Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie is one of the most loved science fiction books in the recent years and won every award possible in 2014. Approaching a book like this is always difficult for me because I don’t want all the noise in the background to color my impression of the novel. I don’t want to take a firmer, more critical stance on it just because it is loved by many, but at the same time I don’t want to heap undeserved praise onto something I might not have enjoyed much. In the end I found it to be a passing science fiction book that I just kind of liked.
Ancillary Justice is a story of revenge from the viewpoint of Breq, a non-human A.I., with sentience. Breq used to be a part of an ancillary, an A.I. with many bodies, that controlled a large ship called a Justice. Bad things happen and Breq becomes the only survivor of the Justice she was a part of and moves towards attempting to get revenge on the person responsible. This is a split narrative of the past, right before Breq’s Justice ship was destroyed, and the events that led to that destruction, and also the present where Breq is attempting to exact her revenge.
Ancillary Justice is a science fiction story that is told in the first person but because the narrative in the past has Breq as a multitude of shared artificial intelligences that are connected, we get multiple point of views, at the same time, but from the same person. I found this omnipresent first person story style to be amazing and easily my favorite part of the entire novel. Through the use of this narrative style we got the large picture of events surrounding everyone involved in this part of the story. Omniscient third person is very much out of style in SFF but this omnipresent first person story style is a great way to limit the scope of knowledge without limiting the canvas. I did find that Leckie’s short sentence structure to be very choppy to read at times.
The main issue I had with Ancillary Justice is when it came to the present storyline, it seemed all so constructed. Breq makes decisions that really makes no sense, as an A.I., at the very beginning of the story, that the entire plot is based upon. A lot of this can be described as Breq having an emotional reaction that isn’t quite rational but I feel that Leckie did not focus enough on Breq’s struggle between being an A.I. and experiencing human emotions enough to justify the irrational decisions. The focus on the gun that Breq has to get, when rationally to get that gun makes no sense, is something I wish was not involved in the story. Also, not until the very end of the book was there a little blurb about how Breq has all the money that she has. Her vast wealth is the main way she accomplished her goals in Ancillary Justice and it was only vaguely alluded to how she got that wealth. This annoyed me greatly.
I found that I liked only one character in the entire story, and that was Lieutenant Awn. Breq had too many inconsistencies for me to appreciate her as a character. I’m hoping for some serious character growth from her in the next two books. Seivarden was a prop used by Breq and not really even a character.
The world-building was something I enjoyed. I really enjoyed the idea of ancillaries and shared A.I. and what that means for individuality within that ancillary grouping. The Radch culture was interesting and I liked how there wasn’t gender in the culture but it was very underutilized. I must say that the gender/pronoun thing was more gimmicky for me than anything. It reminds me when directors make a movie that is obvious Oscar bait, and so I found the pronoun thing to be obvious Hugo bait. It was more of an afterthought for me while reading and added absolutely nothing to the story. I just accepted it right away, imagined almost everyone as a female, and was fine with that.
I liked Ancillary Justice and I’ll be continuing on with the series because I think my main issues might be resolved as we get deeper into Breq’s human vs A.I. struggles. I think the story would have worked a lot better as a more infiltration, work from within type story instead of a, get a magic gun and get lucky, type of story, but it was still a decent read. I’m hoping to enjoy books 2 and 3 much more.
3/5 12/25 Possible Score
Plot – 2(O.K.)
Characters – 2(O.K.)
Setting/World Building – 3(Good)
Writing Style – 3(Good)
Heart & Mind Aspect – 2(O.K.)