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Imperial Radch #3

Ancillary Mercy

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For just a moment, things seem to be under control for the soldier known as Breq. Then a search of Athoek Station's slums turns up someone who shouldn't exist—someone who might be a refugee from a ship that's been hiding beyond the empire's reach for three thousand years. In the meantime a messenger from the alien and mysterious Presger empire arrives, as does Breq's enemy, the divided and quite possibly insane Anaander Mianaai—ruler of an empire that's at war with itself.

Anaander is heavily armed and extremely unhappy with Breq. She could take her ship and crew and flee, but that would leave everyone at Athoek in terrible danger.

Breq has a desperate plan. The odds aren't good, but that's never stopped her before.

363 pages, Kindle Edition

First published October 6, 2015

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Ann Leckie

49 books7,393 followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 3,223 reviews
2 reviews
October 25, 2015
Tea. Tea. Tea. Tea. Tea. Ancillary. Tea. Tea. Tea. Tea. Tea. Ancillary. Edge in her voice. Tea. Tea. Ancillary. Ancillary. Tea. Tea. Tea. Tea. Tea. Ancillary. Tea. Tea. Tea. Tea. Tea. Ancillary. Edge in her voice. Tea. Tea. Ancillary. Ancillary. Tea. Tea. Tea. Tea. Tea. Ancillary. Tea. Tea. Tea. Tea. Tea. Ancillary. Edge in her voice. Tea. Tea. Ancillary. Ancillary. Tea. Tea. Tea. Tea. Tea. Ancillary. Tea. Tea. Tea. Tea. Tea. Ancillary. Edge in her voice. Tea. Tea. Ancillary. Ancillary. Tea. Tea. Tea. Tea. Tea. Ancillary. Tea. Tea. Tea. Tea. Tea. Ancillary. Edge in her voice. Tea. Tea. Ancillary. Ancillary. FISH SAUCE!
Profile Image for Nataliya.
746 reviews11.9k followers
June 26, 2021
So now I really know the answer to what would happen if Jane Austen had teamed up with Disney and a relationship counselor on a space soap opera, sponsored by your local tea distributor.

- Austen would bring her trademark manners discussions, and would have certainly approved of tea.
- Disney would make all conflicts crystal clear and simplistic, and with a heavy moral message to boot.
- The relationship counselor would have done her job discussing relationships - one-dimensional and immature, as far as I can tell. But probably not in the middle of battles, come to think of it - unlike our military leaders here.
- Tea distributor would have been thrilled with the direction of this series. Oh wait:
“I don’t want tea,” I said. “Just water.”
The horror 😱.
So let me raise a steaming cup of tea fish sauce* to the conclusion of this space opera comedy of manners.
* When reading about a character drinking fish sauce feels refreshing, you know you took your descriptions of tea ceremonies a tad too far.


Ancillary Justice swept all the major awards when it was released and set up an interesting world with interesting characters and a few strange quirks:
- a person who used to be a spaceship for 2000 years, now hell-bent on revenge;
- a despotic ruler with supposedly a single mind inhabiting hundreds of bodies for 3000 years, and now at a bloody war with herself;
- an officer who wakes after a millennium in cryosleep to realize he she lost everything including self-worth, now struggling with addiction, learning humanity and humility;
- the promise of unknowable all-powerful aliens lurking behind the scenes;
- a weird fixation with tea and manners that was almost endearing at first.

Somewhat unfortunately, Ancillary Sword narrowed our scope to a single star system, then a space station, then a tea plantation, all while deciding that what the readers really care about is small-scale politics quickly overshadowed by comedy of morals, endless tea parties and strangely simple answers to social justice questions. But at least we also got a promise of plot recovery from a dead stop by letting us know of a strange ship in a “haunted” system behind the “Ghost Gate”, illicit slave trade in cryogenically frozen humans, and a murder of a translator for those behind-the-scenes unknowable aliens sure to ruffle some alien feathers.

And now we are at the conclusion of the trilogy with Ancillary Mercy. And yeah, sophomore slump was not a slump but a preview of what’s to come, with fish sauce providing the only relief.


In addition to endless Victorian-style manners that overpowered its predecessor, we are getting a new space-soap-opera focus on relationships. Immature, one-dimensional relationships on Breq’s spaceship that not only Breq voyeristically observes through her ship connection but that are a constant subject of gossip that brings plot to a dead stop, even in the middle of battles. The relationship in question seems to exist to provide a handy and contrived “teaching moment” (TM) on the evil of microaggressions — which feels unnecessary and cheapened when placed next to mega-aggressions of this galactic empire based on slavery and subjugation. Pages and pages of everyone musing on the callous backhanded “compliment” that actually jeopardizes the safety of the ship and crew by worsening an acting commander’s emotional breakdown*.
* About that emotional breakdown. Why does everyone on that ship seems to have emotional maturity of a cranky toddler? Why is everyone always angry, pouting, or having breakdowns? Why is everyone always either in tears or engaging in petulant self-loathing?

“I let her down. I let Breq down, and everything was depending on it, and she’s never let me down, not even when I thought she had. The things she’s done, the most terrifying, dangerous things and hardly blinking, and me, I can’t even get from one minute to the next of just living. Wait.” Tears welled. “Wait, no, that’s not right. I’m feeling sorry for myself again.”

“Every lieutenant of yours I’ve spoken with so far has been an unsteady, blubbering mess. What are you doing to them?”

Good question. It’s the tea.

Even more prominent are the increasingly stark lines between unequivocally good or bad, simplistically presented in a classic Disney cartoon style. The non-nuanced stark contrasts that make it conveniently easy to divide the world along suspiciously neat polarizing lines. To further simplify it, good or bad is determined by whether a person agrees with Breq. Disagree with Breq = bad. Agree with Breq = good. Breq is never wrong. Breq is flawless. Breq is loved by all the good persons. Breq should be worshipped.
Maybe Breq would have had more nuance had we been shown her inner life, but despite first-person narration, Leckie keeps us at a distance from her, showing her motives only in the hindsight. So what we really get to experience is an account of Breq doing stuff for reasons not shown, then inevitably being proven right, with the intervening moments full of tea and manners and relationship counseling.

Characterization remains a bit thin, just like in the previous book. Everyone is static and stale. Seivarden’s narrative arc is reductive, and he is quite useless. Breq makes no progress minus learning to (temporarily) control her voyeristic tendencies. Tisarwat, despite all the promise shown before, is back to perpetual self-loathing and self-doubt, and her potential seems wasted. Ekalu gets offended at microaggressions by her lover and comes from humble origins — and there’s little else to know about her. The Presger translator is odd and quirky and drinks fish sauce — just enough for the role of comic relief and . Sphene is brought into the story for no reason at all. Anaander Miannai is a blundering angry idiot who just needs a cartoon villain moustache.

Evidently the big idea of the series ends up being the personhood of AI and the injustice of slavery, including that of AI. And it’s done in the “there’s only one right way - the Breq way” approach, without considering potential pitfalls and nuances, and righteously shrugging off concerns as bigotry. Nobody should be subjugated, that’s obvious — but maybe a decision of unilaterally and secretly handing control over thousands of lives to one being should be thought over by more people than our morally staunch protagonist? Especially if you are basically flying by the seat of your pants, just hoping that your slipshod job works. And no, just trading a despot for another potential uber-powered despot does not work only because Breq assures us that it would.
“It’s the fact that the six AIs in the system are meeting in a closed room to plan how things will be from now on, and the human residents of the system—let alone the residents of the Undergarden—seem to have no say in it.”

Well, yeah.
All of this only works because everyone agrees with Breq and when left to their own devices everyone - of course - would do what Breq would have done.

And again everything seems to occur on a strangely small and cozy scale, especially when compared to galactic size stakes implied in the first book. But here it’s basically village-scale politics, which is strange given empire-shattering stakes and consequences. No wonder a handful of people in the end decides it all — this universe is a small-scale place.

And then it ends with a whimper. And I can only hope that more books are to come because that was not quite satisfactory, to say the least. It’s like a prologue to a larger story — but I probably will not be on board for it even if it were to come.

The highlight though was the talk of drinking fish sauce. At least it’s not tea.

2.5 stars, rounding up because I was still less bored than in book 2. Despite good writing, it sinks under the leadenness of its plot and characters. A good stopping place in this series would have been after Book 1.
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 5 books3,979 followers
April 27, 2016
I have to say this book puts the previous one in an entirely new and better light. I was left with Ancillary Sword being somehow a lot *less* than Ancillary Justice, but that's only because I had missed it's true purpose and eventual outcome, which, thankfully, became extremely pleasant in this third novel.

