys gals being unequivocally and arrogantly bad and almost cartoonishly evil (is a caricature of rotten spoiled evil youngster, with no depth, and therefore uninteresting). It really starts feeling like a simplistic period piece on plantation life and manners (I expected crinolines and parasols to appear), and it slows the book down to a screeching halt and adds little to the story. Too much moralizing on the obvious, and too much restating of the obvious cheapens the book and pads out the otherwise thin plot that would have fit a novella better.
“[…] to most Radchaai, human was who they were, and everyone else was… something other.”

Once we return to the Station, things pick back up, and a little bit in the end made me actually almost tear up, and the story seems to resume with promises for book 3. But all that pacing slowdown really makes this book a victim of that dreaded middle book curse, a bridge between the first and last books in the trilogy, and it suffers for it.
A task for Leckie to do if we ever discover time travel— ruthlessly edit (or cut out) that tea plantation endless dragging section.

————
And yet I did not actually hate it, even with all the above and the unforgivable sidelining of Seivarden (my favorite character from book 1). It may be because I like the direction that this story seems to be *finally* headed in, or because I am starting to come around on Breq herself. I did not like her much in book 1, but she’s starting to grow on me, and I do like her being able to dip in and out of multiple viewpoints. It keeps reminding me of her different nature and her past as a Ship, and that’s fascinating. There are things that she needs to come to terms with, and huge amount of loss and loneliness and confusion to work through, and I was glad to see some seeds of that here (when tea and tea plantations weren’t in the way, of course).
“It wasn’t what I wanted, not really, wasn’t what I knew I would always reach for. But it would have to be enough.”

I’m going to read the next book as I’m hoping that this is just a redheaded middle book stepchild of the trilogy. Time will tell.
————

But really, at this point all that nonstop tea drinking *has* become a self-mocking plot device, right? Leckie cannot be serious. She was giggling when writing all those tea parties, yeah?

Every. Single. Fragging. Page.

This empire really needs to discover coffee. Or kefir. Or vodka.
————

Overall it’s a 2.5 star book for me, sadly. Let’s hope book 3 redeems the series.
Profile Image for TheBookSmugglers.
669 reviews1,969 followers
October 6, 2014
Warning: spoilers for Ancillary Justice. If you haven’t read the first book yet (OMG WHY NOT), avert your eyes right now.

Ana’s Take:

It’s probably not an exaggeration to say that all SFF eyes are on this book right now. Given the immense success of Ancillary Justice – it won all the major awards and yes, this includes a rare Book Smugglers Double Ten Review – I bet everybody is thinking: will the sequel be as good as the first novel?

Well, the answer is a resounding HELL YES.

From a plotting perspective, Ancillary Sword is at first glance, a rather straightforward affair. The story picks up where we left off at the end of Ancillary Justice with The Lord of the Radch still at war with herself and Breq as a newly-minted ship captain on her way to Athoek Station, where Lieutenant Awn’s sister lives. At the station, Breq gets involved with the station’s day-to-day management and with the petty – and not so petty – relationships between its different sections. At the end of the day though, Breq is there to make amends – to atone for what she did to her beloved Lieutenant Awn.

The first thing to note about Ancillary Sword is how it has a largely linear narrative and a very limited point of view. One of the most important aspects of Ancillary Justice was its alternating narrative between the now and the then, with the latter offering a taste of what it was like for Breq to have its consciousness split between multiple viewpoints. This is all but gone in Ancillary Sword and all we are left with is the Breq from now – the Breq that needs to come to terms with the fact that she is now a one-bodied ancillary (an ongoing journey started 20 years prior to the events in Ancillary Justice). She is occasionally able to experience multiple-bodied viewpoints that the ship Mercy of Kalr shares with her (and Ann Leckie continues to handle that head-hoping with aplomb) but those moments are brief and almost too elusive and end up amplifying Breq’s sense of separateness.

This is perhaps the most striking thing about Ancillary Sword: how it manages to be a deeply personal, emotional book without losing track of any of the larger issues that continue to be explored here. Breq is an AI, not human – and it’s interesting that the sense of her being not-entirely human really hit me more strongly here in this second book, ironically, just as Breq becomes more and more human. Although one could – and should – make the argument that the AIs and the ancillaries and the ships in this series are not completely separate, emotionless beings. The moments that resonate the most are in fact, the ones when these supposedly unemotional beings show they have a remarkable sense of compassion, justice and feeling than the supposedly civilised Radchaai should have and in fact, are said to be the only ones to have.

This is one of the strongest ongoing themes in these books: the examination of what it means to be a Citizen, what it means to be civilised, with a confrontation of internalised assumptions and prejudices from both a personal and social point of view.

That all of this happens whilst Breq not only investigates threats from aliens as well as from internal forces within the empire but also confronts aspects of the Radchaai that include the hidden truths of exploitation and slavery of different peoples? It’s basically genius. GENIUS, I say, because the narrative might be linear, might be reduced to mostly Breq’s one point of view but it still captures SO MUCH, in a complex way that is, at the end of the day, also incredibly fun.

I could list a few criticisms: perhaps there is some unnecessary, repetitious considerations from Breq. Perhaps, the question of slavery was more heavy-handed than necessary (or perhaps not, some things should be faced HEAD-ON after all). THERE WAS NOT ENOUGH BROODING SEIVARDEN. But to me, those are minor flaws in an otherwise perfect book. Once more with feeling: ALL THE AWARDS. And also a top 10 spot for me.

Thea’s Take:

Please allow me a brief moment to be incredibly unprofessional and fangirly because holy effing crap. Ancillary Sword, you are amazing.

I have to add my voice to Ana’s, singing the praises of both Ancillary Justice and Ancillary Sword and marveling awestruck and stupefied by Ann Leckie’s writing prowess. Holy effing crap.

Can I take a step back and examine the text in context? As Ana says, Ancillary Justice won ALL the awards last year – taking home the Nebula Award, BSFA Award, Arthur C. Clarke Award, Locus Award, and the Hugo Award. This is success on a near unprecedented scale, especially for a debut full-length novel. Suffice it to say, there is a lot of expectation when it comes to follow-up novel Ancillary Sword. How could anything top the glorious mind-bending, challenging, award-winning marvel that is Ancillary Justice?

