Ancillary Sword is an excellent follow up to the fascinating Ancillary Justice. While I liked Ancillary Justice, I loved Ancillary Sword, perhaps since I actually had the time to really appreciate the complexity of the world that Leckie has created.
Ancillary Sword picks up where Ancillary Justice left off. Breq has failed in her mission to kill Anaander Mianaai, ruler of the Radchaai. Not that her mission would have been simple as Anaander exists in thousands of iterations. Killing one Anaander would not solve the problem that is the many bodied Anaander.
Breq has been put to work by Anaander and is sent to Atheok (the only place she would actually allow herself to be ordered to go) to keep the peace while Anaander wars with the other iterations of herself. Breq is angry, so very angry about her position, but she goes because she wants to protect the sister of the captain that she served and was forced to kill as an ancillary. When she arrive on Atheok, Breq realizes that there is much happening and not all of it good and takes it upon herself to investigate the problems that she can see there.
What I liked about Ancillary Sword is how understated the character of Breq is. She’s not exactly human, but that fact serves to highlight the contradictory notion of Breq’s inherent humanity. She feels deeply the loss of her previous life as the Justice of Toren; she misses those segments of herself and feels isolated because it. In her previous life she was connected to her other segments and her crew in a way that is no longer possible for her. In fact, I thought Ancillary Sword had a grieving tone throughout. To me, it seemed that Breq was grieving the loss of her previous life which wasn’t evident in Ancillary Justice. In the previous book, Breq was preoccupied with revenge. That revenge has failed and it seems that Breq finally has to come to terms with the life she now lives. In Breq’s recollections of her past as Toren, it’s clear that she was many things to many people on her ship and now she has to find a way to do this again as a singular entity. To me, it seems that Breq has evolved from book one and is slowly allowing herself to build new connections to humans in a way that is foreign to her, even when she would rather not.
While Breq is a very compelling character, it’s the world of that has kept me captivated in both the previous and current installment of the trilogy. There are so many parallels to reality, so many comparisons to history that are brought to mind as I read through Ancillary Sword. These connections to the world outside the book serve to make this a thought-provoking read.
The Radchaai Empire is structured on colonization and the problems with it is explicitly addressed in Ancillary Sword. It is the history of the “uncivilized” precursors to the Radchaai takeover that lead to the problems that Breq now faces.
Politics from before an annexation were considered irrelevant, any old divisions wiped away by the arrival of civilization. Anything remaining – languages, perhaps, or art of some kind – might be preserved as quaint museum displays, but of course never figured into official records. Outside this system, Athoek looked like any other Radchaai system. Uniform. Wholly civilized. Inside it, you could see it wasn’t, it you looked – if you were forced to acknowledge it. But it was always a balancing act between the presumed complete success of the annexation and the need to deal with the ways in which that annexation had, perhaps, not been entirely complete, and one of the ways to achieve that balance was by ignoring what one didn’t have to see (p. 124).
In Ancillary Sword, Breq decides to pay attention to what the officials on Athoek have been willfully ignoring. She searches out the history of the annexation in order to understand the politics, and ultimately calls many individuals on their actions. Now, Breq’s actions as a “savior” could have been overplayed, but again Ancillary Sword delves into the complex motivations behind Breq’s decision to involve herself. Yes, she genuinely wants to help, but she is well aware of her limitations and is also aware that she is certainly not someone who can determine justice as the notion of justice is complicated in and of itself.
“What is justice, Citizen?” I replied with my own question. “Where did justice lie, in that entire situation?” Siriz didn’t reply, either angry or at a loss for an answer. Both were difficult questions. “We speak of it as though it’s a simple thing, a matter of acting properly, as though it’s nothing more than an afternoon tea and the question only who takes the last pastry. So simple. Assign guilt to the guilty” (p. 291).
The problem is that Breq seems to become the arbiter of justice throughout the book, at least in other character’s minds. In each situation that Breq becomes involved in, she somehow finds herself central to the outcome. She forces the other players to see the situation in a different way. It’s an interesting role that Breq plays since it never seems evident that it’s her intent to become a leader, Breq simply acts and those actions have ripple effects.
In a sense, it seems that Breq is simply allowing herself to be pulled into a leadership role; however, I also think that there is a element of atonement in her actions. She murdered someone that she loved based on an order from her superior and I think that she feels guilt for that and wants to show herself that she can be someone different. Breq’s motivations and actions are always complex and not always immediately clear to the reader (at least, to this reader), but this only make Breq all the more compelling of a character, one that I want to learn more about. I’m especially interested to see how Breq grows in the third book and how she adapts to her new human relationships and if these will change her and her personality.
Ultimately, Ancillary Sword is a smart, thought-provoking read. It’s an interesting setting in both an alien and familiar world; a perfect read for more traditional sci-fi fans who are looking for a character-driven plot set in a richly detailed world. Based on the first two books that I’ve read, I can almost guarantee that this will be a trilogy that I will highly recommend, I can’t imagine that the third book (out in October 2015) will let me down in any way.
For similar reads, see my review of Ancillary Justice.