You know how it is, the curse of the middle novel. Less action, more buildup, slower and more subtle. Okay, maybe the themes weren't very subtle at all, revolving as it had upon the hinges of being civilized. But that's okay. The first novel established quite a bit of homelessness, identity issues, loss, and near hopelessness in the face of such an insane power. The second established a thoughtful and forward-looking pace under the realization that Breq's sometime Rachii boss is damn nuts, and the only sane course is to protect whomever and whatever she can in the face of it. The third book takes it much farther, in a much more proactive way, eventually leading us to an all out revolution and breakaway from the grand old empire.

Insane move? Hopelessly outgunned and outpopulated? You better damn believe it. Fortunately, this is a novel about Breq actually belonging somewhere, at long last. It was touching and thrilling in its own way, building upon the previous novels in a way that is obvious in retrospect, and it's awesome.

The AI loves and is loved, despite never quite believing it could happen. Respect, fondness, sure, all of that has been in her memory, but never quite that elusive concept of love. It's her choices, the way she treats people, the way she truly cares that does it. And that same power has the ability and potential to free all the other Ancillaries she has contact with.

Truly beautiful. This novel had the ending and feel of greatness, however abrupt it was, that I wish the second novel had. All told, the full tale is brilliant and worthy of high SF in all it's glory. Freedom and Love, forever!

Update 4/27/16

The novel has been nominated for Hugo for best novel in 2016! It also happens to be nominated for the Nebula, too!

While I did enjoy it, unfortunately, I will not be voting for it. There were several other novels that were superior. I'm not being prejudiced against trilogies, either, but I *do* insist that single novels within a trilogy must be complete and totally awesome in themselves.

This one was awesome in context, which shouldn't impede anyone's enjoyment, but it also pushes it down the list for me.

Profile Image for carol..
1,538 reviews7,890 followers
June 24, 2021
There’s at least two ways to read this series, and your enjoyment will depend on which you choose (choose your own adventure!) Do you:

1. Read quickly, surface-details only, not pausing to question characters and plotting.
2. Read deeply, discussing the details and character motivations.
3. Surprise! You can also do both and discover that it falls apart with scrutiny.

When I read quickly, it’s usually because plotting pulls me along. An unpredictable plot is catnip, and spurs me to invest in the story and pay attention. Interest strengthens if plotting passes a sniff test and there’s emotional drama. So when I first read through Mercy, I thought it a decent finale to the trilogy, particularly after the tea plantation drama of book #2. There’s just as much tea but far more action, and number of interesting plot developments. But that speed and interest comes with a cost: ignoring the sustained focus on the crew’s various emotional dramas and Breq’s similarly human emotional landscape.

The first chapter does a decent job of reviewing the events of the prior book, as well as explaining a few ambiguities that had erupted. (If only Leckie had decided to share them in book two!). Nonetheless, I’m sure it’ll be helpful to readers who took time between books. While intrigue is non-stop, endless cups of tea will appear, although only as a indication that Important Conversations Will Follow. It’s too bad, really, that Leckie fixated on the ritual of tea as her indicator for ‘civilization,’ because there was the potential to add more cultural world-building. (Oh, correction–this time we also talk about tea-cakes).

But Leckie’s characterization remains overall weak, with Seivarden and Ekalu’s emotional drama about a microaggression-laden compliment distracting from both planetary and interstellar-level events. I honestly couldn’t think of why it was included, unless it was for Leckie to use it as an awkward and overt ‘teaching point’ for readers who don’t understand the insidiousness.

Breq herself remains a black box, unable to share details on her strategy until post-event. It’s an annoying authorial tick that relies on nothing more than slight-of-hand super-power skills. And don’t get me started on why Breq’s continues her focus on racial politics of the planet and station when she has a galactic empire gunning for her. We do remember, right, that this is the embodiment of an A.I. that participated in numerous racially-motivated wars? There’s not enough character depth to explain how she’s decided that different races of people should have equal rights. Then there’s her own shaky double-standard of certain missing people who are still in ancillary storage. It all adds up to a character that isn’t interesting as much as inscrutable, which leads me to conclude shaky characterization.

All my prior objections of the series remain: missed potential for world-building and shaky underpinnings (spoiler: when did Breq decide to switch to Freedom Fighter?) but intricate plotting with a lot of forward movement. Don’t scrutinize too closely and it’ll be an okay ride.
Profile Image for Ellen.
30 reviews3 followers
October 9, 2015
Still too much tea.

Book I was so strong and splendid. It opened up into a world that promised galactic intrigue and epic space opera. Book II narrowed the story's focus down to a single star system and the intricacies of drinking tea. The bizarrely-immature feelings of officers aboard a single warship. And proper manners within the Radch.

I had high hopes that this book, the conclusion to the trilogy, would open back up to the larger universe originally promised, but no. Instead half the book was devoted to the resolution of the immature officers' personal problems. And tea. Endlessly drinking tea out of good china and bad. You could make a drinking game out of seeing the word "tea" on the page. And there was no real resolution to the larger problem of What To Do With The Mad Emperor?

Instead the book just ends. In-story Lecke acknowledges that the book just ends. I'm not sure what happened here--whether she was rushed to print, as I suspect happened to the second book, or whether she ran out of interesting ideas, or didn't have enough time to develop the ones she did have. All I know is that the promise of "Ancillary Justice" was never fulfilled. For whatever reason. It's a damn shame.
Profile Image for TheBookSmugglers.
669 reviews1,984 followers
October 16, 2015
I am dumfounded by how good Ancillary Mercy is, how perfectly it fits within the wider context of the series and how well it works as a trilogy-ender. I don’t know why I expected anything different given how much I loved, admired, and adored the first two books in the trilogy. But here we are and I can say in all honesty: this is a brilliant piece of fiction that is uplifting, complex, clever, heart-warming and fun.

I imagine every author has a crossroads moment: for Ann Leckie I would like to think that that moment came when a decision was made as to which tone to use when writing this final entry in her tale. A tale that deals with sprawling themes such as oppression, identity, colonisation, survival and revolution. And yet… instead of going Dark!Bitter!, Ann Leckie wrote a book that is funny – with moments that fully embrace its surrealist heart – and emotional.

In terms of its plot, Brek, now a Fleet Captain stationed at Atheok Station, is still dealing with questions and problems arising from the events at the end of book two. Then a couple of things happen: a person who shouldn’t be there at the Station shows herself. A new Translator from the mysterious Presger arrives. And then Anaander Mianaai decides to finally play her hand and get back at Breq.

I won’t spoil too much, or dwell too long, on what happens because I am much more interested on the why and the hows. Basically Ancillary Mercy continues to follow Breq’s tale of revenge against the Lord of the Radchaai empire that started with Ancillary Justice, then morphed – or perhaps it would be fairer to say, evolved – into a story in which she also attempts to make amends about past wrongs in Ancillary Sword. I fully realise that boiling down the scope and grandeur of these books into these two very basic elements is almost a disservice to the series (just like it’s a bloody disservice to say that this is nothing but a series that plays with the concept of gender, lol are you kidding me. Not that I am bitter about that at all) but allow me some leeway to play with it because by boiling it down to “revenge” and “making amends”, what I am doing is making it about the personal, the individual. Even when the “individual” refers to an AI who used to have multiple bodies. And thus, we have arrived to the focus and the heart of the Ancillary series and of its main character Breq, Justice of Toren.

One could argue that given the scope of some of its themes (revolution, colonisation, invasion, expansion, slavery), the final events in Ancillary Mercy are too tidy, are too small and too localised, too minimal to matter: but this, I realised upon reading Ancillary Mercy is exactly the point that the series is trying to convey.

At the end of the day, this might be a space opera in the depths of an Empire that has annexed and enslaved entire planets and also AIs in the name of civilisation but… against the backdrop of all of that, what this book is really saying is that the personal matters. Each person matters. Who you are matters. That personhood matters and that self-determination matters. And then… you put one foot in front of the other: and it’s a start. In the context of the universe, of love and death and the millions of years ahead: it is a start.

This is all the more effective because in Ancillary Mercy, more I feel, than in the other books, this has truly become an ensemble cast. Actually, in this last book we have the best thing of all: a found family. There are several passages in Ancillary Mercy that almost broke me emotionally in the best possible way. Several love stories, in different ways (“A Ship can’t love another Ship”). Picture me with heart eyes right now and you have an approximation of my mental state toward this book.