Perhaps Ancillary Sword doesn’t quite live up to the same rush, the same unexpected in-your-face challenge that Ancillary Justice posed – but it’s still an amazing, thrilling, provocative novel that forces readers to question their own humanity. And I loved it. OH, how I loved it.

In Ancillary Sword, Breq – the Artificial Intelligence that was once grand starship Justice of Toren, brought low to a single body, hungry for vengeance – has been given its own command and her own mission by none other than Anaander Mianaai, Lord of the Radch. On her new ship, the Mercy of Kalr, Breq makes quick use of power as Captain as it sets course for a distant star system in an “uncivilized” part of the galaxy. There are conflicts aplenty in Ancillary Sword as Breq deals with administering its power on its new ship (without becoming too enmeshed in the consciousness of said ship), the inter-personal tensions of the Radch and the Lord of the Radch’s own splintering consciousness, the tensions and conditions of colonized people on a distant planet (a parallel to the enslavement and former forced ancillary procurement of conquered peoples), and the appearance of a new external threat that can challenge Radchaii hegemony.

Needless to say, there’s a LOT going on in Ancillary Sword. And yet, for all of these plot threads, this second book is one that is extraordinarily intimate. As Ana says, a large part of this is because we are now with Breq as it is now, without the alternating narrative into the past. We, readers, are entreated to Breq’s current thoughts and feelings, its emotions and burning sense of justice and understanding of anger as it deals with tensions both personal and interstellar. It’s also kind of funny, because though Ancillary Sword is a much more intimate book, it’s also one that illuminates just how different Breq is – not quite human, but a far cry from the conscienceless killer robots, or the anthropomorphized human-like androids of science fiction’s past. Breq is… Breq. The development of this particular character and its struggles – I particularly want to call attention to Breq’s reluctance to entwine fully with its new ship, and Breq’s treatment of Lord of the Radch ancillary Tisarwat – are the driving factors that make Ancillary Sword so successful and resonant. At least they are in my mind.

On the plotting and overall trilogy arc-moving front, Ancillary Sword is, admittedly, a bit weaker than its predecessor. There are plot threads aplenty in this second book, but there’s also a bit of heavy-handedness (particularly when it comes to the effects of colonialism in space), and a sense of in-between-ness as there are so many stories to be resolved in the next book.

These quibbles are but footnotes, though, to a truly spectacular sophomore novel. I loved Ancillary Sword, truly, madly, deeply. It is absolutely a top 10 pick for me this year, deserving of all the awards, and all of the praise.

Do yourself a favor and read it immediately, Citizen.

Rating:

Ana: 10 – Perfect and a top 10 book of 2014

Thea: 10 – Perfection
Profile Image for Erik.
338 reviews258 followers
September 4, 2016
One of my sci-fi writer heroes, Gene Wolfe, once said that a story works by “engendering expectations and then satisfying them.”

That, then, are the two primary means by which a story can fail. Either it neglects to setup expectations or it sets them up but doesn’t satisfy them. Of the two, the first is by far the worse. I recently reviewed Radiance and gave it one star because its post-modern, author-indulgent structure failed to ever setup any sort of expectations or stakes. It didn’t teach me how to interface with it and was, as a result, a chore to read. On the other hand, I recently gave Philip K. Dick’s Flow My Tears three stars because it setup expectations for an ontological puzzle but failed rather spectacularly in that regard and instead delivered a more intimate, human, almost autobiographical story. It was fun to read, if not satisfying in the way that it promised to be. Ancillary Sword falls into this latter, less egregious category.

So Ancillary Justice – which I really liked – ended by inciting an empire-spanning conflict between the two facets of schizophrenic emperor Anaander Mianaai. It introduced the mysterious element of the Presger, a super advanced alien species who may be interfering with the Radch empire. It setup some personal stakes for Breq / Justice of Toren, who wants to go to a nearby station to protect Lieutenant Awn’s sister. Furthermore, the book as a whole contained interesting thematic flavors of free will, terrorism, and mental illness.

OK. I’m down with that. That’s what I like to see: intimate, personal stories interwoven within the larger fabric of society and the universe. I prefer stories that are immediately engaging but which contain depths that reward more careful thought. That’s why I like sci-fi. So my expectations were properly engendered, and I bought both Ancillary Sword and Ancillary Mercy.

To say Ancillary Sword didn’t satisfy those expectations would be like saying a McDonalds quarter-pounder isn’t the best for your health. Point in fact, I don't think I've ever seen so precipitous a decline in quality between a book and its sequel.

The best way I can describe Ancillary Sword is that it’s a Jane Austen novel in space. That is, it’s a “novel of manners.” Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Space opera has always possessed Victorian vibes. It’s just this book is not what Ancillary Justice promised:

Anaander Mianaai barely makes an appearance. The Presger barely make an appearance. Lieutenant Awn’s sister barely makes an appearance. They are, as best I can tell, after-thoughts. And the themes of free will, terrorism, and mental illness go largely undeveloped.

Instead, here’s the plot: Breq shows up at the Station and there’s some sketchy stuff regarding a ghetto. In response, Breq social justices (yes I turned this into a verb – but honestly that’s the best way I can describe her actions in this book. When you get right down to it, she doesn’t actually DO much of anything – she just sort of acts stern toward people who don’t share her opinions or values). Then there’s some Young Adult conflict because – and I kid you not, this is the PRIMARY inciting incident – one 17 year old says to another, “You’re such a fucking bore.” No, really. They make a HUGE deal out of that comment. And also there’s a teenage lieutenant who actually, not even kidding here, once says, “YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND” to Breq, and storms off. The inclusion of these YA overtones frankly blew my mind, and not in a good way.

Anyway, Breq then contrives to descend to the planet below, whose major export is tea. Super important crop during war-time, I know. There’s some sketchy stuff regarding social class and the exploitation of farm workers. In response, Breq social justices. And then there’s a conspiracy involving stealing bodies to turn into ancillaries, which clearly is the main plot, but gets a comparatively low amount of ink-time and just kinda reveals itself without much effort from Breq.

And just what is Breq/Justice of Toren's stake in all of this? Why does she care about people in the ghettos? Why does she care about one random 17 year old girl calling another “a fucking bore”? Why does she care about the tea farm-workers not getting fair wages?

