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on 4 April 2016
Interesting concepts, and fairly original premise, if quite difficult to read and very slow to get off the ground. The use of 'she' pronoun for everyone, even though explained early on, is unhelpful in aiding the reader picture scenes and characters, and takes a lot of getting used to. Substantial focus on tea drinking and religious ceremony / ornamentation, especially early on, will bore certain readers, especially when combined with the writer's (bad) habit of trying to be clever by explaining concepts after (sometimes long after) inferring knowledge of those concepts in speech and internal thought processes - leaves one constantly jumping back and forth in the book.
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on 7 December 2015
Breq Ghaiad has a secret. She used to be part of a bigger entity, a ship (the space kind), called Justice of Toren. It gets more mind-boggling - she used to also be part of a hive mind AI that controlled the "corpse soldiers" on the ship, so-called because they were reanimated from the dead bodies of soldiers that the Radch empire (a dictatorial and all-powerful government on a mission to subjugate all surrounding planets) conquered or "annexed". As a battle starship, it means she is able to be anywhere and everywhere that each of her fellow ancillaries are. That gives her a certain omniscience in any action (at least when she recounts past events when she was still whole), that is really quite spectacular, and described in several instances and in colourful detail in the book.

Now she is just a remnant of the ship, and the lone soldier from the whole troop called One Esk. Out of that contingent, she was One Esk Nineteen, to be exact. Once the reader gets used to the mental gymnastics need to grasp the main character, the rest of the action flows quite smoothly and reels you in quite effortlessly. How she became just one remnant is something that unfolds, even as she encounters someone familiar, naked and face down in the snow, on an isolated planet far from the reaches of the Radchaai empire, and therefore considered uncivilised. That someone turns out to be Seivarden Vendaai, a lieutenant of the Justice (Breq the ship) a thousand years ago. In an unlikely partnership, the two embark on Breq's quest to confront the person who was responsible for her current state, and to resolve an action she had to carry out against her will twenty years ago.

Ann Leckie creates a complex world that bears just enough references to familiar structures like power and religion to make it all work, and the reader gets the sense that he is just getting a slice of a really big cake in this first of a promising trilogy. The 'genderless' universe (nonetheless by default female in terms of pronouns used) takes some getting used to, and potentially invites feminist readings. Questions about identity, selfhood and human nature, free will and mortality, are all problematised in this intelligent yet entertaining space opera.
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on 29 July 2017
This book was a little further into the realms of hard sci-fi than I generally tend to go, but the concept intrigued me - a warship's AI trapped in a human body and seeking revenge on the evil empire it once worked for.

On the whole, the book lived up to the premise. The main character stuck a nice balance between strange and relateable, sympathetic and ruthless. The ruling empire was painted in interesting shades of grey - bringing harmony and civilization to the planets it colonises while doing terrible things in the process.

There were two particularly interesting ideas. The first was the concept of ancilliaries. In short, the empire turns captured soldiers into willing collaborators by somehow possessing them with the minds of AIs. This was equal parts chilling and fascinating, though at times, I thought it could have been played with even more. The main character firmly identifies as Justice of Toren, the name of the spaceship it was the AI on. In flashbacks, it is shown to simultaneously being conscious of controlling the ship and in being in the bodies of all its hundreds of ancilliaries. And in the present, it definitely considers itself to be Justice of Toren, with no consideration given to whoever the body it is in originally was. While this is intriguing, I sometimes felt it could have been taken further. I never quite got a real sense of how the AIs sense of self functioned in the days when it was still spread across lots of people.

The second interesting idea was around gender and pronouns. The Radh (the colonists who created the main character) have no sense of gender and use one generic pronoun, which is translated as "she". It was unclear whether they are biologically unisex or have just abandoned all cultural constructs around gender. But the way the narrator referred to everyone (including those outside of the Radh, who had standard conceptions of gender) as "she" (despite the fact many of them turned out to be biologically male and identify that way) created a weird disconnect.

The plot and characters were less engaging than the world building and ideas, but still perfectly fine to keep you reading..

