Ann Leckie’s style of writing and her gender-bending pronouns take a heck of a lot out of me, a guy who is used to reading normal English. But hey, it’s sci-fi and it’s an interesting story. Ancillary Sword is a tough read in many respects, tends to be over-burdened with detail and mundane goings-on with the inhabitants of Athoek Station, rather than the current civil war with half of the Lord of the Radch, a conquering race, with a goal of “spreading civilization.”
Story & Plot: (some spoilers)
As with most sci-fi authors, there are hidden themes and topics brought up that are disguised in a sci-fi window-dressing. Or in this case salad dressing!
The Radch (I keep wanting to say The Radish), spread their civilization much the way we as the American civilization spread ours. Other races and cultures need to be absorbed, assimilated if you will (to borrow from the Borg of Star Trek) or else not be considered civilized.
There are the conquered races of the planet below, people being used as virtual slaves. In the station there is an area called the Undergarden that is where the undesirables live – little food and water and air, except what they can make themselves. Even the Station Artificial Intelligence doesn’t really give a darn about them. But Breq does!
Themes and Intrigue:
Though the plot tends to drag, the importance of racial diversity, cultural prejudices, and an inner, bitter feeling toward the conquering race without having the nerve to say so, really comes across in the tale.
As well, in the previous book Breq had murdered Lieutenant Awn, an officer of a Justice ship (and Breq was the AI with many ancillary bodies – cool idea) on the order of his Lord and then he turned the gun on her (her?). This resulted in Breq as Ship being destroyed. He preserved his existence in an Ancillary and here he is today, on Atheok Station making amends to the Lieutenant’s sister who is on board the Station.
Anyway, we Readers can see what Breq sees and hear what Breq hears since he is not human and can hook himself into the network. What a way to do a third party narrative!
- Slavery, abolished by the Radch – or was it? Is someone still profiting?
- Breq’s invisible gun which bullets can pass through anything – how will he use this? His Ace in the Hole?
- Relationships between cultures and races. Why live in squander when you can have freedom? The local governor is not too keen about that idea.
- Serving two masters – which Lord is the right one? Whose side are you on?
It’s a tough book to read, no doubt! The use of certain words to clarify what their versions of military groups, as we use battalions, or ancient Rome used. Takes a while to learn what a Decade is, for example. Best to search Google.
The Author could give us a decent glossary! Her view of Breq as a flawed savior of the dregs of their society is a fascinating look. I don’t like how we have completely ignored that there is a civil war on, but her descriptions and introspection of cultures and world-building is definitely worth the read.
Recommended, though as a second book of the trilogy, so far the first is still the better.