*shrug*

As best as I can tell, the entire motivation for the book’s protagonist is “doing the right thing.” Allow me to suggest that’s a personality trait, not a motivating factor. But without a motivating factor, how can we have a plot? I mean, a plot more or less boils down to a character having a desire but being blocked in her attempt to consummate it, right?

Here’s Toy Story: When Andy gets Buzz Lightyear, Woody is jealous and desires to be top toy again. So he contrives to get rid of Buzz. But then they both end up lost. And then Woody desires not to be left behind, so they have to get back before Andy moves. Great desires. Jealousy over another’s popularity and not wanting to be be forgotten by those we love. Those are motivations we can all understand.

Here’s Star Wars: Luke is a farm-boy who desires to escape his rural backwater of a home and experience real adventure. Leia is a princess who desires to overthrow an evil empire. Han Solo is a smuggler who (secretly) desires a greater sense of purpose. Darth Vader is an ex-Jedi who, because he has lost that which was most dear, desires to see the galaxy burn. Or, alternatively, to validate his decision to embrace the Dark Side, desires for his son to join him. These are all great desires/struggles because we can actually track whether the characters are making any progress in satisfying them. We can also guess what will happen if they DON'T succeed.

Now, here’s Ancillary Sword: Breq is an ex-ship who wanted to assassinate the lord of her empire in order to reveal her split personality. She succeeds. In the ensuing chaos, she takes the opportunity to protect Lieutenant Awn’s sister because she loved Lieutenant Awn. Thus, she goes to the planet below and... gets involved in the struggle of the farm-workers...?

Um what?

Why does she want to help the farm-workers again? Why does she want to give some 17 year old her comeuppance? Why does she care about the sanitation conditions of the ghetto on the station? Why does she care about the inequality in the universe? How do I even assess whether Breq is succeeding at her goals or not? What will happen if she fails?

Thus we have a story in which the plot is divorced from the protag’s desires. Which are themselves not entirely clear. As best I can tell, they’re “social justice.”

Even if so broad and abstract a desire could work (I have my doubts), it certainly doesn't here. The social justice here is incredibly simplistic. I kept waiting for some complexity in the rich upperclass overlords [But no: they're almost carbon copies of the rich upperclass overlords in the first half of Ancillary Justice]. The main antagonist, insofar as ink-time is concerned, is the aforementioned 17 year old girl/boy who said, “such a fucking bore." I kept waiting for her to behave in some unexpected, more complex way. Cause, yknow, that’s how people actually are. But nope. She’s just a spoiled jerk. 100%. And her mother, the bourgeoisie tea plantation owner, is likewise equally exploitative and manipulative, without any depth whatsoever. And the captain of the other ship in the system, the Sword of Atgaris, has all the personality of a pill of ambien. Can I have Anaander Mianaai back now? [Addendum: I rue these words. While Captain Hetyns is woefully boring, Ancillary Mercy's Anaander Mianaai is even worse. That's right her characterization is worse than zero].

So I did enjoy my time reading this book. It was by no means an onerous read. I am still massively impressed by the fact that the main character (essentially) suffers from Schizoid Personality Disorder. And Breq’s ability to see through her ship’s eyes was excellently integrated to allow us to follow the doings of other characters while still remaining within Breq’s PoV. That’s the type of awesome stuff you get with sci-fi.

But I expected far better. I expected to learn more about the Radch empire and the universe it inhabits. I expected a plot that focused on the vastly more compelling elements of the Presger and Anaander Mianaai’s split, and to see Breq humanized with regard to Lieutenant Awn’s sister. I expected complex characterization. I expected a further exploration of the themes of free will and especially how human beings interface with intelligent machines (and vice versa). Instead I got YA elements, social justice, one-dimensional characters, and a hilariously on-the-nose festival involving pink plastic penises hung on the wall.

In fact, that last provides an excellent summary of the book as a whole: juvenile, obvious, artificial, and cold.
Profile Image for Samantha.
401 reviews16.6k followers
December 18, 2020
TW: mentions of drug use; suicidal ideation; sexual harassment

I find myself sometimes getting a bit lost in this series but still enjoying the ride. This is a space opera series that is less action heavy than other space operas and much more character driven with political machinations. The themes Leckie explores through this character who used to literally be a space ship keep me intrigued.
Profile Image for Gavin.
849 reviews384 followers
April 28, 2017
Ancillary Sword fell just a bit short of the brilliance of the fantastic Ancillary Justice but still proved to be a very good and thoroughly enjoyable story in its own right. I think Ann Leckie gets the balance between thought provoking concepts and the story perfect. Leckie gets you thinking but also keep you thoroughly entertained.

With the start of civil conflict within the Radch leadership one of the Anaander segments sends Breq, and her new ship Mercy of Kalr, to the only place she knows Breq will actually agree to go. That is the system that Awn's sibling resides in. Breq is determined to see her safe in the coming conflict. Upon arriving in the system Breq finds more social issues that need dealing with and also has to be on the lookout for more of Anaander's plots in the region. There is also hints that the Presgar might have taken an interest of their own in the system.

The story was quite entertaining. This instalment lacked the mystery of Breq's true nature and the originality of Radchaai culture, as we familiarized ourselves with both over the course of the first book, but did have plenty of interesting mystery and intrigue. Breq herself remains a fascinating and easy to root for lead character.

Theme wise we were back to dealing with issues like racism, classism, colonialism, gender identity, mental illness, and corruption. All were integrated into the story in such a way that they never overwhelmed the story itself.

All in all I really liked this one. It was just a little below the first book in terms of overall quality but there is no shame in that as AJ was one of the best sci-fi books I've ever read!

Rating: 4.5 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 Althea Ann.
2,232 reviews998 followers
June 26, 2015
In Which... Breq is sent to a somewhat-remote part of the Radch (am I the only one who keeps wanting to pronounce that "Radish"?) Empire. In pursuit of closure regarding a personal matter, Breq encounters Grave Social Injustice, and tries to make things better. Obstacles are Encountered, and Action and Intrigue happen...

If you haven't already read 'Ancillary Justice,' some aspects of the setting might feel a bit bewildering to a new reader. However, the story itself works pretty well on its own - it feels like an 'episode.' If you've already read the first book, this one might not feel as startlingly original.

