Monday Review: Ancillary Justice
Apologies for the lack of Sentenced yesterday; the fam and I went to see How To Train Your Dragon 2 (awesome if not quite as awesome as 1) and then, in what minuscule amount of time I stole from trying to keep my kids from killing one another, I finished up this absolute master piece of a book.
As I said on Friday, I’ve only read one of the other Hugo contenders, but I’ll be shocked if this one doesn’t triple crown the nerdy-book awards this year. If it doesn’t, I’ll just assume it hasn’t circulated widely enough yet.
It’s simply… one of those books. One of those books that grabs you from page one, sentence one and keeps you engrossed the whole time. Even the downtime for the characters is interesting; every moment is a puzzle I kept thinking I had solved and in the next moment realized had more depth and breadth to it. It’s one of the ones you don’t want to put down but, at the same time, don’t want to finish because then it’s done and there’s no more. You check multiple times but no more appears and each time, it gets more and more depressing because damn it, I WANT MORE!
A quick summary that will, in no way, to the plot justice: Breq is the only surviving ancillary, a human vessel for one aspect of the battleship Justice of Toren‘s AI. The ship itself has been destroyed, taking with it thousands of lives and Justice of Toren‘s vast network of knowledge, sensory input, and the thing that linked all of it’s ancillaries together as a unit. A single aspect, in a single body, appalled by the murder of one of its favorite lieutenants, escapes and spends the next 20 years setting up its revenge.
Yeah, I know, right?
This is what a book is supposed to be.
Leckie is an extremely skilled story teller, bringing the reader in at exactly the right moment in Breq’s journey, giving us a character to attach to immediately, making us care enough to follow her within a page.
Time moves back and and forth in the novel, alternating chapter by chapter (for the most part) until we reach the climax, during which we are firmly in the present. A fantastic way to engage and fill in backstory without info-dumping. Leckie ties the two time streams at the perfect moment and proceeds from there; the reader is suddenly like Breq without the Justice of Toren, able to see in only one direction, which adds a layer of excitement I’ve rarely felt approaching the final chapters of a book.
There are no solid descriptions of the book’s characters and I don’t care. I always care, or at least, I have until now. I’m a character driven reader and a character driven writer and part of that has always been, for me, having at least a sketch of each individual’s appearance. In Ancillary Justice, the reader doesn’t get that; there are a few comments on height and clothing (which is important to rank), jewelry, but no character descriptions what so ever beyond those basics. Breq lives in a society where gender is inconsequential; we don’t ever, in fact, find out if Breq itself is in a male or female. The default pronoun in the novel is “she” rather than he; usually an annoying device but, in this case, a meaningful choice. In the end, male or female doesn’t matter. Each player is judged, both in the story and by the reader, as the person she is, the traits she esteems, the way she treats others.
Well. Wouldn’t that be nice?
There are several scenes that are written from the perspective of multiple ancillaries each experiencing its own version of events and I have no clue how Leckie kept it all straight let alone laid it out clearly for the reader, but she did. the effect is absolutely awesome (in the near religious way, not the surfer way). I would never think to do something like that and, even if I did, I’d never be able to pull it off. All first person, all at a slightly different angle, and each one a distinct voice and vision… Color me struck dumb.
There are a few bits that drag just the tiniest bit and a few scenes that could probably have been whittled down, but it’s all minor and quibble on my part because I don’t want to sound like a lame-ass fan girl. Which I am. The release date of the second book in the series, Ancillary Sword, is due out Oct 7th but isn’t yet available for pre-order… I think I’ve checked five times today even though I signed up for the email alert. I did not want to put this thing down and I should probably request some vacation days in October because I’m not going to want to go to work, or do anything else for that matter, once I have Ancillary Sword in my hands.