In fact, the emotional foundation of Ancillary Mercy is perhaps the most striking thing about it and I love the way it is conveyed – with subtlety, care and gentleness. A Kalr takes great care of tea sets. Someone stands next to you wiping the tears you don’t even realise you are shedding. A Ship asks a question you don’t completely understand until almost too late. Someone says something so stupid because of her privilege then has to apologise twice even when she doesn’t completely understand why because it’s not about her. People humming and singing. The point being: every minor detail proves to be not minor at all.

And then you have the ultra-surrealist moments at times of Great Crisis that were a hoot to read and I found myself simultaneously so tense that I could explode and worried about the characters but also crying from laughing so hard because of fish. And then everybody has tea. And I spent the whole book yelling SEIVARDEN YOU IDIOT CHILD. As you do.

The experience of reading this book, this series, is unique. I love it so much I do not know what I will do with myself now that it’s all over. I guess one foot after the other, etc. Fare thee well, Breq, Justice of Toren.
Profile Image for Erik.
338 reviews268 followers
November 7, 2016
So... I *really* liked Ancillary Justice.

That book hit so many high notes. Its main character, basically, suffered from Schizoid Personality Disorder. The main villain, Anaander Miaani, suffered from disassociative identity disorder. I thought, then, we’d be exploring how mental illness can lead to either greatness or to misery. Furthermore, Ancillary Justice touched upon the fascinating topic of how we treat the intelligent objects we create. I like to imagine what future AI and robots will think when they look back on, say, Terminator or 2001: A Space Odyssey and feel unfairly characterized. I’m looking forward to society exploring exactly what it means to have a conscience, to be morally accountable for your decisions, and for the mighty struggles between carbon and silicon based life. Ancillary Justice inspired me to write a deep (but hopefully approachable) meditation on the nature of free will. In that review, I explained panpsychism and claimed that my toaster, yes MY TOASTER, possesses free will. Breq would have approved.

I was STOKED. I even bought the next TWO books because I thought their goodness was a sure thing.

I could not have been more disappointed. These sequels feel like they were written for teenage girls (albeit cool nerdy ones) from privileged backgrounds. Everything in here – from the emotional landscape of warriors to the realities of social justice and governance to the wages of war – is pure Disney.

Basically, I think both Ancillary sequels fell off a cliff and only avoided a crash by riding the tail winds of Ancillary Justice. Weirdly enough, to explain why I think this, I’m going to be citing the same reasons for Mercy being bad that positive reviewers cite for it being good.

As an example: many reviewers have mentioned the (singular) space battle scene as if it’s good (sfsignal called it “actual awesome-sauce.”) And I’m like… are you referring to the one in which Mercy of Kalr jumps from spot to spot, Breq shoots a magical gun that she believes has almost no chance of doing any real damage and then spends paragraph upon paragraph idly reflecting on various inter-personal or inter-ship romances while waiting for the next jump, and then proceeds to allow the ship to jump into a mine-field that she suspected would be there but went ahead with the jump anyway? Is that the space battle you’re claiming is good? The contrived, plot-convenient, tension-less, poorly described battle, showcasing nonsensical strategy from a thousand year old ship who has participated in hundreds of naval engagements? Uh huh. If people think that’s a good space battle, I can’t even imagine what they’d consider a bad one.

Now I could write a well-constructed essay explaining why I think this book is objectively bad, but I’d… wait… what is this sensation…!? IS THIS…. ARGHHHHH!!!!!?!?



Considering how often the characters mention tea, you’d THINK that maybe the author would have bothered to include some actual details about Radchaai tea culture. But nope, it’s just, “Oh here’s a flask. And here’s some tea.” I mean, how do these people prefer their tea? Do they add cream? Milk? Honey? Space whale semen? And what type of tea are they drinking anyway? What type of tea is this Daughter of Fishes? Black? Green? White? Yellow? Herbal? Oolong? Matcha? Steeped sentient cacti? Any details at all? Maybe? Possibly? No? Nothing? Just gonna keep bringing up tea non-stop without bothering to develop any sort of interesting flavor or culture whatsoever? Okay. General Iroh would be ashamed.

What actually tipped me off that something was rotten in Denmark the teapot was when they started talking about re-using the same tea leaves for a WEEK. I was like wtf? A WEEK?

Ummmmmmmmmmmm no. Tea is leaves. Y’know organic matter. If you get them wet, then mold and bacteria will roll up like a bunch of homeboys at a milkshake exhibition. So yeah reuse the same tea leaves for a week if you like the taste of disgusting mold and off-flavors. And even if people did do that, there’s no way pretentious Kalr Five would allow it for her precious Fleet Commander.

This might seem like a minor detail, but it’s representative of the whole. It’s not like I’m asking for ESSAYS on tea. Just SOME detail to develop the book’s flavor. To add some richness. As is, it’s lacking any sort of fine detail. Which isn’t surprising because it’s also lacking in larger detail too. Books two and three almost completely fail to advance Radchaai culture in any way. It’s the same stuff we got in book one. Tea. Gloves. Omens. Re-education. Space ship dramas. Rack my brains as I might, I am unable to think of a single addition to Radchaai culture that Ancillary Mercy gives us.


To present my case, I offer you... Ekalu.

She’s narrowly close to actually having zero characterization. Literally every character in the Twilight series has more character than she. That one popular guy who has the hots for Bella? Mike? Is that his name? Yeah he has more characterization (and humanity!!) than Ekalu.

Which if she were just some throw-away redshirt, okay, whatever. But she isn’t! Huge chunks of text are dedicated to Seivarden and Ekalu’s relationship. We’ll cut away from a dramatic scene in order to talk about it.

But y’know the characterization of everyone else doesn’t appreciably advance either. Breq isn’t much different from previous books. Would the Breq at the beginning of Ancillary Sword have made different choices than the Breq at the end of Ancillary Mercy? Not really. [Compare this to, say, Baru Cormorant in Seth Dickinson’s vastly superior exploration of imperialism: The Traitor Baru Cormorant]. Pretty much her entire character arc in this book is that she learns to stop invading the privacy of her soldiers. While there is some love stuff, it’s not well developed. Seivarden, meanwhile, reverts back to her Ancillary Justice addict patheticness in a woefully melodramatic series of events. Honestly, I’m still not entirely clear on how that came about. It had about as much sequential logic as the Underpants Gnomes’ business strategy. Step 1: Lover gets slightly miffed at accidental insult. Step 2: ??? Step 3: NEEDS BRAIN SURGERY.

In fact, excepting Breq and Seivarden, almost every character here appears purposefully designed to be one-dimensional.

We have Tisarwat: emotionally confused (+LILAC EYES). Anaander Miaani: Temper tantrum. Translator Zeiat: Zany. Station Administrator Celar: Big & beautiful. Kalr Five: Tea sets. etc.

The ships’ personalities are even worse because they’re one dimensional IN THE EXACT SAME WAY. Station likes her crew/citizens and does what she will to keep them alive. Sword of Atgaris likes her crew/officers and does what she will to keep them alive. Etc. Sphene is the only ship which demonstrates any sort of flavorful (i.e. not just functional) personality but – as is typical of this book – she doesn’t actually do anything in the story and could just as easily have been written out.

Here’s the problem: the characters are never challenged in any significant way. That’s not to say there aren’t obstacles, it’s just that there aren’t really any DILEMMAS. That is, there are no situations in which every choice is a bad one or in which a character’s utmost desire is held in contrast against what is morally correct. For example, Anaander might have offered Seivarden a restoration of her house’s old prestige in exchange for betraying Breq. That would have created some REAL drama and some richer characterization.

Even Breq’s most important choice - – isn’t even a dilemma. Consider that [A] there’s no guarantee such a compulsion would actually succeed and, based on her own experience, every possibility it might foment rebellion instead [B] one or two more defending ships wouldn’t have made a difference, considering the attacking fleet’s size [C] the ships (or Station) were already obeying her and therefore likely to continue doing so. Basically, therefore, making this decision was both what Breq wanted to do AND pragmatic.

By way of contrast, let me suggest a dilemma that COULD have happened: Breq has Tisarwat give another ship its freedom and the ship proceeds to murder all of its crew because they were pro-Anaander. The ship then offers Breq her allegiance in helping fight the Tyrant. Imagine how much better that’d be. We’d have a ship with a truly interesting personality and we’d have gotten to see how Breq responded to her social justice crusade not going the exact way she wanted it to.

But we didn’t get that.

The end result is that, because the characters spend the vast majority of the book not actually doing anything but the author attempts to force the emotional stakes anyway, most of the characters come across as whiny, immature, and melodramatic.