Overall, I found this a different and enjoyable read. I will probably read the sequel at some point, but don't feel in any rush to pick it up.
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on 21 April 2017
The good - the use of the female pronoun for practically everyone was interesting, the hive mind and last one left from the hive was great. The author enjoys politics and double dealing - quite complex and not easy to follow but I wrote some of it out and I think it's logical.
The bad - all the coincidences - arrives in the capital planet and bumps into people she knows all over the place, runs away to escape and bumps into ... The editing is iffy too (the "palace proper" turns up half a dozen times in only a few pages). I won't bother with the others, but if you're serious about SF you should read this
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 12 March 2018
I stumbled on this book from a forum where several people recommended it and decided to give it a try. The premise is fascinating, following a character once part of a hive mind AI that controlled a giant troop carrier spaceship called The Justice of Toren. These ships controlled many ancillarys, humans full of implants the AI controls. One Esk was an Ancillary, but is no longer part of that network and is in fact the last surviving remnant of the ship and it's AI and is no longer following orders. Still the same, yet not what she was, once linked to hundreds of eyes, ears and sensors and now trapped in one body she is now on a quest of revenge for those that destroyed her.

The first 20% of the book, I wasn't quite sure about, I almost gave up on it much to my shame. The build up is a little slow but more than worth it setting the scene for the universe Ancillary Justice is set, explaining how One Esk got to where she was in various flashbacks. Once it hits its stride however I couldn't put it down and I urge people to keep going with it. The universe Ann Leckie has created is absorbing and One Esk though at first I was indifferent to, slowly became fascinating to me not just because of her circumstances, her plans but little things like her inability to understand a characters gender made reading things from her point of view pretty different (though at times makes trying to picture characters in your minds eye quite difficult.) It feels just like the start of more interesting things to come.

It's a clever book with a well written cast and universe, it's not perfect and is an especially slow burn at first but I found it incredibly difficult to put down the more of it I read and have immediately purchased the next book in the series. One of the more interesting science fiction books I have read in recent years.

Recommended.

+ Well written.
+ Interesting characters and universe.
+ Clever premise.

- Little slow at first though compelling reading once it gets going.
- The pronoun usage of she for everyone makes setting scenes in my head a little difficult at times though its an interesting idea, just makes for awkward reading at times.
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on 4 June 2017
Considering how many good reviews this book as had. I was really looking forward to reading it.
I did enjoy it but found it struggle to understand it early on. And even a struggle to finish it. Which is a shame really.

So that may just be me hence a reasonable score for a reasonable story.
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Sci-fi has long been dominated by male writers and, a little tired of incredibly attractive up-for-it females populating the fiction, I was hopeful when I read the reviews for Ancillary Justice. The premise, off-shoot machine intelligence becomes more human, was an interesting concept and the idea of sentient ships tapped into the void left by Banks.

As it was to be a Christmas read (therefore uninterrupted by thoughts of work), I really looked forward to it but found it a struggle from the beginning. At first, I put it down to reading on a kindle, but reluctantly accepted that it was just the book.
Good bits: The gender confusion was interesting and gave me a bit of a shock when I realised just how often I assume major players in books (sci-fi books?) are male. I would have liked to have seen this played with more though. Liked the depict ions of places and the kind of dark side of the Culture I suppose; not a benevolently expanding organism, but something more menacing.

Bad bits: It was just so dull. I kept waiting for something to happen, but there was just page of discussion. No humour, no real character development. Not even any real action is surely a pre-requisite of any book set in space. I get that the protagonist was meant to be machine-veering-toward-human, but I was just left cold. The whole book had a greyness about it that I had to slog my way through.

I’m tempted by the sequels, just to see if they get any better, but I’m not sure I can.
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on 5 May 2016
I came across this book a few times on my search for new sci-fi, but I avoided it because I thought it looked like one of those pseudo military macho type books.

Anyway I eventually got around to reading it and was very pleasantly surprised, it is quite different to what I was expecting, indeed just different.

I did find some of it difficult to follow at the beginning, and the writing style and formal dialogue is quite unusual.

I’ll not go into the plot other than to say I enjoyed it along with the characters.

Definitely worth a read if you’re bored with the usual faire of shoot-em-up sci-fi.
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on 1 February 2015
Some Spoilers, so please be aware.

