Novel Review: “Ancillary Justice”

Nineteen years, three months, and one week before I found Seivarden in the snow, I was a troop carrier orbiting the planet Shis’urna. Troop carriers are the most massive of the Radchaai ships, sixteen decks stacked one on top of the other. Command, Administrative, Medical, Hydroponics, Engineering, Central Access, and a deck for each decade, living and working space for my officers, whose every breath, every twitch of every muscle, was known to me (9).

This unusual first novel by Ann Leckie is clearly the most lauded SF work of the last year. Our review follows.

Title: Ancillary Justice
Author: Ann Leckie

First published in October 2013
ISBN: 9780316246637

Available from,,,
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Breq / Justice of Toren One Esk Nineteen— formerly several people and a starship—sets out on a quest for veangance in a galaxy dominated by a vast empire. Along the way, she teams with one of her former officers, now a destitute addict.

High Points:

Leckie takes us through a complex, developed world and some psychologically unusual characters with a relative minimum of infodump and unnecessary exposition.

I also found the protagonist intriguing, if not consistently easy to comprehend, and appreciate the questions she raises about identity. Charles Stross, among others, has handled these same questions before, but I welcome other approaches.

The main antagonist gives us an interesting view of the complexities of mind, especially when that mind has been divided among multiple individuals.

Low Point:

At some point, we have to accept certain genre conventions. It is also impossible to state for certain what happens with significantly advanced technology– perhaps development does plateau at some point. I nevertheless struggle with the concept of a galaxy inhabited by far-flung human colonies, where so much has changed since the present—but where so little changes in the millennia since this reality came into being.

The Scores:

Originality: 4/6 The concept for the ship and its ancillaries, and the similar technology found throughout the novel, feels original. The novel otherwise uses the expected tropes of space opera, and a universe where technlology used by far-flung and diverse human colonies does not change across millennia.

Imagery: 4/6

Story: 5/6 The story begins strong and picks up again towards the end. The plot takes time to develop, and the conclusion, while it is a conclusion, clearly sets up the next book in a series.

Characterization: 5/6 The novel features a memorable protagonist, but several deliberate and interesting choices create some distance. Leckie plays some games with gender, so that it becomes impossible to know for certain the gender of any given character. It’s an interesting approach which (although secondary to the story) raises important questions, but it also removes one of the key elements we (over)use to understand people. Breq also has a decidedly different psychology due to her past. It rings true, but we cannot easily understand it.

We also have to make interesting guesses about characters based on Breq’s uncertain understanding of them.

Emotional Response: 4/6

Editing: 5/6

Overall score: 5/6 I enjoyed this book, though I do not share the unbridled enthusiasm expressed by many readers and reviewers. Feel free to tell me what I’m missing.

Ancillary Justice has won the 2013 Nebula Award, BSFA Award and Arthur C. Clarke Award, and is nominated for a Hugo for Best Novel.

In total, Ancillary Justice receives 32/42

2 replies on “Novel Review: “Ancillary Justice””

    • And this is where we get into differences of readers, I suppose. I really liked Glasshouse, and think it a superior book handling similar issues.

      So you might prefer Ancillary Justice.

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