Quite easily the best book I've read so far this year.
When an author breaks new ground, the general consensus is that to remain relevant and loved, that author must continue to break new ground. However, the inherent problem with this is that, instead of breaking new ground, the author simply digs themselves into a hole from which they can’t escape.
So when your debut novel not only does well on the charts and is beloved by reviewers, but also happens to win the Hugo, Nebula, and Arthur C. Clarke awards all in one year, your sequel is going to be held to an insanely high standard.
Fortunately, that has only ever happened to one author.
Unfortunately for Ann Leckie, that author is she.
‘Ancillary Sword’ is the sequel to 2013’s hit debut, ‘Ancillary Justice’, a book we at Fantasy Book Review absolutely adored. In hindsight, I may have even reviewed it a little low, considering the lingering impact it has had on my reading and reviewing (a fact which may or may not see Lee change my review). Never before had I encountered a book that had so broken the rules, stepping outside the stereotypical and still entertaining with each page.
Unsurprisingly, then, I have been greatly anticipating the release of Ancillary Sword, and when it arrived on my doorstep the other week I dropped everything. In fact, the reading experience was such that I postponed finishing it simply to extend the joy of reading such a brilliant book.
Because, while Ancillary Sword may not be as ground-breaking as its predecessor, it manages nonetheless to be just as good – which, in my mind, is proof of just how impressive Ann Leckie is as a writer.
Ancillary Justice was not only a wonderfully written story, but it relied heavily on the new conceits of its ancillary-protagonist. A unique society, confusing gender descriptions, and the perspective of a many-but-one lead character helped make Ancillary Justice arguably one of the most critically acclaimed books of the last several decades.
While still maintaining all of those conceits alongside wonderful writing, Ancillary Sword proves that it was not simply the “new” conceits that sent Ann Leckie to the top of everyone’s “must-watch” list. These “new” conceits (as I’m describing them) are simply part of the everyday, and the characters take precedence. And while the world is as unique and extraordinary as it always has been, the author proves her chops by letting them simply be “the background” to a fascinating story of privilege, class, and the everlasting battle between the haves and the have-nots.
There are some heart-breaking scenes throughout this book, which go a long way to humanising a protagonist who had hitherto been somewhat aloof. Relationships shift, new characters take the stage, and the catastrophic focus of Ancillary Justice fades into the background, as a more immediate and personal issue comes to the fore.
Ancillary Sword does a brilliant job of continuing the story of Breq and the Radch, without relying on these existing storylines. The world is in a constant state of flux, now, and we as new visitors have not only to find our way forward, but must also look back as well in an effort to understand all that is going on. Ann Leckie isn’t lying down on the job, nor is she relying on past-work to simply propel her forward – a trait many new authors should learn from.
Ancillary Sword is quite easily the best book I’ve read so far this year, and unless I encounter a surprise-Terry Pratchett release, I do not imagine that changing by the time the year is done. Ann Leckie continues her meteoric rise to fame, thanks to a thrilling combination of imagination, storytelling prowess, and intelligence. If you haven’t yet, make sure you pick up both books in the series as soon as you can – wines may get better with age, but books deserve to be enjoyed now.
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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