“There is always more after the ending. Always the next morning, and the next. Always changes, losses and gains. Always one step after the other. Until the one true ending that none of us can escape. But even that ending is only a small one, large as it looms for us. There is still the next morning for everyone else. For the vast majority of the rest of the universe that ending might as well not ever have happened. Every ending is an arbitrary one. Everything ending is from another angle, not really an ending.” — Ann Leckie, Ancillary Mercy
At this point, you’ve probably heard of Ann Leckie. Over the last few years, her Imperial Radch series has taken Science Fiction by storm. Ancillary Justice, Leckie’s debut novel, took home just about every major award in the field, and the sequel was nominated for just about every award and received wide critical acclaim. So, with the final book in the trilogy coming out — no pressure here, right?
Ancillary Mercy picks up right where Ancillary Sword left — there’s unrest on Athoek Station, an unknown ship has just come through the Ghost Gate, and Anaander Mianaai (or at least one aspect of her) is on the hunt for Fleet Captain Breq.
I’ll keep you from the suspense and too much more of a plot overview: Leckie delivers a thoroughly exciting, funny, emotional, and wonderful conclusion of the series. If you enjoyed the other books in the series, you’re gonna love this one. It may very well be my favorite book of the whole trilogy, because it closes everything out with utter perfection.
In my review of Ancillary Sword, I suggested that protagonist Fleet Captain Breq was like Tom Joad being rocketed into space instead of Buck Rodgers, and I stand by that. In Ancillary Mercy, Leckie continues to peel away the layers of Breq’s relationships. She’s forever haunted by the captain she lost, and we now see that reflected in the relationships she has with her ship, Athoek Station, her lieutenants, other AIs. She’s also committed to taking care of the ones who can’t always take care of themselves. “You should be allowed to be your own captain,” Breq tells Mercy of Kalr at the beginning of the book, and the importance of agency and being in control of your own journey is what’s absolutely central to this book. It’s a unique spin on a classic science fiction theme and also one very apt for our times: when people are being told that the characteristics which define them make them less a person than the majority.
Let me take a paragraph to sing Adjoa Andoh’s praises, because while I was impressed with what she did in Ancillary Sword, I don’t believe I gave her anywhere near the credit she deserves, particularly after improving on Celeste Ciulla’s narration from Ancillary Justice. If Seivarden were to describe Andoh’s narration, you can be sure she’d say “Narrator Andoh is actually pretty fucking bad ass.” Because that’s all there is to it. Andoh is nothing short of a star here — she’s like an intelligent and self-aware ship who can play all the angles and figure out which one is going to be the best and most entertaining. In the last couple of books, Leckie has given us some very memorable characters, and with such a huge cast it might be easy for us to lose track of who is who. But Andoh’s work helps them all to shine. Seivarden switches from hilarious to heartbreaking in seconds. When speaking in Tisarawat’s voice, you can almost see those lovely lilac eyes (please don’t change them, Tisarawat)! And Presger Translator Zeiat will leave you craving fish sauce with your tea. This is one of the best performances I’ve heard all year, and I don’t doubt Andoh’s work will go down as one of my favorites. I hope one day Hachette will be able to release Ancillary Justice in the U.S. with Andoh’s narration, because I just love her so much here. Her narration is phenomenal.
As the quote at the top suggests, this is the ending of the Imperial Radch trilogy, but there’s plenty of more room for Leckie to explore this universe, and these characters. And while that’s exciting given what Leckie has achieved so far, I find myself agreeing with what one of the characters said at the end of the book: “This is a very good cup of tea.” Ancillary Mercy is not just a satisfying end to the series (although it is that), but it’s also leaves you savoring that last taste you just took, appreciating just how brilliant the cup was. Yes, a very good cup of tea, indeed.
Special thanks to Hachette Audio for a review copy of this audiobook.