However, I wholeheartedly loved it. This is superlative sci-fi adventure that should appeal to both genre purists and more venturesome readers. The 'feel' of the writing and the themes of the book are both very similar to Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan saga - I'd very much recommend this to fans of that series.


Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 5 books3,846 followers
April 17, 2015
I'm sure I'm not alone in my judgment, but I'm torn about this book.

The ending was very good. It reversed a lot of my disappointment as I read this novel, but only because it changed my perceptions about what this novel was trying to accomplish.

Don't expect fast pacing or a civil war. Don't expect a return to Breq's heyday as a multiple-body starship AI.

Once I got over my desires to see him/her rise and become the right hand man/woman of his/her leige wielding a large weapon, be it any kind of metaphorical sword, political engine, or at least an army of ancillaries, I started to relax into the tale that Ann Leckie was really telling.

We have a tale about an AI's personal redemption. This is still the same tale that was being told in the first novel, but now we've got a very limited 3rd person perspective that doesn't allow us into Breq's thoughts, either. All we have is the pursuit of social justice on a station he/she once served a thousand years prior, the attempt to draw in his/her ancillary's relatives into her heart as atonement, and, almost as a side note, the ostensible and official reason Breq had for going there in the first place. You know... trying to flush out his/her leige's multiple-personalty antagonist.

The novel was slow. Don't expect more than a deepening of your understanding of Breq.

One thing more: I am both pleased and angry that the jumps in time and location and viewpoint have been squeezed so small as to be a single character. It makes for easier reading, sure, and hides a lot more plot until the right time, but it was what made the other book fantastic, IMHO. Do I want easy reading, or rewarding reading? Answer: Both. I think that's what I liked most about the first novel. The second wasn't nearly as rewarding except if you allow yourself to fall into an introspective contemplation about Breq.

I said I really liked the ending. It was very satisfying, but it reminds me more of a traditional novel with very little sci-fi necessity. In fact, the novel could have cut almost all of the sci-fi aspects out and have a coherent and complete novel. There was none of the special tension that science-fiction is known for. Speculation was missing. Instead, we've got a novel of social justice and personal redemption. It was good, but not what I was expecting.

I don't mean to be harsh in this review. I liked the novel. Even if it didn't follow the promise of big events laid down by the previous novel, it was good on its own. Of course, we were given hints of a full blown revolution in the star system next-door, and this kind of idea never really hit anyone over the head in this novel, but it does leave the door open to huge things later.

I admit, I love the idea of Galaxy-Wide AI's battling it out in a glorious bloodbath including all its fingers, the men and women of the ancillary. We'll see.


Update.

This is also a contender for the 2015 Hugo for best novel.
I'm still reading the rest of the nominations, including the novel by Kloos that he respectfully rescinded because he didn't want to be associated with the puppygate pall. I respect his decision, ethically, but I cannot accept it in my heart. So therefore, I will continue to balance the scales before I cast my vote.

Is Ms. Leckie's novel good enough to be on the nomination? Absolutely. Do I honestly think it is the best of the ballot for this year? We'll see. There's an awful lot to appreciate about it, with or without my personal desires getting in the way. The same thing goes for her previous novel which did win the Hugo last year, although I personally think that this one isn't up to quite the same glory.

I'm keeping my eyes wide open.

Brad K Horner's Blog
Profile Image for johnny dangerously.
101 reviews4 followers
February 2, 2015
This book takes everything I liked about the first book and throws it out the window. I'm not sure why the writer found it necessary to, after writing a book with a tight plot and close inspection of nuanced characters, turn around and write a sequel with neither.

The overwhelming majority of characters in this book either lack depth, or have no motivation beyond 'wanton cruelty and petty malice borne of ignorance'. While that's a believable motivation, surely, it does get grating when it's literally everyone who doesn't align themselves with the protagonist.

Breq, in the first book, is flawed, interesting, and relatable. In the second book, she's always right about everything, with little subtlety or nuance. She understands human motivations perfectly, can predict everyone's movements constantly, and wins over everyone who is initially skeptical. Those who don't see the light never will, they're lesser and anyway she's always right.

Furthermore, she became totally uninteresting to me as a protagonist, but I'm at least aware this is my personal biases speaking. When you put your character in a position of power, in the military, representing a government with imperialist interests, on a planet that has suffered the horrible ravages of colonialism, it's hard enough to make them sympathetic already. Breq is in this position, but she's supposed to care about everyone and be capable of empathy. Yet, for all her shining brilliance, she's like everyone else: she'll help in small ways, if a problem falls literally in her lap, or if it inconveniences her. But widespread change? Actually fixing systematic problems? Well, that's someone else's headache, surely.

Yes, you can say that's a tall order for anyone, but upholding justice is like pacifism: doing anything less than all you can is tantamount to doing nothing at all. Practicing pacifism sometimes is just selective violence, and justice for some is just another word for injustice. It's not a path for everyone, and not everyone should try, but the book presents Breq's actions as just and necessary, and never acknowledges that she does more than a little, but far less than enough. It's a problem symptomatic of many books tackling themes of social change and systematic injustice: enacting any positive wide scale change is simply not a matter for discussion, it's a foregone conclusion.

I'm not asking for Breq to change the world. I'm asking the book to acknowledge that the tiny little things she's willing to do are not, actually, the shining beacon of hope the book presents them as. She is still a colonizer, and all she's doing is allowing the occasional disenfranchised native who falls into her lap to benefit from her imperialist power and influence.

There's also the matter of the plot, which is stagnant and meandering, to contrast with the straight-forward and unremitting pace of the first book. It sets up plot points for later that require one to empathize with the imperialist forces (who are, again, written as explicitly imperialist) or wonder at the clearly contrived mystery, set obviously up as a hook for the sequel. The first book was fluid, and the progression felt natural. In this one, everything seems constructed for the needs of the moment.

A disappointing read. Perhaps the first book works better as a standalone.
Profile Image for Rob.
839 reviews534 followers
August 1, 2016
Executive Summary: Probably not as good/interesting as the first book, but I still enjoyed it. 3.5 Stars.

Full Review
Ancillary Justice is one of those books that has become severely over-hyped. I read it early on as the hype was starting to build and before it won every award under the sun. I enjoyed it, and I'm not surprised it won so much, but I would have been equally unsurprised if it didn't. It's definitely one of those books that many people will read and scratch their heads at.