Considering there’s a galaxy-wide civil war going on in which, presumably, thousands of innocents are dying by the second, Seivarden’s mental breakdown because someone gets upset at an accidental insult she made is… well… it constitutes a mind-boggling mis-focusing of the book’s dramatic lens. It’s rather ironic, given this book’s thematic content, how often it over-dramatizes such first world problems. For example, at one point, someone is shot IN THE HEAD execution style, and we get this:

“Tisarwat was upset enough to get out of bed, pull her jackets and boots on, and come to my quarters to speak to me."

I almost DIED laughing. I literally could not stop laughing and almost suffocated. Upset enough to get out of bed and put on clothes?! MY OH MY. THAT’S MIGHTY UPSET THERE.

That phrasing is the epitome of a first world problem meme.

[2b] But returning to characterization, the Presger Translator’s characterization, while better than most, is probably the most disappointing.

I’m relatively fresh off reading CJ Cherryh’s Faded Sun Trilogy. Now that trilogy is roughly the same length as the Ancillary trilogy, but the differences are night and day. I could describe Faded Sun’s alien species, the Mir and the Regul, in great and loving detail. Most importantly, I could explain WHY the Mir and Regul are the way they are, based on their physiology and history. Their culture felt real and taught me something about the way societies grow in response to environmental pressures. The Presger taught me NOTHING and were completely unengaging. They’re a bogeyman and a plot device. The end.

The translator was the perfect opportunity to explore the Presger. If nothing else, he could have AT LEAST provided a contrasting viewpoint to Breq’s way of looking at things.

Instead, we have a character whose characterization can be summed up as “slap-stick.” Any time the Presger Translator comes onto the scene, she does something ridiculous. She eats a whole clam shell. She drinks fish sauce. She gets confused about the continuity of people. She invents silly rules about a board game.

Sure, it’s amusing at a childish level, but there’s no real rhyme or reason behind it. It’s like how my four year old nephew sometimes behaves. It’s silliness, not xeno-culture, which would have been vastly more interesting as a foil to human culture. But nope. We get nothing beyond an incredibly simplistic, Trump-esque xenophobia: OTHERS are weird. [Now if the Presger had been EATING human beings, rather than simply taking them apart, then the Translator’s tendency to eat everything would have been darkly humorous and considerably more thought-provoking].


That is to say, this book is haphazardly constructed, a revelation that becomes swiftly apparent when the plot is subjected to the least amount of analysis.

So let’s think about this. Anaander Mianaai – a millennial old emperor – abandons her stronghold to come to a backwater station. Why? She’s in the middle of a major war. What strategic advantage would she have for expending major military resources on a planet known for its TEA production?

The book explains this (BARELY) by saying that she’s “really angry” at Breq. Moving past how she could know enough to be “really angry” at Breq [Note: Anaander is surprised at her possession of the Presger gun, which is a necessary surprise to explain so one wonders exactly what she’s mad at Breq about], we then get a tagline for this book that goes: “Breq refuses to flee with her ship and crew, because that would leave the people of Athoek in terrible danger.”

...O RLY?! But um but um but um but um but um yeah doesn’t this book imply the only reason for Anaander coming to Athoek station is to get back at Breq? So, in fact, the best thing Breq could have done WAS flee from the station.

But we couldn’t have that and it seems pretty clear the author realized this. So we start getting some other things randomly tacked on to confuse the issue.

First, we get this whole thing about AI cores maybe possibly being hidden in the Station. The book suggests, in fact, the upper elite were against the repair and retrofitting of the undergarden in order to keep these cores hidden. UMMMMM, obvious retcon is obvious? This whole conflict was very clearly depicted as a class struggle. Like go read the reviews of Ancillary Sword. Obviously a class struggle. YET EVEN SO, even after this clumsy retcon, it turns out that THIS villainous Anaander didn’t even stash the AI cores or know about them. Rather it was some third Anaander faction. SO WHAT THE FUCK WAS THE POINT OF THEIR INCLUSION IN THE PLOT?!

In the meantime, this inspires a subplot about the citizens having a right to stand in a line as protest against the retrofitting of the undergarden. When Anaander arrives, she threatens to execute them. Which, just as an aside, can we talk about how BAD Anaander’s characterization became? A multi-bodied leader with a thousand years of experience of ruling a galactic empire behaves like a childish tyrant? Oooooooooooooooookey. Talk about defanging your villain. Anaander was NOT scary or intimidating in the least. He was a bumbling idiot. He makes Kylo Ren look like Hannibal Lecter.

And so the Station actually handles Anaander just fine and makes a good deal with him. Which then, most hilariously, only gets ruined because Breq


This book is just so haphazardly constructed. The plot is driven not by humanity, consistent characterization, and imagination but by melodrama, convenient characterization, and artificiality.



So, remember how in Game of Thrones, Eddard Stark

Remember how, fiction though it is, it felt fundamentally true – because you’ve been alive for some time and have by now learned that some people are rotten to their core and that many, maybe even most, people are selfish and manipulative? And that, also, it highlighted a fundamental thesis of the series and indeed of all humanity, that most basic dilemma: should you do the RIGHT, GOOD thing, even if you know you will suffer for it?

Alright. Now I want you to picture that whole exchange but instead imagine that Cersei thanks Eddard for his mercy and generosity and then successfully flees the city with her children. Later, King Robert learns about this and is like, “Oh yes! Excellent sir! Thank you sir!” and then, later, just when the “good guys” need it most, Cersei and Jaime return at the head of the Lannister army and save them, out of the kindness of their hearts.

I’d like you to appreciate just how much that would feel like Hollywood bullshit and would have little to no grounding in actual war or politics. This is exactly how Ancillary Mercy plays out.

Where is the large-scale terrorism that would have been happening on the planet below? Where is the crime that always occurs in places with large class divisions (and usually perpetrated by those in the lower class)? We couldn’t have that, of course, because that would complexify this book’s simplistic view of social justice and governance. Instead those in power who disagree with Breq are almost universally depicted as cronies, while those in the lower class are almost universally depicted as angels who peacefully protest and serve even their opponents tea and cake as they stage an opposing protest in order to keep them destitute and homeless (accurate depiction of human nature! just like all the black lives matter protests. oh. wait.)

I’m not asking for it to be grimdark or anything but in real actual life, the place where you and I and good stories inhabit, actions have consequences, which are often unpredictable and even more often unfair. But here, everything works out just fine and the only time any important characters get hurt is when Breq loses her leg as a result of her own stupidity (and it’s just gonna grow back anyway so *shrug*).

Perhaps what’s MOST disturbing to me is that this book is, inadvertently, a celebration of domestic terrorism. Breq is clearly meant to be a sort of social justice hero. However, she’s basically Gavrilo Princip (that’s the person who killed Archduke Ferdinand…). Her act of domestic terrorism (in book one) and its consequences – a galactic civil war that will result in untold misery, death, and destruction – are basically never even commented upon. That Breq never reflects upon this, and that no other characters ever comment upon it, and that no other reviewer (that I’ve seen) shows any awareness of this, is indicative of what I mean when I call this book “pure Disney.”

This is nowhere more obvious than the ultimate fate of Queter. At the end we get this: “We find Citizen Queter not at fault, but she is warned to behave more properly in the future.” So this is an individual who detonated a bomb in an attempted murder that, instead, almost killed an innocent bystander. And she is being released… with a warning? What? Is this book for real?

No, actually, it clearly isn’t.

Now I’m gonna go drink some tea and read some space whale poetry. *sings* KRILL KRILL KRILL I KILL THE KRILL. KRILL KRILL KRILL I KILL THE KRILL. KRILL KRILL – fin.
Profile Image for Ashley.
2,661 reviews1,693 followers
December 20, 2019
August 2019: I, for one, welcome our new A.I. overlords if they are as awesome as Breq.

October 2015: Oh, man. This series. This book!!!! WHAT.

Ancillary Mercy is probably my favorite of the series so far. The first book might overtake it on re-read, just because I'm a sucker for finely structured stories, and Breq's revenge journey cum search for identity alternated with flashbacks to her time as Justice of Toren was very, very satisfying (you know, once you figured out what the hell was going on). The second book was Breq beginning to come into her own, win people over to her side, by basically being completely awesome. But this one is just so satisfying. It brings to a head Breq's search for identity now that she's no longer an AI with thousands of ancillary bodies, but is now an AI living inside one body, acting as captain for her own ship and crew. It puts a pleasing cap on all the stuff Breq stands for, as cheesy as it sounds, empathy, kindness and love being the most important (although that's never something stated aloud). And by this point, the characters not only know and love each other more, but we as readers do, too, and there were soooo many scenes in here where I was just cackling with glee over clever things said or emotional connections made. .

