Lis Carey Review: Ancillary Justice

Breq is, when we meet her, the sole surviving segment of the the Radch troop ship Justice of Toren. What it takes a while for us to find out is that she’s the AI formerly in control of all the automated systems and the ancillaries on Justice of Toren. Her ship has been destroyed, and she’s on a very personal mission of revenge, for her ship and for her favorite officer, Lt. Awn. And in her current form, she’s not even supposed to exist.

Ancillary Justice (Imperial Radch #1), by Ann Leckie (author), Celeste Ciulla (narrator)
Recorded Books, November 2013 (original publication January 2013)

Review by Lis Carey: Ancillary Justice was the 2014 Best Novel Hugo winner, and it’s exactly the kind of story, the Sad Puppies say they wanted that year. Action, adventure, space ships, strong characters, and fun to read.

Breq is, when we meet her, the sole surviving segment of the Radch troop carrier Justice of Toren. We don’t realize at first that she used to be the AI operating the entire ship and all its ancillaries. She’s on a very personal mission. In alternating sections we follow her current quest, and the events nineteen years ago that sent her on it.

Breq, formerly troop carrier Justice of Toren, seeks revenge for the destruction of the main part of herself, and the murder of a favorite lieutenant, Lieutenant Awn, whose failing was not to be inefficient, unreliable, or disloyal, but to be very capable and completely loyal, in the midst of a hidden power struggle within the ruler she was loyal to.

Radch culture is fascinating, complex, and has both delightful and horrifying features. They do not consider gender significant at all; their pronouns do not distinguish gender. Breq has problems in other cultures, needing to use correct, gendered pronouns, and being confused and frustrated by the way gender signals vary so much from place to place. In the absence of a need to conform to the customs of foreigners, the default pronouns Breq uses are the feminine ones.

On the other hand, we have the ancillaries. As the Radch Empire has expanded through human space, large numbers of captured prisoners have gone into suspension tanks, to be taken out as needed to become ancillaries: bodies whose own identities have been suppressed or destroyed, and who become pieces of ship or station AI. As long as the Radch Empire is expanding, ancillaries are cheap, efficient, and utterly disposable. And most of the Radch can’t begin to see the screaming horror of it.

This is a great story, with Breq in pursuit of justice, along with wonderful world-building, and real character development–not limited to Breq, but in her case starting from a state of being intelligent software in multiple constructed and human bodies. It’s fun, it’s exciting, and it thoroughly deserved its Hugo win.

Highly recommended.

I bought this audiobook.

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10 thoughts on “Lis Carey Review: Ancillary Justice

  1. the first of a linked “Ancillary” series, but Ann Leckie has also written Provenance, in the same universe, but from a different perspective. A lighter tone, which I thought might turn out to be a heist story. Not exactly.

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  3. Ancillary Justice is structurally interesting because it is packed with massive amounts of backstory and infodumps. It is very highly compressed, and the pace is extremely fast. It works brilliantly and kudos to Leckie for a first novel masterpiece. But it is a challenging read.

    Ancillary Sword and Ancillary Mercy are told in the present and not compressed. Things are still happening as fast as they ever were, but now the story can spend more time with the characters in the moment. We get to have tea.

  4. Ann Leckie’s Translation State, will be published in 2 days, is also an Imperial Radch novel. Already pre-ordered.

  5. I still want to see those rainbow glass bridges…before they got broken.

  6. The ancillaries seem horrific – but it’s pretty common for empires to conscript conquered people into their armies where they are expected to just follow orders without doing any thinking of their own. And this is generally accepted as normal.
    It’s part of what makes this series so fascinating, it doesn’t shy away from the things that often get ignored.

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