So now we come to the sequel to what is arguably the most successful (or at least the most decorated) book of last year. Will Ms. Leckie continue on her success or fall into the dreaded "sophomore slump"? For me the answer is closer to the former, than the latter.

The first book gets a lot of discussion about the lack of gender. Everyone is a she. If I'm perfectly honest, I don't notice or care most of the time. I'm not sure if that's the point. To me it just feels like a gimmick though. But it really doesn't matter to me one way or the other. Someone much smarter and literary than I am can debate the implications or try to determine the gender from the context, I'll be busy reading another book.

One of the other gimmicky things about the first book I did really like however was the way Breq while the only viewpoint was still multiple viewpoints. I was happy to see that Ms. Leckie managed to continue that on in this book as well. I think it's a really cool idea that makes for very unique storytelling.

Overall though, this book felt smaller. We spend most of it on a single planet and an orbiting station. Breq is dealing with a lot of petty problems of the locals. I really wanted a book dealing more with larger problems revealed at the end of Ancillary Justice, but this seemed to mostly dance around that.

Yet despite that, I still found it to be a page turner. I liked the characters. I continue to enjoy Breq and her(its?) take on things. Breq has a truly unique viewpoint. There are certainly times that Breq feels a little too capable and smart, but it never really bothers me.

So much like the first book, I rather enjoyed this book, but I'm not going to be exactly gushing over it. I think anyone who enjoyed the first, will enjoy this, and anyone who didn't won't find this be any better.
Profile Image for Monica.
573 reviews611 followers
May 7, 2020
Good sequel. More like a 3.5 Stars. Rounding down because I wasn't deeply invested until about 70% of the novel. I have an ongoing issue w/ oppression as a theme, especially in my scifi novels. I see enough of it fiction and nonfiction. Come on, this is the future. Can't the future be better?!?

3.5 Stars rounding down because I said so that's why...

Listened to the audio book. Narrated by Adjoa Andoh who was excellent!
Profile Image for Caro the Helmet Lady.
756 reviews341 followers
February 26, 2017
I was hugely disappointed with this one. Don't get me wrong, it's not bad on its own, it sucked only when compared to the first part. The intrigue, the building of intrigue, all was gone. I'm not going to bitch much about the freshness of some concepts being gone too, because of course we already got used to it since the book one. It's only natural. But no new bait was given instead and it sucked. I know social justice is important and it's a universal truth, but to me plot is important too if I pick the book to read, and oh boy, this one here was dragging. Maybe it's just a middle novel syndrome, like some reviewers here have already pointed out. In which case I'm expecting the third part to be much better and similar to the first one and not giving up my hopes. But I didn't enjoy this one, and I'm sorry that Breq had to go through all this period drama on plantation.
Profile Image for Mogsy (MMOGC).
1,985 reviews2,584 followers
February 20, 2015
3.5 of 5 stars at The BiblioSanctum http://bibliosanctum.com/2015/02/19/b...

Looking back at my review of Ancillary Justice, it seemed that while I liked the book, it and I didn’t actually hit it off as well as I’d hoped. Mind you, I’m most definitely in the minority there. And despite not falling in love with the novel, I did appreciate its many merits and was pleased to see it win many awards and garner so much praise – all seriously well-deserved. In fact, I was so impressed with the concepts in the book and the sheer innovation that went into it, I knew that I would read the sequel if Ann Leckie were to continue with Breq’s story.

And lo and behold, we have Ancillary Sword, the second installment of the Imperial Radch series which picks up from the end of book one.

However, it is also very different novel. But hey, “different” can be good! “Different” changes things up. And “different” keeps things fresh. It’s tough to follow up a book like Ancillary Justice which took the SFF scene by storm, and Leckie definitely took a few risks here by greatly streamlining the story as well as departing from the first book’s distinctive style.

Did it pay off? I feel a bit torn on this, personally. On the one hand, the biggest challenge I had with the first book was the style of narration. Breq was formerly one of thousands of corpse soldiers all linked up as part of a massive starship, and the resulting “omniscient effect” was not only confusing but also a source of distraction. Now that she is a single mind in a single body, I found the story in this book so much easier to follow. Add to that, we’re no longer shifting back and forth in time, and there’s a lot less information to digest. On the whole, I would say simplifying the narrative and making it more linear worked wonders for me. It addressed a couple of the major issues I had with the first book, and I didn’t feel as overwhelmed.

However, the changes also affected the scope of the story, whittling what seemed to be a massive space-opera-in-the-making down to more modest proportions. Ancillary Sword almost reads like a character study, offering a more intimate and personal look into the mind of Breq. While the character development is superb, the pacing suffered. Compared to the first book, this one is far slower, and there’s almost no action at all. Furthermore, I’m not sure it contributed all that much to the overall story arc; this felt a lot like a “middle book”, a nice little detour to get a chance to better acquaint ourselves with the main protagonist.

I’m fine with the slower, tamer direction of Ancillary Sword. What I’m not so keen on though, was the lack of a sense of purpose. I wasn’t sure what I expected from the sequel, but it certainly wasn’t this. After all that effort and time working up to the jaw-dropping conclusion in the first book, I wanted the momentum to continue, and I wanted to see what the next big thing was for Breq. Most of all I wanted to see where Ann Leckie is taking this series, and unfortunately, I’m still none the wiser.

I wanted to like this book more than its predecessor, but in the end I think the pros balanced out the cons and I ended up liking it just the same. To sum up, I loved how much easier this book was to read and how it put me more in my comfort zone, and I appreciated the deeper look into Breq’s life and thought processes now that she is separated from the hive mind. On the downside, the story didn’t hold my attention too well, and certain parts dragged.

That said, Ann Leckie is a talented author with a way with words, and what I wouldn’t give to see what other creative ideas she has up her sleeve. If these books are any indication, the next Imperial Radch novel will be just as deep-seated and cerebral. I hope the third book will strike more of a balance for me, but as the author is clearly not averse to changing things up, I’m curious to see what it’ll bring regardless.
Profile Image for Cathy.
1,582 reviews233 followers
January 10, 2023
I liked this a lot and, differently to my first review, I think I liked it better than the first book. Breq is more reflected and emotional. I really liked the addition of Lieutenant Tisarwat, Translator Dlique was a delight and the locations of Underworld and on the planet were well imagined and lively.