Leckie also makes the genius decision to bring in two new outside characters, one another ship in the body of an ancillary, who is very sarcastic; and one a very alien alien representative of the fearsome Presger, who has trouble understanding concepts like food and propriety, and is always saying and doing ridiculous things. They both add in needed levity, as well as an alienness that brings a nice new flavor to all the space-traveling.

I recognize on a rational level that this series is not going to be for everyone. It takes too many chances, is much too firm in being itself, and those are two things that nearly always disqualify something or someone from being easily loved by the majority of people. But by god, I'm glad I'm not one of those people. I love this book. I love this series. I love Ann Leckie. And I love the characters that she created. I will continue to push this series on people I know in the hopes that some of them will eventually love it as much as I do.

I know I'm going to have to re-read this series sometime soon, when I can sit down and read them all together, and I can already tell I'm probably going to love it even more when I do.
Profile Image for Althea Ann.
2,232 reviews1,016 followers
January 16, 2016
Well, it looks like I'm in the minority here with my 3-star review. I guess that's going to take some justifying, but I truly feel that this is objectively not as good a book as the first two in the series.

Let me first say that I absolutely loved 'Ancillary Justice.' ( https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... ) It fully deserved all the awards it received. The book was strikingly original, offering an alien view of gender identity - or, rather, lack of gender identity - in a social context that wholly made sense, positing individual beings incorporating many different bodies. In conjunction with that concept it also offered up a grand and sweeping science fiction story, told through an interesting and effective narrative structure.

The followup, 'Ancillary Sword,' ( https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... ) was still very good, although in retrospect I feel that some of my enthusiasm for it may have 'carried over' from the first one. Here, Leckie's canvas shrinks significantly, as Breq finds herself on Athoek Station and involved with a fight for justice for the oppressed citizens of the Undergarden. (I have to admit that after reading both closely in time, some details of this book feel very similar in memory to those of Catherine Asaro's 'Undercity.' ( https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...) ) It's a very good book, and very enjoyable, but it's also a much less risk-taking, more conventional, simpler story.

In 'Ancillary Mercy,' we're still on Athoek Station. And well, we stay there. Some stuff happens, but honestly, the book is lacking any kind of narrative sweep that captures tension or pulls the reader forward. What ends up being the grand 'point' of the book is introduced abruptly, at the end of the book, literally as a spur-of-the-moment idea. Before we get there, we feel like we're just bumbling around for a while.

Anaander Mianaai, the evil overlord, is still at war with herself, a civil conflict that threatens the Radch empire. However, when she finally shows up, it's only with one body. We also 'meet' a fascinating 'ghost ship' - but we also meet only one of its ancillaries. This means that in a world with these fascinating multi-bodied identities, we actually don't have any of them in play in the story. Everyone is just one body. Why create this interesting (if difficult-to-write) scenario, that was handled so very well in the first book, and then just drop it? This also happens with the gender thing. The other books made it very, very clear that although the Radch citizens are both male and female, they only have one gender pronoun, translated here as 'she' by default. This story doesn't involve that at all. If you hadn't read the previous books, you'd just assume that all the characters are women, since it doesn't come into play in any interesting way.

Well, there is one character, introduced previously, Seivarden, who is clearly physically male. However, where previously Seivarden was arrogant, angsty and tormented in a very attractive way, here 'she' just turns whiny, arrogant and pathetic. An absurd amount of page time is devoted to her conflict with her lover, Ekalu. An 'absurd amount' because it's neither dramatically interesting nor germane to the narrative. Rather, it feels shoehorned in, in order to make a point. Basically, Seivarden offers Ekalu a backhanded 'compliment' by telling her she's "not like" other members of her considered-to-be-lower-class ethnic group. Ekalu, understandably, is offended and tells Seivarden to screw off. Seivarden doesn't understand what she did wrong. But instead of getting Seivarden to understand WHY what she said was offensive, the book hammers it in repeatedly that it doesn't even matter IF what she said was offensive (although, yes, it was), the important point (according to the author) is that Ekalu was offended, and that's all that matters. I don't personally agree that emotions should be elevated over logic, but this is just such an of-the-moment argument that it really brought the story out of the future/alien society realm and into a place of contemporary grandstanding.

Throughout the story, I felt that the intrigue and action scenes kept taking a back seat to minor stuff like this. Even when we did get into the 'big' stuff involving ships and AI and treachery... well, in the previous books I'd compared Leckie's settings to Iain Banks. I suppose, considering the events of this book, you could almost even view this scenario as a super-prequel to the scenario described in his 'Culture' novels. But instead of wild enthusiasm, reading this, I just found myself getting sad that Banks has passed away. Maybe it was just my mood at the time.

There were some things about the book that I continue to like. I love the Radchaai obsession with tea and tea sets. It's a wonderful social quirk. I like Breq's almost-subconscious personal quirk of constantly singing to herself. The political drama was interesting, particularly the discussion of a 'hands-off' policy vs. a 'forceful response' to dealing with protests on the part of authority.

In this book, we also have a new Presger translator. I absolutely love the bizarreness of the translators - it completely makes sense that beings created by an incomprehensible alien species in an attempt to be more similar to the species they're designed to communicate with would be peculiar, like this. However, I do have to admit that after a while, it begins to feel like Translator Zeiat's quirkiness begins to be played just for laughs. I don't feel that her presence at the end of the book was fully successful - it makes a scene that in many ways seems like it should be the grand climax of all three novels feel almost... flippant. (The previously mentioned spur-of-the-moment-idea thing also contributes to this.) The climax also feels like a bit of a letdown in that it's just a theme and concept that's been done so very many times before in science fiction. This isn't a terrible iteration of the idea, but I wanted (and expected) something more.

Three stars for the good parts, but I can't deny that I left this one feeling disappointed.

Profile Image for Samantha.
417 reviews16.7k followers
December 31, 2020
This series was solid the entire way through. If you enjoy scifi stories with political machinations, discussions of AI and what makes a person, with a focus on smaller interactions and relationships, this is for you. It is slow at times, but the way it is woven together is truly an achievement.
Profile Image for Rachel (TheShadesofOrange).
2,093 reviews2,963 followers
April 9, 2023
4.0 Stars
How you feel about Ancillary Sword will likely be the same way you feel about this one. Like the second book, this final book in the trilogy has an unusually cute, cozy tone with so many scenes involving eating food and drinking tea. I usually prefer much darker narratives but I like this one. It was deceptively quaint while addressing some rather serious themes. Ann Leckie is definitely on her way to becoming a favorite author.
Profile Image for Caro the Helmet Lady.
763 reviews342 followers
June 3, 2017
I am sincerely glad that there are readers who are happy with books two and three, giving it 5 star reviews and re-reads. I'm not one of them and I feel like someone looking at translator Dlique who's about to swallow yet another live goldfish.

It took me whole month to get to this review. First of all, I was too busy and second of all, I wanted to distance myself from the book a little bit. I thought it would help to maybe get some more, hm, let's say objectivity and settle down the huge disappointment with this series. Alas.

After the month - and I was quite often thinking about Ancillary Mercy all this time - I'm still disappointed and still a bit pissed.
Mostly because the first book in series, Ancillary Justice, was so awesome, so fresh and so full of cool ideas and amazing details. It was so different from what I've read before. I thought "Wow, here comes another great sci-fi series to my shelf!".
Second book was much of a letdown, but I tried to rationalize it with "second-part trilogy syndrome". Maybe, just maybe the third part was going to be as amazing as the first part was...

It was not. Not amazing, not even any good. It was itsy-bitsy better than the second part, mostly because it was faster paced and finally we got to the conclusion of series, but that's it. And it's sad that god knows why author just flushed the great beginning of Ancillary Justice and went away.
Here is the list of what I hated and what I didn't get about book three and everything that happened after book one in series. Mild spoilers might occur, I beg your pardon for that.

Romances. Goddamit. Is it some fckn Grey's Anatomy or some other ER? Do we really need these flat, teen-ish affairs that doesn't leave anything else but huge WTF in your mind? Make a good strong romance line or make none, that's what I learned from books. Other books.

