This was the first book I read for the challenge. The internet buzz around this title has been significant on some of the blogs and content aggregating sites I frequent. My interest had been piqued for sometime and I am glad this challenge gave me a good excuse to read it.
The story centers around Breq. She is a Radch soldier of sorts who is on a mission of vengeance against the leader of the Radch empire. The story opens with Breq as an individual human (with artificial intelligence and bio-mech upgrades) stuck on an icy remote planet. She is searching for a weapon that can kill the leader of the Radch. The story is not just told from this one perspective. It quickly becomes a bit murky as you are introduced to the other forms that are contained within the “Breq” character. Before she was Breq, the individual she was “Justice of Toren,” a massive warship. The AI controlling and monitoring every minute detail of the ship and those on board. She was also “One Esk,” one of numerous (sometimes thousands) of modified humans called “Ancillaries” who were all collectively linked into one consciousness and controlled by the ship.
Confused yet? I was about halfway through this book before I felt like I had this all sorted out. The kaleidoscope of perspectives and voices is a bit dizzying. Kudos to Leckie for weaving them together and keeping it from feeling to overwhelming. That being said, it did take me a while to sort all this out and feel like I could “relax” into the book and enjoy the story without needing to constantly keep track of which perspective the current narrative was using. The uniqueness of this approach and the compelling plot kept me interested and engaged. I could see this book easily frustrating some readers though. The story plays with the ideas of individuality, free will and how the end does or does not justify the means. The Radch want to spread civilization and peace throughout the galaxy. They accomplish this through “annexations,” think the Borg in Star Trek. Other cultures are assimilated into Radchaai (Radch word for civilized) and individuals who resist are executed. After annexation the worlds are restructured into a sort of feudal system with major and minor houses who are connected through a convoluted system of contracts. Breq becomes party to corruption at the highest level of Radch authority and after being forced to participate in the killing of innocent civilians and military personal she vows to make things right.
I enjoyed the story and thought the characters were compelling and the themes in the story worthwhile to sort through the multiple perspectives soup. I would recommend this for fans of sci-fi and space dramas…but probably not for people who don’t already love the genre. It’s a bit of work to sort things out, but the pay off was worth it. I am already looking forward to the follow up novel Ancillary Sword.