I do love the narration by Andoh, although it is a bit over the top at times.

+*+*+
Review from April 2017 *some spoilers*

I liked it. It was very laid back in between the more energetic action sequences. A lot of drinking tea. I liked the plot of the first book more, I think (still debating with myself). The alternating timeline made it more vibrant and suspenseful. It was proper space opera.

However, the relationships of the various characters in this sequel were more intricate. The dynamics of the people on the station and down on the planet were well done. The disenfranchised in the Undergarden (brilliant idea) and their revolution, the serfs on the planet, the ruling class and its notions of entitlement and righteousness... Good stuff, I will be going over it in my mind for quite a while.

"You take what you want at the end of a gun, you murder and rape and steal, and you call it bringing civilization. And what is civilization, to you, but us being properly grateful to be murdered and raped and stolen from? You said you knew justice when you heard it. Well, what is your justice but you allowed to treat us as you like, and us condemned for even attempting to defend ourselves?”

Very talkative prose, sometimes a little too much for my taste. But only a little. Seivarden's role was sadly diminished in this, the addition of Tisarwat added a good character into the mix. Breq's Kalrs pretending to be ancillaries was another great idea. She herself mourning for her lost connectedness with all that she was as Justice of Torren... I am not usually a friend of character driven narratives, but this was good.

Looking forward to Ancillary Mercy. Can't wait to read, what they find on the other side...
Profile Image for Michael.
1,094 reviews1,473 followers
April 14, 2015
A great and solid follow-up to Leckie’s innovative space opera debut, “Ancillary Justice”. There we learn how Breq “was” once a warship in a collective identity of hundreds of soldiers linked into the ship’s group-mind. Such people are “ancillaries”, humans with minds overridden by integration through biocybernetic implants with an artificial intelligence managing the ship. Such ships serve Anaander Mianaai, the emperor of Raach, a large group of conquered and colonized human worlds, and a being also in a group mind with many clones scattered all over the empire. After the central disaster in the first book, Breq became a lone identity in a world of civil war between two versions of the emperor. Now, the version of Lord of Raach she allies with gives her command of a ship and a mission to safeguard a colony space station managing a key wormhole gateway.

Though Breq is posing as an ordinary human, she still has the capacity of interfacing with the monitoring systems of her ship. I appreciated the military and human aspects of society of her ship, which taps into my old pleasure in the cultural microcosm presented of the British navy in the Napoleanic Wars by C.S. Forester and Patrick O’Brian. Lt. Seivarden is back, the closest person to a friend Breq has. A fascinating new character is Lt. Tisarwat, a naïve “baby lieutenant”, who ends up earning her stripes before this tale is done. The official religion of Raach, somewhat a cross between Buddhism and Hinduism, is a cool background touch. The human soldiers start each day with the prayer:
The flower of justice is peace.
The flower of propriety is beauty in thought and action.
The flower of benefit is Amaat whole and entire.
I am the sword of justice.


They face a lot of dangers at Atoek Station. The secret civil war is quite destabilizing. They have to activate the governor of the nearby planet and the station administrator to concerted action without fomenting revolution by members of the various classes and cultures among the conquered and conquering peoples. They have to be wary for spies of the wrong emperor and of their potential alliances with a couple of especially dangerous alien races. The blockade on the wormhole gate is bad for business, so the huge commercial companies are suspect in their powers and motives for undermining their mission. Last, but not least, their fellow imperial forces with another warship posted to the station cannot be counted on to serve the right side.

Breq has an important personal mission, which is to achieve some kind of forgiveness or redemption from the sister of a favorite lieutenant she killed under orders of the bad version of the emperor. She is a gardener for the station and wants nothing to do with easing Breq’s guilt. The aristocratic Tisarwat surprises Breq with the initiative she takes in building bridges with the working class of the gardener group. We get a lot into class, culture, and colonialism when Breq gets involved with the revolutionary fruit of exploitation of tea plantation workers on the planet. All the diverse threads get tied up nicely in the richly layered plot.

Again, gender issues make for a surprising vacuum and periodic intrusion. Every character at one point or another gets referred to with the pronoun “she”, which frequently disturbed my mental image of a man behind the various people exerting their powers. This sleight of hand extends even to a case of sexual exploitation of a peasant by a scion of the plantation owners. Leckie’s tongue-in-cheek subversion of macho traditions in science fiction was most apparent in Breq’s arrival at the station in the middle of a “genitalia festival”, for which all the pervasive decorations may be the only sign of male existence in the story.

In the first book, Leckie was brilliant with her narrative flowing among all the ancillary consciousnesses. The experience was almost as fun as reading Virginia Woolfe. We get some of that here with Breq’s distributed perception from ubiquitous monitoring cameras and microphones as pervasive as those available to Clarke’s Hal. But the best thrill for me is being hitched to a new kind of amplified human who harbors a core of personal compassion and concern for a just society. Just the ticket to probe the classic theme of what it means to be human. I am not surprised that round two of this series got onto the current short list for a Hugo Award, but two such prizes in a row for Leckie would seem to be a bit excessive. (How could she live up to that in the future? What did it do for productivity of Connie Willis?)
Profile Image for Phrynne.
3,114 reviews1,978 followers
April 12, 2015
This was a really enjoyable book and for me it was maybe even better thanAncillary Justice. I guess this was because I am developing a much better understanding now of the people and the related systems. I even began to understand the omnipotence of Ship and the way Breq can see everything through other people's eyes. Still struggling a little with gender although in this book everyone was referred to as she which helped! This turned out to be great read, interesting, exciting and at the end even a little emotional. I am very much looking forward to the next one.
Profile Image for Lightreads.
641 reviews520 followers
December 12, 2014
Further adventures of the angry former spaceship and assorted imperial doings.