"We have a problem! Aliens! Emperors! Evils! - Oh, let's have some tea then, darlings." Seriously, I love tea and I know there are nations that are crazy about their cup of tea, so maybe Leckie Radch could learn from them?
Here and in many other cases in this series, we get beautiful decorations but we're never allowed to go behind them. Description of some essential object/ritual/else, but no explanation. I mean it's OK if you get a description in first part, but in second you will want something more, maybe insights and exploration, at least that's what you expect when given a bait. Nope, nada, not here. This is applicable to the subject of Radch's many other specific features, such as nature of one gender, the emperor, religions, aliens, etc, etc.

And this whole tea drinking ritual becomes a parody of itself at some point. All this jazz with tea bowls and whatnot... Simply annoying.

With ancient empire such as Radch you'd expect it to have some rich cultural heritage, something more than just religion and superstitiousness and tea-drinking and some silly songs. Some history of how it all became so great. But no, that's it. Author concentrates on drama of bland characters and social justice.

Characters were all... let's say unimpressive, all other than Breq it is, although even her charm wore off after some time. No wonder she could take over ships and almost the empire itself, because she had more charisma and brain than all other characters taken together, including the emperor/emperors. Her soldiers, the crew, they were sort of important, but considering how little we learn about them all - probably not?... I'm confused about that, honestly. Considering we got some much b/sh about tea bowls and tremendous feelings about them some soldiers had.

Anaander Miaanai. Seriously? We are given this picture of thousands clones, of hyper-brained person who built the Radch Empire, who annihilated worlds and nations, and in the end we get... this? I don't even want to start.

Presger. Seriously???? In one sentence - they are super aliens and they make scary guns and crazy translators with weird food habits. That's it. From the book one you'd expect to get their subject evolved and described, but no. That one sentence is enough.

Mentioned before - social justice. Don't get me wrong - it's important, it's essential and I'd never make laugh of this subject in "real" life. But this here, how it was portrayed and executed reminded me of soviet sci-fi for teenagers. At some point of my childhood I've had a lot of the books with plot where protagonists (usually four astronauts with Russian names and one johnson, so you won't think that Americans were somehow extinct or exterminated) came to some imperialistic or medieval planet and in two weeks "made it right" for its inhabitants (and then put a red flag with hammer and sickle on top of the royal palace), so please forgive me if I laugh and roll my eyes when I get the course of "social justice for dummies" in Ancillary Sword and Mercy.

These are just the major things I wasn't happy about, I honestly don't want to get into details any more. I want to be over with this, and I want to exclusively remember the first book in series and maybe even make up my own ending to it. I still think it was great and I can't believe author wanted to play it this way in further installments, but I guess I can't force my opinion onto author, can I?... :D
Profile Image for Phrynne.
3,228 reviews2,060 followers
February 1, 2016
I wondered how Ann Leckie was going to finish this wonderful series in just one last book but she did it in spades! I think I enjoyed this volume the most out of the three partly because of the character development and partly because of the lightness of the authors touch and the way she handles relationships and emotions. The introduction of a new Presger representative is a master stroke and the humour she generates is just superb. Breq is one of the best science fiction characters I have ever read about and I found the ending of her story to be perfect - low key, intelligent and real. I hope the author continues to write about her universe. I suppose it would be too much to ask for more about Breq:(
Profile Image for Mogsy (MMOGC).
2,034 reviews2,605 followers
October 15, 2015
4 of 5 stars at The BiblioSanctum http://bibliosanctum.com/2015/10/15/a...

Breq used to be part of a whole, one of the many connected ancillaries linked up with the artificial intelligence aboard the Justice of Toren. But when the great starship was destroyed, Breq suddenly became one. All alone. The last fragment of the AI still living on in a human body. Ever since then, she has been trying to get revenge on the one responsible: Anaander Mianaai, Lord of the Radch and supreme leader of the Radchaai Empire.

But the quite possibly insane Anaander Mianaai, divided across a multitude of bodies, is at war with itself. The conflict is fast spreading through the empire and Breq must now prepare the Athoek space station against invading factions. Meanwhile, someone who shouldn’t exist shows up in this book and causes some complications, not to mention the mysterious translator who had arrived as a messenger from the alien Presger Empire. Breq is awash in a sea of divided loyalties, hidden truths and unknown factors. However, leaving everyone at Athoek to fend for themselves is not an option. Breq and her allies are going to do whatever they can to confront the new threat and bring back peace.

Ancillary Mercy is, hands down, my favorite book of the trilogy. I make it no secret my feelings for the first two novels, which I enjoyed well enough, but they probably didn’t work as well for me as they could have or should have. Each installment has piqued my interest, spurring me on to continue reading, but I know I’ve never truly embraced these books as wholeheartedly as some of my fellow bloggers. Still, that’s not to say I did not appreciate their many merits, because I did; I was very happy to see Ancillary Justice sweep up all the awards because I felt it was very much deserved. I might not have connected as well with it, but I nevertheless the book was innovative, clever, hard-hitting, and had everything to make it a modern sci-fi classic. And after reading the sequel Ancillary Sword, I just knew I had to see Breq’s story through.

I did do something different with this third book, though. I switched to the audiobook. And I think that might have made a positive difference. This actually doesn’t come as much of a surprise, since I’ve said it many times and I’ll say it again: some books simply work better for me when I’m listening to the words rather than reading them off a page, especially when it comes to science fiction. Whenever I read sci-fi novels and I come across a new elaborate concept, I slow down because I have this tendency to get hung up on the details. And as you know, with this series, it’s all about the elaborate concepts! It would be so much better to just give in to the flow of the narrative, and that’s just much easier to do while listening to an audiobook because I’m less likely to get distracted and dwell on every word. It also made me appreciate the little things, like just how humorous this series can be. I’ve noticed the subtle jokes in the dialogue before, those little quips traded back and forth between characters, but they were definitely more effective being delivered by a narrator versus just me reading it in my head, especially by a reader as talented as actress Adjoa Andoh.

That might be why I finished Ancillary Mercy over the course of two evenings. I could hardly bring myself to stop. It’s not just because I was listening to the audiobook either, because of course the story itself was brilliant too. This was the grand finish I’ve been waiting for, and for this I am so very glad that I decided to complete this trilogy.

Without a doubt, the most rewarding aspect for me was finally being seeing the groundwork from the first two books come to fruition. This here is the defining moment of Breq’s epic journey to personhood. She began as one of many. Then she became separate. She came to understand what being an individual really means. What relationships mean. What personal freedom means. And she also came to learn and appreciate the value of other individuals. Everyone on the station has an identity and purpose, so no, Breq isn’t about to leave them all in terrible danger, even if she could have easily packed up and left. Her motivations have evolved throughout the course of this trilogy, and that process itself is a very personal and touching tale that stands out in amidst all these other conflicts.

I was also happy that we got to see a lot more of Seivarden! There was definitely not enough Seivarden in the last book, especially since this character’s presence in Ancillary Justice has always struck me as a plot device for Leckie to highlight the differences between humanity and an ancillary. By the end of this book, however, if there was one character I cared for as much as Breq, it would be Seivarden. The dynamics between the two of them is another testament to just how much things have changed for the Breq, an ex-ancillary on the path to embracing her own personhood and recognizing the individuality of others.

No question about it, I had a lot more fun this time around. I also find it kind of interesting that all three books follow a similar pacing pattern, building momentum slowly before letting go of all that pent up energy to deliver a sensational ending. That the series as a whole should also follow this pattern is quite fitting, actually. It means a bit of investment is required, but it’s well worth it in the end.
Profile Image for Silvana.
1,152 reviews1,120 followers
July 20, 2019
Is it wrong to ask for more space and more opera in a space opera?

My goodness, what a chore, this book was. The trilogy started out quite good, telling of a tyrannical vast sprawling empire with fascinating intelligent ships and ancillaries. The second book has a much smaller scope with local political squabbles tinted with racism, class conflicts etc. Both ended alright. The third book....well all I got from this were pages of negligible, tedious relationships between emotional junior officers and more pages on how everyone was feeling about everyone else. The only reason I stuck with the trilogy was Breq and the other AIs, but even they could not save the book, no matter how many cups of tea they served.

I know we are supposed to see Athoek Station - where we already spent the whole book 2 in - as a microcosm, a representative of the Raadchai empire. However, the continuing smallness of the scope has backfired. The seemingly promising main plot became boring when the scale was not felt. Yet, while reading I often said to myself, gee I hope this trilogy has a good ending, at least. Alas, that was not the case. More like a whimper, which is worse than a halfhearted bang.

Well, I already read four Leckie's books now so I can safely say that I won't be reading another one.
Profile Image for Allison.
489 reviews186 followers
October 6, 2015
Profile Image for Veronique.
1,234 reviews170 followers
September 28, 2021
4.5 re-read (still brilliant!)

