When I had been a single ancillary, one human body among thousands, part of the ship Justice of Toren, I had never been alone. I had always been surrounded by myself, and the rest of myself had always known if any particular body needed something—rest, food, touch, reassurance. An ancillary body might feel momentarily overwhelmed, or irritable, or any emotion one might think of—it was only natural, bodies felt things. But it was so very small, when it was just one segment among the others, when, even in the grip of strong emotion or physical discomfort, that segment knew it was only one of many, knew the rest of itself was there to help.
The expectations couldn’t be higher for Ann Leckie’s second novel and, while it makes for an interesting read, it does not live up to the promise of its predecessor. An extraordinary book awaits, based on what this one establishes and suggests.
Title: Ancillary Sword
Author: Ann Leckie
In the distant future, a civil war develops between the Lord of the Radch and… herself. Breq, formerly a starship, heads with her new crew to protect a family with which she has a problematic past.
Political and personal complications involve her with a colony of servants whose culture and circumstances will be more familiar to present-day readers.
Leckie has integrated the novel’s political and social commentary into the plot; they cannot be missed, but they do not feel artificial or forced. Ancillary Sword, if anything, is far more personal than its predecessor.
The early chapters meander and move too slowly with too little narrative purpose. There’s nothing wrong with a slow-burn approach, but I felt (especially after the first book) that Ancillary Sword needed more.
Originality: 4/6 Although Leckie covered some of this world in her debut novel, Ancillary Sword remains inventive, and her handling of gender sets her apart from nearly every other SF writer
Imagery: 5/6 Leckie’s strongest achievement here involves getting us into the world and headspace of the Radchai, only to juxtapose them with human cultures that feel more familiar. Her descriptive prose has only improved since the first book.
Story: 4/6 The novel feels aimless in its early chapters; the second half proves more interesting. The story also fits awkwardly into its status as a middle book of an unfinished trilogy; a major mystery remains unsolved because (presumably) it will be the subject of the next novel.
Characterization: 4/6 Leckie treats her AIs with respect; the characters need to be better realized overall. We have less of the hivish-mind aspects, since the protagonist is coping with being one, rather than many.
Emotional Response: 4/6
Editing: 5/6 Leckie remains a writer to watch.
Overall score: 5/6
In total, Ancillary Sword receives 31/42