Book Review: Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: Book 2 of Imperial Radch
Publisher: Orbit (October 7, 2014)
Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Looking back at my review of Ancillary Justice, it seemed that while I liked the book, it and I didn’t actually hit it off as well as I’d hoped. Mind you, I’m most definitely in the minority there. And despite not falling in love with the novel, I did appreciate its many merits and was pleased to see it win many awards and garner so much praise – all seriously well-deserved. In fact, I was so impressed with the concepts in the book and the sheer innovation that went into it, I knew that I would read the sequel if Ann Leckie were to continue with Breq’s story.
And lo and behold, we have Ancillary Sword, the second installment of the Imperial Radch series which picks up from the end of book one.
However, it is also very different novel. But hey, “different” can be good! “Different” changes things up. And “different” keeps things fresh. It’s tough to follow up a book like Ancillary Justice which took the SFF scene by storm, and Leckie definitely took a few risks here by greatly streamlining the story as well as departing from the first book’s distinctive style.
Did it pay off? I feel a bit torn on this, personally. On the one hand, the biggest challenge I had with the first book was the style of narration. Breq was formerly one of thousands of corpse soldiers all linked up as part of a massive starship, and the resulting “omniscient effect” was not only confusing but also a source of distraction. Now that she is a single mind in a single body, I found the story in this book so much easier to follow. Add to that, we’re no longer shifting back and forth in time, and there’s a lot less information to digest. On the whole, I would say simplifying the narrative and making it more linear worked wonders for me. It addressed a couple of the major issues I had with the first book, and I didn’t feel as overwhelmed.
However, the changes also affected the scope of the story, whittling what seemed to be a massive space-opera-in-the-making down to more modest proportions. Ancillary Sword almost reads like a character study, offering a more intimate and personal look into the mind of Breq. While the character development is superb, the pacing suffered. Compared to the first book, this one is far slower, and there’s almost no action at all. Furthermore, I’m not sure it contributed all that much to the overall story arc; this felt a lot like a “middle book”, a nice little detour to get a chance to better acquaint ourselves with the main protagonist.
I’m fine with the slower, tamer direction of Ancillary Sword. What I’m not so keen on though, was the lack of a sense of purpose. I wasn’t sure what I expected from the sequel, but it certainly wasn’t this. After all that effort and time working up to the jaw-dropping conclusion in the first book, I wanted the momentum to continue, and I wanted to see what the next big thing was for Breq. Most of all I wanted to see where Ann Leckie is taking this series, and unfortunately, I’m still none the wiser.
I wanted to like this book more than its predecessor, but in the end I think the pros balanced out the cons and I ended up liking it just the same. To sum up, I loved how much easier this book was to read and how it put me more in my comfort zone, and I appreciated the deeper look into Breq’s life and thought processes now that she is separated from the hive mind. On the downside, the story didn’t hold my attention too well, and certain parts dragged.
That said, Ann Leckie is a talented author with a way with words, and what I wouldn’t give to see what other creative ideas she has up her sleeve. If these books are any indication, the next Imperial Radch novel will be just as deep-seated and cerebral. I hope the third book will strike more of a balance for me, but as the author is clearly not averse to changing things up, I’m curious to see what it’ll bring regardless.
A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. My thanks to Orbit Books!