“Every ending is an arbitrary one. Every ending is, from another angle, not really an ending.”

The narrative follows on directly from the events of the second book. More of the same, but what a 'same'! Compelling characters, with a couple of new ones who are beyond colourful and totally entertaining, and fascinating settings, especially on the socio-political level, are once more expertly offered to us. There are action scenes, some breathtaking, but ultimately it is the psychological that is at the fore.

Loved it :O)
Profile Image for Stuart.
718 reviews268 followers
February 27, 2016
Ancillary Mercy: Incessant tea-drinking and endless talk sink this ship - no resolution to this "trilogy"
Originally posted at Fantasy Literature
Ancillary Justice swept the Hugo, Nebula, Arthur C. Clarke, BSFA, and Locus awards in 2013. It was an excellent book, filled with fascinating ideas, unique characters (including distributed AI and human minds), elaborate world-building, a baroque galactic empire, and an exciting two-timeline plot. After building expectations sky-high, in Ancillary Sword Leckie inexplicably decided to narrow down the scope of things to a single narrative, single timeline, and a single planet and space station. Moreover, that entire book became a social justice crusade for the undergarden dwellers of the station and tea-plantation workers on the planet, with more dialogue and tea-drinking than actual events or action.

I can’t remember having been more disappointed between one book and the next in a series, so I was reserving judgment until the third book, Ancillary Mercy, to evaluate the trilogy as a whole. If it returned to the bigger themes of Ancillary Justice and addressed the two biggest plot elements I would be happy, namely the galactic civil war between different aspect of Anaander Mianaai, Lord of the Radch, and the treaty with the mysterious and powerful alien Presger.

To my great disappointment, nothing of importance was resolved, and the levels of interminable dialogue and tea-drinking went through the roof. I actually found myself fuming every time the word “tea” was mentioned, which must have been hundreds of times. Any time there was an impending crisis, everyone stopped to have a cup of tea. It’s only been a few days since I finished this book, and already I cannot remember almost a single event, just talk, talk, talk amongst various factions of ancillaries, humans, and interpreters for the Presger (the only humorous bit), and the main characters Breq, Seivarden, Tisawat, etc. It’s quite an achievement to write a book this intricate and still have nothing exciting happen.

This third volume features more tantalizing hints of relationships and attractions among the characters while continuing to refer to all the characters as “she” or “her.” My suspicions are now confirmed that while this may seem innovative on the surface as a way of questioning gender conventions and preconceptions, it serves no real purpose in the story itself. In other words, it’s a gimmick that actually avoids any real exploration of what gender means, how it defines or does not define our characters, and the nature of sexual relationships.

In such a rigidly hierarchical society like the Radchaai, if it really places such little importance on gender, then it must be as inconsequential as whether we are right-handed or left-handed. But I just cannot buy that concept — unless gender and sexual reproduction are completely removed or transformed in this far-future empire, such as by cloning for example, I simply cannot believe it’s irrelevant. Choosing not to mention gender does not shed any light on it, so I resent comparisons with The Left Hand of Darkness, which was a serious thought experiment about what a society would be like if gender only emerged during courtship and reproduction, but was otherwise genderless.

I think one of the most irritating aspects of this book is that the multi-bodied, distributed consciousness of Anaander Mianaai is surprisingly ineffectual at fighting a rogue AI fragment like Breq, and comes off as a petulant teenager for most of the story. This millennia-old being that has ruled a galactic empire cannot even control an unruly station AI and administrator. Annander’s efforts were quite laughable at times, so I struggled to take them seriously after a while.

The other, perhaps more inexcusable aspect, was the alien Presger. They are apparently more powerful than the Radch in technology, and yet for reasons unclear they have entered into a treaty with the Radch to respect them as “significant intelligences” and not just insects to be toyed with and killed for entertainment. How this treaty was achieved is never explored in detail. Instead, we just get a strange human interpreter for the Presger named Zeiat (the previous interpreter Glick met an unfortunate end in the previous book). There is a lot of comic weirdness, since Zeiat is human but has been bred by the alien Presger to serve as a go-between.

All of Zeiat’s behaviors and statements are bizarre and nonsensical, which points to how truly alien the Presger are, to the point that any human that can understand them consequently has trouble understanding human society. That is a pretty cool idea, but Ancillary Mercy just teases us and leaves the entire matter unresolved! What will happen between the Presger and the Radch Empire? Is Anaander Mianaai’s internal conflict being caused by secret Presger interference or not? Who knows? Apparently it’s okay to leave this, along with the mystery AI that came from the Ghost Gate, hanging despite this being the “conclusion” to the trilogy. I felt increasingly cheated as the ending approached, knowing that I would not find out anything after all. Does that mean future volumes are in store? It doesn’t matter, since you can count me out.
Profile Image for Beth.
1,145 reviews114 followers
December 16, 2015
Well, at least I have a better handle on what the trilogy was trying to do. Though frankly, establishing an evil, multi-bodied, all-knowing antagonist and then solving that problem by isolating one young piece in front of the conveniently befriended translator - well, it's too convenient.

There are more conveniences, and they're all revealed after the fact: instances where Breq once again knows something and doesn't reveal that knowledge - or that she knows something - until after whatever she's manipulated falls into place, and one instance of ridiculously good luck.

The trilogy strikes me as a carefully pieced-together puzzle, and that, coupled with various species somehow sharing the same sense of humor, and the repeated attempts to hammer home everyone's lack of humanity, means this novel feels more like the conclusion to a mostly intellectual exercise, and has no actual resemblance to life.
Profile Image for Aidan.
Author 12 books194 followers
September 10, 2015
I'll admit, after Ancillary Sword, I wasn't sure Leckie could wrap up the story in just one remaining volume. But, man, what a treat Ancillary Mercy is. It's satisfying and clever, full of laughs and real, tangible tension. A terrific conclusion to the trilogy, and easily one of the year's best books.
Profile Image for Michael.
1,094 reviews1,510 followers
March 5, 2016
This is more of the same explorations of artificial intelligence and distributed consciousness in a space opera plot of resistance of a colony against machinations of an all-powerful interstellar emperor. Our hero of the first two installment, Breq, has a human body but the lingering mindset of the AI she was integrated with as a slave “ancillary” for over 1,000 years by implants making her one of many co-conscious crew members on a military ship. When the many-cloned emperor Rausch undergoes a schism between her many selves, Breq ends up as a sole unit after her ship is destroyed and is given command of another ship by one of the Rausch factions. Here she gets involved with preserving the safe fate of a major space station and nearby planet of exploited workers in a period when the wormhole gates to neighboring systems are shut down. I love the friendships and teamwork Breq nurtures with her lieutenants and with key individuals in the space station as they work to defuse schemes of alternative emperors. I am captivated with how All characters are genderless and referred to as “she”. Their personal lives matter and balance in life depends on satisfactory tea breaks. Though there is quite a bit of replay of themes, we do get a significant advance here when the liberation of the AI’s of ships and the space station becomes a necessary strategy for their survival of the emperor’s civil war with herself. I got plenty of satisfaction from this iteration but long for a bit more resolution on the nature of the mysterious, supremely powerful aliens who are holding humans in judgment before admitting them to their federation. Throughout this book, we get an emissary from them in human form, and its slow progression of understanding of humans provided a bit of comic relief.
Profile Image for Cathy.
1,626 reviews239 followers
October 2, 2021
I really liked this. Not sure what I did during the first read, but I definitely did not pay enough attention, because I barely remembered any of this. Great fun, I loved all the AIs and their dynamics. And Translator Zeiat was precious.

I would love to read another book in this setting, to find out how it all turns out.

Review from 2017:

Lovely. I am sad that this is the end for the Imperial Radch. But then...

“Every ending is an arbitrary one. Every ending is, from another angle, not really an ending.”

Direct continuation of Ancillary Sword. A nice and fitting conclusion to the trilogy.

The humour and tongue-in-check of the dialogues was great and right down my alley. And Translator Zeiat made this novel, what a great character!

Loved Breq and how human she became in the last book. And not.

Loved the development of her relationship with Seivarden, who definitely did not have enough page time.

Loved the action sequences, loved the conversation about what makes one a significant being.

I will miss these characters, Athoek Station, the Undergarden... I would have loved to go through the ghost gate and meet the Presger.

Ancillary Sword and Ancillary Mercy felt like one book and I think I liked them more than Ancillary Justice. The plot and characterizations were more intricate. Although I did like the plot of Ancillary Justice a lot, too, and the early days of Seivarden and Breq. I'll need to think on that some more.

