4 glorious exploding stars
This is my 2nd read of this magnificent story and though I seem to have had a lot of problems the first time, I enjoyed it even more the 2nd time. It’s probably my own fault – I read really fast, and can’t sit in a room with no noise, so I probably read it too fast. This is a complicated story, I’m not going to pretend it’s not – but it is magnificently crafted.
This is the story of Breq… who is actually all that remains of A.I. of The Justice of Toren – a ship of the Radchaai empire that was destroyed. The ships are run by an A.I., and crewed by both human and ancillary crew members. The Ancillaries are bodies of humans, most likely taken from conquered peoples, brainwashed and implanted with special devices and armor. They are not considered human anymore, but hardware, and are the servants of the ship and the human crew. Breq is the name she’s chosen for herself.
The worldbuilding in this book is amazing. I love that Leckie didn’t shove it down our throat. She didn’t tell us stuff until we needed to know it and kept it o. The most fascinating is the use of gender pronouns, or the lack of them. The Raadch don’t use them – and if I’d been more attentive, I’d realized there is a part in the story where Breq even tells us that the Raadch are rather androgynous in nature anyway. There are two different genders, but it can be hard to tell which is which. For some reason, it really got under my craw last time – not that I don’t applaud a society that is not overly absorbed in gender binary, but I found it hard and overly complicated as Breq was flustered which gender pronoun to use when she dealt with other ethnic groups. This time, it didn’t bother me at all. I was even able to figure out what gender people were – but of course, this excellent book makes me realize how unimportant gender is. I mean, what does it matter? I was also irritated at the attention to jewelry worn, for memorials and such, but this time that didn’t bother me. I don’t know my problem was the first time I read the book… I’m guessing I read it too fast and didn’t pay close enough attention.
The Raadch, the empire that Justice of Toren served, have conquered much of the known universe – but that is all in an attempt to keep the zone around the actual source of the Raadch safe. They are encased in a Dyson Sphere.<–Please for to click if you want to know what that is. This is also how the massive empire has continued to flourish – they are so technologically advanced they just sort of roll up, go “we takin’ over this bitch” (referred to as “annexing”), and the civilization in question either gives in or goes up in flames. The only group they are unable to do this with is the Presger, a super-advanced race that are non-humanoid and consider humanity as “unimportant”. In the past, the Presger have steam-rollered the Raadch in the same way. However, that has all changed. The leader of the Raadch has signed a treaty with the Presger, and now the annexations have stopped. The ancillaries are being “retired” (ie: destroyed) and this is going to radically change society. There will be no more way to advance your families clout through conquest and winning prizes and things. Also, the economy has driven itself through conquest for 2000 years. A lot of the military is not happy about this – but you gotta watch what you say. The Raadch is a fascist regime, and you don’t talk against the leader of the Raadch and live very long.
But something has gone wrong somewhere. The story is multi-layered. There is the “modern day” activity with Breq as an individual looking for something in an area called Nilt, far outside of Raachaii space. Breq runs across a former officer, Seivaarden, who had been involved in an annexation that went really wrong over a thousand years ago. Seivaarden had been kept alive, floating through space, in a suspension pod, kinda like Ripley in Alien, until found by a ship. Seivaarden did not adapt well to the loss of his family, friends, and influence, not to mention having no money, and somehow managed to run away. Breq finds him broke, addicted to drugs and dying of hypothermia, and can’t just leave him. It’s a weird coincidence, because it was only after this horrible annexation that led to Seivaarden’s ship being destroyed that the leader of the Raadch and the Presger began to negotiate peace. But that’s not all the timeline we’re dealing with. We also go back and see what drove Breq on her quest – when Breq was One Esk, an ancillary on Justice of Toren, working in a village called Ors with Lieutenant Awn. Awn manages to subvert a rebellion that clearly involves someone high up in the Raadch hierarchy. All three of these things stretch across time, space, loyalties and philosophy to come together to fuel a brilliant, if maddeningly complicated plot.
I was so confused the first time I read this, I actually rated it more like 3.75 stars (if that were possible on Goodreads!) but on a re-read, it is a solid 4 star book. I really enjoyed it. The series is complete now – and I wanted to re-read the first two before reading the third. I really loved the 2nd one, so look forward to that review. I enjoyed this even more the second time, read it much slower, took some notes, and it made more sense. If you love thought-provoking sci-fi, read this. It’s got some amazing themes going on – and a richly-crafted world. There are even religions- something most sci fi’s don’t bother with. I can’t remember the last time I found a sci fi world that I loved so much. There are so many parallells and so much depth to this. The question of if everything is fated, why do anything? If two halves of the same whole are fighting each other, how can there ever be a winner? That is as in depth as I can get without spoiling it for you. I strongly recommend this for anyone who either loves sci fi or wants to get into it.