Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie was a book I was intrigued to start as I had very mixed, somewhat of a negative reaction to Ancillary Justice. I am happy to say that Ancillary Sword is is a better book in almost every way than its predecessor but still maybe not my cup of tea.
Without spoiling Ancillary Justice, Ancillary Sword is a more contained story about Breq, visiting an old friend’s sister on Athoek Station, after just gotten command of a ship. Breq is now a fleet captain and is sent to Athoek station to see what is happening there. There are many social injustices happening at Athoek Station and the local planet that Breq decides to try to fix. She must navigate a highly intricate political situation that can become volatile at any minute. This is very much a space station strategem novel.
The first thing I notice about Ancillary Sword is the quality of writing is much better. Even though there are a plethora of short fragmented sentences at the beginning of this novel, it gets much better as the novel goes on. I was happy that once Leckie got Breq to Athoek Station that she abandoned the more sparse writing style. It still isn’t hugely descriptive at times but it is written much more clearly and concise than Ancillary Justice was.
The plot builds on the ideas and political theater that was established in Ancillary Justice. This is not a book that is highly exciting or has much action. This book is very subtle in approach, establish a presence on Athoek, meet the key players involved in the political atmosphere, and try to manipulate the situation to better establish your own desires in that part of space. A reviewer below mentioned that it was Downton Abbey in space and that is rather close.
What I enjoyed more about this book than Ancillary Justice is that I enjoyed Breq much more. This book made me a Breq fan because she is intelligent, kind, but also extremely unapologetic. She knows what she wants to do, what she believes is right, and she does that. You have to respect a character that has strong stances on political or social issues with no regard to her own ambitions.
Even though I really did enjoy this more than Ancillary Justice, it just isn’t really my type of book. I want more answers and more technical details about everything in this setting. I want the world building to be explained to the smallest detail and I want things to be much more complicated. The basic structure that Leckie built with this world building is good but it just seems partly done. As an epic fantasy reader, this type of science fiction can be frustrating for me at times. I want more context with everything, but Leckie allows the reader to fill those gaps in for themselves.
I had a tough time at the beginning of this novel in distinguishing between the various characters found on Athoek Station. I realized that I really associate identity and the ability to distinguish characters by gender. When everyone is referenced as a she or her, I do have a hard time distinguishing characters. That is more my shortcoming than anything but I also think that stronger introductory scenes for various characters would have helped.
I felt like this reminded me of an episode of Deep Space 9. It was very much about what people said and how they said it. Breq could see the tiniest change in facial ticks and read emotions surprisingly well. At times I felt like Leckie was over-reaching when Breq pin pointed the exact emotion the other character was feeling based off of the smallest gesture. This was just a small nuisance that didn’t ruin the book for me. This is a higher rated 3 than the low rated 3 I gave Ancillary Justice. I’m hoping that Ancillary Mercy will be the book that pushes my score to a 4 or higher. I think having more experience with this type of science fiction might be more beneficial to me, so that I can see the strengths that Ann Leckie brings to this series more clearly.
3/5 15/25 Possible Score
Plot – 3(Good)
Characters – 3(Good)
Setting/World Building – 3(Good)
Writing Style – 3(Good)
Heart & Mind Aspect – 3(Good)