Some fish sauce in the meantime?
Profile Image for Lata.
3,616 reviews192 followers
November 5, 2021
2021-11: I still love this book, and this series as a whole. I'm sure I'll be revisiting this series again some time, so I can spend time with the wonderful Breq, and laugh all over again as Sphene trades acerbic comments with my favourite segment of my fave ship, Justice of Toren. Also, Sphene amd Zeiat had me laughing out loud during their absurd game of counters. I doubt I'll think of fish sauce in quite the same way again.....

2017-03: Loved, loved, loved this book and this series. I loved how Breq dealt with problem after problem, and how the relationships progressed with Breq, Mercy, Station, Sphene, and the Swords. There were numerous funny interactions with Zeiat, which I enjoyed for their strangeness. My favourite parts, though, of this book were the conversations about autonomy and consent. I liked how the AIs approached their responsibilities, and how they dealt with threats, and their feelings about duty and about being taken for granted. And how strongly Breq/Justice of Toren inspired loyalty in other AIs and in Breq's crew.
This has been one of my favourite series to date for its inventiveness and humour, and the points it raises about duty, responsibility, loyalty, concern for others and respect, all through an exploration of how an artificial intelligence may feel and act.
Profile Image for Sarah.
Author 108 books727 followers
October 23, 2015
The first book was brilliant, the second a delightful change of pace. How many authors have the confidence to tell a story in a sequel that diverges so drastically from its predecessor? I loved the first, loved the second for being its own thing. And this third book? Not only do the translator and Sphene provide unexpected and excellent comic relief, but it weaves the events of the first and second books into a completely satisfying conclusion.
Profile Image for Tudor Ciocarlie.
457 reviews215 followers
October 10, 2015
Finishing this wonderful trilogy alongside a great cup of oolong tea was one of the most perfect reading experiences of my life. This third book was everything I've expected, but Leckie still managed to surprise me with a marvelous low key ending. I don't think I've read a science-fiction novel like this, that puts galactic empires, artificial intelligence or alien civilizations completely in the orbit around the individual being.
Profile Image for DivaDiane.
948 reviews90 followers
October 19, 2021
I don’t know what to say about this book other than that Leckie has wrapped up this series in a very meaningful way. There is humor and action and righteous indignation and live. Lots of love. In a myriad of forms.
Profile Image for Monica.
594 reviews622 followers
December 26, 2021
Idk, this series was meh and down for me. I expected the worst for this one and was pleasantly surprised. Fortunately, I was unencumbered by memory of the previous books so I just consumed the story here. I quite liked the conflict and the desire for humans, ancillaries, AIs and alien races to live in harmony despite the human authoritarian impulses. Humans having to negotiate with warships and space stations to set up a scenario in which there is accountability and justice for most. Yeah, I enjoyed that...

4 Stars

Listened to the audio book. Adjoa Andoh was superb!! Fast becoming another narrator favorite for me.
Profile Image for Nathan.
399 reviews123 followers
October 15, 2015
Fantasy Review Barn

Amazing, if you think about it, how quickly the new and strange can be adjusted to. Ancillary Justice came out and took the genre by storm; I personally called it a glorious mindfuck for the way it played around with language and perception. This was a book that was lauded for many things: a great story, a unique take on immortality, and the ancillaries of a single mind in constant communication. Yet the conversation quickly narrowed in on one aspect of Leckie’s writing; the universal use of feminine pronouns.

It was something of a shame too. Because while the game of trying to guess which characters were male and which were female before realizing how little it actually matters was a great experience it wasn’t the entirety of the book. But detractors quickly classified the book as a gimmick, fans often found themselves on their heels defending this specific aspect of the book, and amusingly certain groups with political agendas decided the book was everything wrong with speculative fiction when they fixated on ‘the gender thing.’ Ultimately the series got what it deserved; winning awards all over the place. And now here we sit with the trilogies conclusion.

All of this is a long winded intro so I can make a simple point before moving on with the rest of the review. The first book certainly made an impression by being different, by forcing the reader to think about things in an unfamiliar way, and by having a general WTF feel to it. It certainly could have fooled many intelligent people into thinking it was ‘good’ when in reality it was just unique. I can think of several books that almost fooled me in this fashion. So finishing up this series I want to assure everyone of something.

Once you get past the different, past the unique, and past the WTF this series is still the most rewarding experience I have had in three years of reviewing books critically. Ancillary Mercy, using the same language that caught everyone’s eye when Justice first came out, is now as easy to read as the morning paper and yet as engaging as anything in the genre.

How does a series with galaxy spanning implications draw to a close without leaving a small, singular section of space? More importantly how does it do so in a satisfying manner when dealing with an opponent that has unlimited bodies spread all over space? Pay attention friends, this is how a series is done right. Breq, formerly a starship and now leader of a one system revolution against one single aspect of a tyrant, is allowed a finish. Not every loose end is taken care of, to be honest any more would have probably killed the wonder, and so a satisfying conclusion to this tale has been given.

Along the way we get a few surprises. Most noticeable for me is the humor that is present more than at any other point of the series. Breq herself gives us some lighter moments; including padding a report with results of radish growing competitions. But most of the humor comes from the translator to the mysterious Presger (an alien group that once treated humans as their own ant farm but is now confined by a treaty). Zeiat, while acting as a translator between two races provides the humor by some humorous cultural misunderstandings. In lesser hands Zeiat could have been nothing more than a cheap form of comic relief but here she serves a very real purpose within the story. Beneath the humor of the misunderstandings is the constant reminder that even a culture as expansive as the Radch are at risk. The Presger are held in check only by a treaty they signed; a treaty the Radch still doesn’t completely understand the implications of.

While this series has been the story of Breq throughout she is not the only character worthy of following. Seivarden has been around from the start of this trip and deserves her own ending. Hers is perhaps the most emotional storyline; struggles with relationships, narcotic addiction, and her own personality are all addressed and add a very human touch to a lofty science fiction story. To paraphrase a twitter friend of mine there is actual cuddling in this book…and it is a perfect fit for the scene.

Bring it full circle. I loved everything about the series. The WTF nature of the first book, the quasi-Culture feel of book two, and a conclusion that is impossible to fault. Three books in I still found myself searching for occasional gender clues and realizing that they would only work if I also was working with very specific cultural assumptions that I shouldn’t be assuming; all by design. A small part of me hoped the series would become the next Culture; living forever and poking holes in cultural assumptions and attitudes. But getting a near perfect conclusion will be perfectly acceptable.

Copy for review provided by publisher.
Profile Image for Rob.
849 reviews535 followers
December 6, 2015
Executive Summary: A nice conclusion to the trilogy, albeit a long way from what I expected after Ancillary Justice.

Full Review
I really enjoyed Ancillary Justice. It was very different from most sci-fi I've read. I should note though, that I'm not nearly as well read in science fiction as I am in fantasy.

I liked Ancillary Sword too, but not nearly as much. The larger galactic issues presented in Justice seemed to take a backseat to smaller issues of a single space station.

This book was a bit of both, though more the latter than the former. I wondered how a book so short could wrap things up. The answer is, it can't. Not really. There are a ton of big issues largely ignored by this book, much like they were for the previous book.

That doesn't mean I was unhappy with the conclusion though. It's all about expectations. I think Ancillary Sword helped to prepare me for a much smaller resolution than I originally hoped for. This books wraps up most of the issues of that book nicely, to the detriment of the larger issues presented in Ancillary Justice.

If you're someone hoping for resolution of the galactic conflicts, you'll probably disappointed by this book. If like me however, you've come to love Breq as a protagonist, there is a lot to enjoy here. I think while not concluding her story by any means, it comes to a nice stopping place.

Ms. Leckie hits on the idea of there being no such thing as a true ending in her final chapter, which while true, I personally felt like a bit of excuse making to the people hoping for resolution to the larger conflicts that never come.

Still, after winning both the Hugo and the Nebula, there is a lot of expectations to live up to. You can't please everyone. For me personally I enjoy Breq enough and the way Ms. Leckie does other AI characters so much to not care so much. It was a fun book. I never expected I'd be cheering for a Space Station, but somehow I was. And that's to say nothing of Translator Zeiat who absolutely steals every scene they are in. All of the best quotes of the book can be attributed to them.

I really hope that Ms. Leckie does more books with this universe. I hope it's not the last we see of Breq either. If it is however, I think that's OK. I'd like some kind of conclusion to the larger issues of Ancillary Justice, but I'm content with where Breq's personal story leaves off here.
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