This was . . . unchallenging is the word a friend used, and it is exactly the right one. Like, this book kept presenting the most digestible, high-contrast depictions of inequity, and I kept waiting for the onion layers to peel back on it and . . . no . . . apparently the arc of justice bends towards the completely freaking obvious. Like, okay, slave labor by another name is, indeed, unjust. But positing that is not interesting to me as a reader and, more importantly, did not challenge any of the characters as they revolved neatly through this little social justice playlet. Which is part of what makes the book go, actually – there's something awful about how cartoonishly blatant the evil is here, and yet how many characters still can't see it and can't be taught to see it. But we spent so long talking at length about the obvious injustice of captive labor that we didn't seem to have time to delve into the more complex and insidious ways the power structure reinforces itself. The stuff that really gets people where they're rooted, because it's what they're rooted in.

Anyway. I'm selling this book short, to be honest. It has long, charming stretches of angry former spaceship who is baffled by these monkeys, and there are two contrasting subplots about identity that are extensions of how the first book dealt with the expanded self on multiple levels from the personal to the societal, and other stuff that I liked. But there was just something so primary color crayon about most of the sociological plot, and . . . eh.
Profile Image for Paul Sánchez Keighley.
148 reviews89 followers
May 1, 2019
In which a promising space opera grappling with issues of consciousness and identity turns into a Victorian England YA dealing with... social justice.

This may seem off-point, but I have to ask: am I the only one freaking out about the emperor’s split personality? Seriously, every one of the characters in these novels reacts to the news as if they’d just been told the emperor is suffering from a slight cold. The sole, tyrannic, thousand-bodied ruler of the Radch has declared civil war on himself! Why isn’t everybody panicking? Or at the very least suffering from severe existential crises brought about by the realisation that the emperor is not unique and eternal, but breakable and, in consequence, so is the empire and, by association, the nature of each and every one of its individual citizens? Aren’t people bothered by this threat to the all-pervading monism upon which the Radch is built? Not even a tad of fear about the future? I just don’t get it. It makes me question my sanity. Or if I misunderstood the nature of the problem. Damnit, Leckie, you can’t just create a conflict like this and then expect me to care about tea pickers getting paid fair wages!

Anyway, if we extricate this novel from the framework of the Ancillary Justice series, it’s fine. Unremarkable but enjoyable. Not much happens and the cast of characters is ridiculously small, so it would work quite decently as a stage play.

I found myself constantly interested in the conflicts presented only to be consistently underwhelmed by their resolutions (the ending feels lifted from a Hercule Poirot novel). Also, this book confirmed something the first instalment made me suspect: Leckie sucks at reveals. She doles out data at such a steady, monotonous rate, that many a time I found myself expecting to learn the key to a certain mystery only to realise it had been revealed some chapters back, only the information had been slipped so unostentatiously into my brain I hadn’t even noticed it was there. Other times it feels like the book is clearly building up to some sort of reveal only to suddenly change the subject and move on without a backward glance.

Again, as a stand-alone book, it’d be fine, but as part of a series it’s focusing on all the wrong things - or at least on none the things Ancillary Justice led me to expect it would focus on. I wanted to read about dissociative personality disorders and the birth of consciousness! Why is this suddenly about cultural appropriation, colonialism and systematic oppression, among other campus assembly classics?

Check it out, this single offhanded passage had a larger emotional impact on me than any of the social injustices happening on Athoek:
When we were nearly there, minutes away from docking, Ship spoke directly into my ear. “Fleet Captain.” It didn’t need to speak to me that way, could merely desire me to know it wanted my attention. And it nearly always knew what I wanted without my saying it. I could connect to Mercy of Kalr in a way no one else aboard could. I could not, however, be Mercy of Kalr, as I had been Justice of Toren. Not without losing myself entirely. Permanently.

That’s terrifying. A glimpse of the abyss. It taps into the unfathomable loneliness Justice of Toren has been subjected to since being reduced to a single ancillary. That’s the kind of stuff I was expecting this series to linger on, not reminders of 21st century social concerns.

And despite all this, I keep coming back. The books are enjoyable, Breq is intriguing, and I’m utterly fascinated by Anaander Mianaai. I’ll end this review with the closing sentences of the book, which perfectly sum up what I felt after finishing both book 1 and book 2:
It wasn’t what I wanted, not really, wasn’t what I knew I would always reach for. But it would have to be enough.

------------------

01/05/19 edit
Dropping this one to 2 stars. It has not fermented well in my memory.
Profile Image for Sarah.
Author 109 books694 followers
November 1, 2014
I'm not a big reader of series. Generally, I find that if a first book is a success, authors try to recreate that success by duplicating the beats of the first novel. Or worse, authors that use a second book in a trilogy entirely to set up a third. There are exceptions, of course: series that invent and reinvent themselves as they go along. Series with greater ambitions and a strong structure, like Vandermeer's Southern Reach or Jo Walton's small change.

As much as I loved Ancillary Justice, I didn't need to see it duplicated. So when I realized that Leckie had other plans, I was overjoyed. Part of what I loved about Ancillary Justice was that even though the overarching story was huge and centuries-spanning, the focus was on the characters. In Ancillary Sword, she manages to move forward with the big plot put in motion in the first novel, but the focus is tight. Most of the action takes places on one station and one estate on a planet. It concerns a finite set of characters. It reminded me in some ways of Bujold's Mountains of Mourning, my favorite of the Miles Vorkosigan stories. We're given a chance to see how Breq deals with human sized problems, and how Breq approaches power. I loved it.
Profile Image for Lata.
3,434 reviews180 followers
September 14, 2021
2021-09: 4.5 stars.
Breq is sent to Athoek station by "the tyrant", to ensure the "other side" doesn't gain a foothold against the young Anaander Mianaai. Because this is Breq, she doesn't do anything the governor of the station, nor the rich families (rich because of the tea plantations on the planets below), expect her to do. So, of course, she kicks open hornets' nests, almost gets killed, but most importantly, meets Lieutenant Awn's sister.
And, to echo my earlier thoughts about the Raadch, the amount of tea they drink!!

2017-04: 4.5 stars, and several cups of tea.
Profile Image for Sarah.
565 reviews142 followers
June 22, 2018
I’m sort of surprised to be writing this review. I fully expected another solid 4 star experience from Leckie, but sadly this book fell a little short for me. I think once the shiny newness of her complex world building wore off I was disappointed at what I was left with.

The plot in this book felt like it had no purpose or direction. In the first book, you know Breq has her reasons for doing what she does, she just hasn’t shared them with you yet. Here, she wanders from pitfall to pitfall on Athoek station for no other reason the Anaander sent her there.

