Captivating, beautiful, exhilarating, and tremendously well-crafted
Every now and then, for one reason or another, a book sometimes gets lost in the shuffle and ends up back on the shelf, a bookmark forlornly flagging the few pages I managed to read before my brain gave out on me. This happens more often than I would like, and it happened in late 2015 when Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Mercy arrived on my doorstep.
Let’s be very clear, Ann Leckie does not deserve to have a book make its way to my shelves unread. Her Imperial Radch trilogy was a breathtaking entry to the genre (after several short stories were published) and the myriad pull-quotes that bespeckle the covers of her books are none of them unnecessary hyperbole.
They are, quite comfortably, some of the most impressive and groundbreaking sci-fi I have ever read.
Ancillary Mercy, therefore, did not deserve to be ignored, but it was, and I finally got around to pulling it back off my shelves, starting from the beginning, and ploughing through this fantastic conclusion to the trilogy.
This book was definitely a culmination of all that had come before. Not necessarily in that climactic way that some stories trend – all bluster and action and barely a moment to take a breath – but in the way that the characters which have been central to this story were each given the opportunity to shine, suffer, succeed, and eventually rest.
The narrative continues to be ambiguous with a lack of pronouns other than female-gender pronouns, and the protagonist's name barely being mentioned beyond the occasional slight reference here and there. Throughout the three books, the author was always able to convey a natural assumption that this is how things are in the way that pronouns and gender were referenced, not so much as a gimmick to sell her book but simply to write a different type of story. It was tasteful, subtle, and didn’t seem to me to be a means to smack the reader over the head with a particular social or political viewpoint. It was naturally the way things were and I loved it for that, and at the same time didn’t concern myself with thinking why.
Ancillary Mercy doesn’t come to a close like many books – although the momentary intrusion of the author to tell me so was mildly disconcerting, given the otherwise melodious subtlety the author had hitherto accomplished. There is no earth-universe-shattering conclusion, except that there is, we just don’t get to see any sign of it. We know that it will come to the universe, and that it is all Breq’s fault, but that is not the focus – it never really was. The focus was Breq and her crew, and by extension the system of Athoek which came under her authority. What happens next will be momentous – and we may even get to see it one day – but the trilogy was not about the large-scale political ramifications of one person, but rather the interpersonal ramifications of that one person.
In the end, despite the fact there is obviously more that could be said, I was left entirely satisfied. I want to read more about Breq – as well as Seivarden, Ekalu, and Tisarwat – but what I have read was ultimately enough if that is all I ever get, and what I got was captivating, beautiful, exhilarating, and tremendously well-crafted. With a new Ann Leckie book already on my coffee table, I know that it will be good.
Review by Joshua S Hill
Ann Leckie was recently named the 28th winner of the Arthur C Clarke award, which celebrates the best new science fiction in Britain. Winning with her debut novel Ancillary Justice, Leckie beat Kameron Hurkey, Phillip Mann, R [...]
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