A long time ago, Breq was part of a consciousness that made up Justice of Toren – one of the Radch Empire’s AI starships. She was one of many – an ancillary, a meat puppet, a single aspect of a collective. Then she was betrayed, stripped away from the rest of her consciousness, trapped in a human body, and stranded alone in the universe. Now, she’s a displaced and dysfunctional AI, and she’s out for revenge.
Wait, I said “she.” Here’s one of the fun things about this space opera – she isn’t necessarily a she. In the Radch Empire, all people are referred to as “she,” despite their gender. It’s a cool bit of world building, but more importantly – it defies gender conventions and defaults. There are a lot of interesting and fascinating characters in this book. And most of them, we have no idea what gender they are.
It’s smart and though-provoking, yes, but Ancillary Justice also manages to be a really fun ride. As an AI who is forced to become a fraction of herself, Breq is one of the most unique protagonists I’ve ever come across, and she’s a lot of fun to route for. The story is split over two timelines – one of Breq as a lone figure seeking out the means for her revenge, the other is her as an aspect of the near omniscient Justice of Toren occupying a conquered planet and people. Seeing how these two storylines crescendo is a blast. If you’re a fan of the Expanse books by James S.A. Corey, you’ll want to give this one a shot.
I’ll admit I was a little concerned at first with Celeste Ciulla’s narration. Initially, her delivery felt a bit stilted, almost forced. However, after an hour or two, I came to realize she was a really solid match for a displaced and dysfunctional AI.
Ancillary Justice has already been nominated for a Nebula, BFSA, and won a Kitchie for Best Debut Novel, and it’s easy to see why. I’ll be very surprised if it doesn’t get a nomination for the Hugo. Ancillary Justice is a smart, though-provoking thrill ride of a space opera. It’ll nuke your brain from orbit, then send its ancillary meat puppets planetside with blasters – just to make sure.
(Full Disclosure: Ann Leckie is a friend of mine who I’ve worked with for the past four years at PodCastle, and I first read this book before it had landed an agent or a publishing house. I loved it, so much so that I ended up buying the book when it came out in audio.)