Which brings me to point number two: Leckie creates a false sense of suspense by allowing Breq to know things the reader doesn’t. There is never a reason or justification given for Breq knowing these things, she just has “suspicions”. She tells you she suspects it, but she never says why or who. It just left a bad taste in my mouth. I feel like this also happened in the first book, but with less frequency.

Seivarden was largely non-existent for most of the book which I found extremely disappointing. She went from being hated at first to being loved and then she seemed to be written off in book two. Why go through all that character development and then stow her away, off stage?

I know at this point I don’t sound very positive, but I do enjoy Breq as a character. I loved the one action scene at the end, and the further glimpses into Radchaai culture. So while this is no means a bad book, I just don’t think it had as much to offer as Ancillary Justice. I will probably continue with Ancillary Mercy and hope for a stronger plot structure.
Profile Image for Wealhtheow.
2,406 reviews534 followers
October 31, 2014
Breq survived her quest for vengeance against the tyrant who ordered her beloved Lieutenant Awn's death, but now the tyrant knows of her existence--and plans to make use of her. Breq is given a new ship and crew and sent to make sense of a troubled planet of tea plantations. Breq has become more accustomed to acting as a single human body (as opposed to her thousands of years of being the AI controlling a ship and its corpse-bodied crew) but still takes a distinctly alien approach to dealing with humans and social problems. Breq is a wonderfully complex character, both very pragmatic (she's lived thousands of years after all) and completely idealistic. Her deeply felt emotions are rarely stated outright (and in fact, often puzzle her) but are so apparent in her actions that she is an eminently relateable and sympathetic main character. I love Breq's ideas about justice and hierarchy, and the conversations that spark around her from so many perspectives, from an oppressed laborer to a former strike leader to the most privileged of all citizens. I love that characters can do bad things and cowardly things but also act with kindness or courage. And I love the universe building here, which is beautifully comprehensive and has a surprising depth. There are so many little details or unstated assumptions of the Raadch culture that seem like little things but eventually inform huge plot points.

I want to read this book again and again. The only flaw is that it ends with several major plots still unresolved, but I hope this means we will get more in the series.
Profile Image for Beth.
1,132 reviews109 followers
November 16, 2014
I didn't like the first book, and I didn't like this one, either.

First, the story was set on a small planet and was completely unrelated to the larger political arc introduced in the first book. If you want to know more about the impossible task of defeating someone with three thousand bodies, skip Ancillary Sword. Tangentially - and taking into account that I've read very few Bujold novels - this felt like the Miles story where he spent his time as the famous person on the small planet dispensing justice. Except the rest of the Miles stories struck me as contained, and Ancillary Justice was not, which means Ancillary Sword felt like an odd addition to a trilogy designed as a larger story.

Ancillary Sword was a sci-fi version of the evils of colonialism, which means even I've read this story before (and I don't read much sci-fi). Also, Breq as a non-human was supposed to contrast with the uncivilized humans, only Breq doesn't feel very non-human anymore, so that mostly led to moments where the author tried to remind us by pointing out Breq's flat tone.

Breq was also the type of narrator who figured things out and then only revealed her brilliance later, while telling the reader that "she hoped her suspicions were wrong" in the meantime. That type of narrator never works for me.

I'm kind of sick of the default "she" and "sir" by now, too. In the first book, it was explained as Breq being bad at picking up gender clues. In this book, Breq used "she" to describe people she knew, and what's more, she proved herself capable of picking up gender clues when necessary, as when she met Queter's grandfather. And brother, whom she then called "sister" after she left Queter's house. I can't come up with any reason as to why "she" is therefore a) necessary to prove a point and b) better than gender-neutral terms.

And one last thing - commas. This is a funny thing to pick on, but there were extra commas sprinkled in all over.

I will still be picking up the sequel, annoyed as this series made me, to find out how a single person with a single gun can defeat an omniscient mind with three thousand bodies, even one that's at war with itself. Also, just saying: Frances Hardinge did the single-mind-at-war-with-himself better.
Profile Image for Joel Gerber.
72 reviews4 followers
September 1, 2016
Well this was awful. A complete slog to get through, there was nothing interesting or exciting that happens. What's strange is the first book was innovative, interesting, and emotionally moving in parts.

I read sci-fi specifically so I can avoid books where the entire plot revolves around characters sitting in a circle and talking and nothing ever happens. This one? Pride and prejudice in space.

All the interesting elements from the first book are completely absent. It's almost like the author wrote a different book and is trying to pass it off as a sequel. The scope of the first book was awesome: Dictator having trouble maintaining rule facing internal challenges, and the main character (A living SPACESHIP! Kind of.) has to stop her. In this book instead of seeing the results of that conflict...We are taken to the planet Snob, where they Snobby Snobs are, you guessed it, snobs. (You aren't wearing the correct GLOVES or using the wrong DISHES?)That. for 250 pages, while the villain from the first book isn't event mentioned, the action that should be taking place totally absent.

Instead of the epic space battle the character's sit around and literally discuss TEA for 300 pages. Sounds like a joke, but not kidding. Actual TEA, the drinking kind, is of the utmost importance in this book. Instead of defeating the evil emperor, Breq spends the book saving tea farmers.

IF Ancillary Justice was one of the best Sci-fi books I've ever read, this is by far the worst.
Profile Image for Lost Planet Airman.
1,234 reviews69 followers
April 4, 2017
Wow.
Read Ancillary Justice first, but really, it's just to understand the nuances.

The only flaws I really recall in the book are small: it dragged a touch after the funeral -- not unexpected; it lacked some explanation of the nuances of the author's universe -- the primary culture rarely considers gender, so everyone is "she", for instance; some of the names were hard to follow on the audiobook.
Profile Image for Melanie Schneider.
Author 9 books77 followers
October 16, 2019
Es war auf eine andere Art vielschichtig wie der erste Band, aber auch sehr, sehr gut. Ich mag viele Charaktere, allen voran Breq. Ich finde es schön, wie zwischen all ihrer Logik durch die Interaktion mit anderen auch immer mehr ihre Gefühle hervorkommen. Gerade in ihrer Situation ist das ungewöhnlich, aber sehr passend!
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