Reviewed by Galen Strickland
This is the second book in a trilogy, which Leckie and her publishers are calling the Imperial Radch series. The first book, Ancillary Justice, won the Hugo and Nebula last year, as well as BSFA, Arthur C. Clarke and Locus awards, the latter for Best First Novel. This one has already won this year's BSFA, and been nominated for a Hugo, Nebula and Locus, and I'll update this page if it wins one or more of those. I'll try to keep from reiterating too much from the previous book, so if you haven't read either, it might be best to refer back to the earlier review if anything here is confusing.
There were elements of Sword just as interesting and well-written as anything in Justice, yet it doesn't have the same emotional impact. The novelty of the gender neutral narrative is past, although it is still intriguing. Think of this as similar to the second movie in a franchise, one in which you are already familiar with the characters and situations, and what you hope for is deeper exploration of character and more plot revelations. Breq is the only character we learn much more about, but I still can't tell you if she's male or female. Another hold-over from the first book is Seivarden Vendaai, now serving under Breq in her new assignment as captain of Mercy of Kalr. There is a brief appearance by Anaander Mianaai in the opening pages, and even though this embodiment of her consciousness is supposedly on the "right" side of the political divide, it is clear that Breq can't help being suspicious of her motives. A new character on the ship is Lieutenant Tisarwat, a seventeen-year-old raw recruit, into whom Mianaai has implanted tech to make her just one more extension of her consciousness, but Breq has surmised this and has those implants removed. Tisarwat still retains memories of being controlled by Mianaai, and thus suffers from guilt and remorse. One thing I wasn't clear about is whether the Mianaai that manipulated Tisarwat is the same one Breq conversed with in the beginning, or if it was one of her rivals that survived the battle on Omaugh Station at the end of the first book. If one of the "good" Mianaais, why was it necessary to hijack Tisarwat for surveillance when she could get the same information from Mercy of Kalr's A.I.?
The main conflict between the various factions of Mianaai's consciousness is whether or not to further expand the Radch Empire. The technology to create ancillary soldiers is what drove the expansion, since those soldiers were derived from conquered peoples on annexed planets. It had been decreed that ancillaries would no longer be used, instead all ships would be manned by Radchaai humans. Breq, in addition to being captain of a Mercy, is also named Fleet Captain and sent to the Athoek system, although Mianaai gives her no details as to her mission. That is something Breq and her crew will have to figure out on their own. In the midst of correcting mismanagement of the space station orbiting the planet, as well as inequities in the treatment of indigenous peoples on Athoek, Breq stumbles across a conspiracy of ancillary body smuggling.
This is a relatively short book, which only teases the overall story arc. We learn a lot about Breq, her sense of justice and compassion, plus a lot about the corruption of the current system. What we don't get is any resolution, which will have to wait for the third book due out later this year. I understand why the first book had "justice" in the title, both because it involved the ship Justice of Toren as well as Breq seeking justice for the death of Lieutenant Awn. The third book will be Ancillary Mercy, which seems to me a better title for the second. First, Breq is in command of a Mercy ship, plus she exhibits merciful compassion to many she encounters. Yes, she does also come into command of Sword of Atagaris, but that is not until the final pages. Just a guess of what will happen in the next book leads me to believe the Sword is going to fall on the guilty parties when all is said and done. We'll have to wait and see if Leckie chose the titles in the correct order. A good book, although not as compelling as the first, and I hope the conclusion to the story is worth the wait.
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