Ancillary Sword – Ann Leckie

About the Book

What if you once had thousands of bodies and near god-like technology at your disposal?

And what if all of it were ripped away? 

The Lord of the Radch has given Breq command of the ship Mercy of Kalr and sent her to the only place she would have agreed to go — to Athoek Station, where Lieutenant Awn’s sister works in Horticulture.

Athoek was annexed some six hundred years ago, and by now everyone is fully civilized — or should be. But everything is not as tranquil as it appears. Old divisions are still troublesome, Athoek Station’s AI is unhappy with the situation, and it looks like the alien Presger might have taken an interest in what’s going on. With no guarantees that interest is benevolent.

359 pages (paperback)
Published on October 7, 2014
Published by Orbit
Author’s webpage
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This book was sent for me to review by the publisher.

After the roaring success of Ancillary Justice (which won just about every literary award that was gently nudged in its direction), Ancillary Sword had a lot to live up to. It doesn’t quite have the same impact and dramatic punch as its predecessor, but it is just as impressive in its own somewhat quieter way.

It is absolutely essential that you read Ancillary Justice before you read Ancillary Sword. While Ancillary Justice had many memorable and challenging themes, like gender identity, Ancillary Sword deals with themes that are just as important and thought provoking, just a little quieter than its predecessor. In fact I tended to feel that the way Leckie dealt with her rather deep themes in this installment of her series made a bigger impact on me than I expected. 

Ancillary Sword takes off right after Ancillary Justice ends. Breq is different now, and while half the punch of the previous book was learning about events and life as an ancillary, in this second book Breq is all alone and learning how to be alone. There is a keen sense of loss that I felt throughout Ancillary Justice as Breq is learning how to be one person, and relatively limited, than many people and incredibly powerful.

Breq’s current individual status verses her multiple AI personality we knew in the previous book gives readers an interesting insight into the world she’s navigating. She understands what it is like to be an ancillary better than just about anyone. These little bits of insight, the ability for her to connect and relate to the ancillaries that almost no one but her seems to understand, gives readers an important view of characters in science fiction that we don’t typically get an insight into – the AI kind.

This nicely leads me into what I enjoyed most about the book. It was incredibly personal, a real emotional struggle of one woman trying to find a way to find herself when she’s been irrevocably changed. How she deals with the people on her crew, especially Lieutenant Tisarwat, is very telling. Furthermore, her understanding of being an ancillary makes the struggle between the Lord of Radch and various other parts of herself incredibly dynamic. In so many ways readers are getting to know Breq, this new Breq, as she is getting to know herself. Throw in all of the political turmoil of the times, and you have something truly remarkable in your hands. Breq goes through a lot of very personal, very quiet struggles that she keeps hidden from others pretty well. It’s a fantastic study of very intimate character development and evolution, and Leckie handles it masterfully.

Ancillary Sword was a very interesting exploration of humanity, and just what makes a person a person. Mixed into this are civilizations clashing, and a wonderful examination of just what makes the civilized, civilized. There is a lot here for readers to enjoy, not the least of which is how Leckie deals with these incredibly intense, rather deep themes and the surprising places she goes with them. Breq’s status in the leadership, as well as who she was verses who she is makes all of these themes even more intense and poignant.

The perspective of the novel is very focused and even, at times, feels limited. While that can usually be considered a negative in a novel, in Ancillary Sword it is a positive in a big way. Leckie uses Breq’s limited perspective as a tool to make many of her insights, her character growth, and the events she finds herself in the center of that much more memorable for her readers. It’s easier to understand how Breq is struggling to come to terms with herself, since readers are limited, and struggling, as well. This style of writing, of getting to know Breq as Breq is getting to know Breq is in is a very powerful way that Leckie manages to put readers in her protagonist’s shoes and manages to be an incredible effective way to tell a story.

The plot moves pretty quickly, and the writing is just as intense and attention-grabbing as it was in the previous book, if a bit more polished. Some of the plot threads were a touch heavy handed, and Ancillary Sword does have a middle-of-the-series feel to it. A lot of it is drawn out and expanded upon, while very few questions are answered or even moderately resolved. That’s okay, though, because the book itself is so compelling, emotional, and intense that the flaws, small as they are, are easy to overlook.

Leckie’s star is still burning bright, and her talent seems to know no bounds. I truly appreciate authors who have the ability to make readers think and examine things differently. Ancillary Sword was deeply emotional, and incredibly personal. The writing was fluid and flawless, and the themes are important, not just in the scope of the story being told, but also for everyone reading the book. A successful science fiction novel has the ability to change how its readers look at the world around them and the people in it differently. In this respect, despite its small flaws, Ann Leckie succeeds in leaps and bounds. Emotional, intense, raw and poignant, Ancillary Sword is one of those novels that will stick with me for quite a while.


4/5 stars

6 Responses

  • Cheryl Holsonbake

    I’m so very glad her first book wasn’t a single shining meteor. Thanks so much Sarah for introducing Ann Leckie to me. I’d have never picked up Justice at the library if I hadn’t read your review. I’m so glad I did. Great fun to watch a new author grow. Can’t wait til payday when I can buy my own copy of Ancillary Sword. No waiting on the library for this one 🙂

    • I’m so glad you liked the first book. I think you’ll love this one. Also, the fact that you found the books from my website is just about the most flattering thing I’ve seen all year.

  • Impressive in a quieter way is a perfect way to put it.

    • I think I enjoyed this one a little more than the first. I mean, the first blew me away, but I thought the “quieter” aspect of this one packed a bigger emotional punch for me.

  • Ian Monroe

    Yea I agree, quieter is a great way to put this book. This book really isn’t the book I thought it would be, this one is hardly a space opera since it’s all rather planet and space station oriented. But like you say the POV we have in Breq is just fascinating and that’s what makes the whole book IMO.

    I’m guessing the galaxy-spanning adventure awaits us in the next book.

  • There are hints of the larger picture, but yeah, this is a much smaller book in many ways. A pause between epic sized stories? We’ll see

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