Perhaps this will disappoint, but Ancillary Justice frustrated me. It’s a very, very good book, and definitely one of the best science-fiction books of 2014. No question of that – I very much enjoyed it. The themes which run though it are starkly human – vengeance, love, redemption, recovery – drive many great books. The concepts which underpin the setting are fresh, imaginative, clever and richly themed. The setting itself, intricate and powerful, hints at huge scope and an operatic scale for the stories to be told within, and at times the level of detail is enthralling (most often in the context of the military’s structure). The lead character, Breq (or Justice of Toren One Esk 19 as she is much later on), is an ancillary which, in itself, is an intriguing take on POV (although not necessarily completely original). Ancillaries themselves are a stark, ingenious way to characterise the Radch, and to underpin the way in which the story develops. The attempt at a single gender pronoun, at least in part to add colour to the way in which the Radch culture differs so much from our own, was both brave and clever. Reports suggest Leckie refused to change that when asked.

Yet, to me, Ancillary Justice fails to deliver on the promise of a truly great novel. The setting, which that detail hints at, is never fully rendered. There are times when I found it difficult to visualise the places her story unfolded in – they were so often sketched, skirted over, rather than colourfully painted (perhaps Breq for obvious reasons just doesn’t appreciate the details). The story seemed to take a seat behind Leckie’s literary style, and sometimes the pace flagged, especially in the early stages.

Breq as a lead character was always going to be tricky and I was never convinced by the reasons for her driving desire to take on the Lord of the Radch. Moving from her POV as Justice of Toren, and then as the various ancillaries which are commanded by Justice of Toren, is actually seamless. I never experienced a difficulty in picking that up and the concept is something special. Yet, from a pure ‘character/desire’ perspective, I found her relationship with the character who is the catalyst for the driving force of the story itself not deep enough to spark that desire. We know only that the character concerned was one of her ‘favourites’. That character herself, the reason Breq takes on the mission she does, does not exhibit the sort of emotional attachment to the place she is stationed that we would expect, given how events unfold later (and the way the Radchaai are as a society). The way Breq sees it, tapped into the emotions of that character as she is, the character is almost detached and apathetic towards the whole place.

The gender pronoun issue, trumpeted as one of the really insightful aspects of the novel, with comparisons made to Ursula Le Guin, frequently had the effect of dropping me out of the story. Some characters are clearly male, some clearly female, but we are not told about all of them. Why are we told about any of them? If gender is removed as a focal point for characterisation, thus collapsing our assumptions and giving us a clean slate for desires and driving forces, why tell us about any at all? It leaves us wanting to search out the prose to see if we’ve missing key point based on gender. If one character has a physical relationship with another, fine. We still don’t need to know gender.

Story, yes, the most important part – this is the first book in a trilogy, so the story is set to unfold, but it the fulcrum of Breq’s self-imposed mission feels like it is missing so much. There’s a twenty-year gap between the events on Ors and the events which take place with Seivarden. We have the vaguest hints at what Breq does in those years, but not enough to justify her drive over that time and set it out. Also, I found it hard to identify with Breq – although she displays very human desires (perhaps her old self re-asserting itself in her subconscious), her internalised thoughts are often quite bland – I found myself fighting to root for her. I don’t agree with some reviews suggestive of deus ex machina, but I do feel a mite confused by Seivarden – that his (yes, it’s a he) place in the book seems a little convenient. In some ways, it’s a classic B-story which arcs around behind the A-story and intersects at the critical moment, but Seivarden has so little to do that it doesn’t even really fulfil the category of B-story. It’s almost as if he was there to (a) explain the gender pronoun thing a little better, and (b) for Breq to “save the cat” and give us something to root for. Seivarden seems too ambiguous and empty a character to justify Breq’s actions later on.

Pace is slow the begin with – far too slow and there is too much insightful dialogue in relation to the action which actually moves the plot forward. This is what I mean by Leckie’s literary style. There were palpable lapses in tension in the early stages of the book, although plenty of what could be said to be, still underplayed, conflict (between Awn and the various factions on Ors, as well as between the factions themselves).

All this said, Ancillary Justice demonstrates an author who is likely to write something truly great, with a prodigious imagination, and is well-worth reading – there are certainly few books released in 2014 which stand up to the scope, imagination and operatic scale of Ancillary Justice.
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on 5 February 2016
This took far more effort than a book should to finish and enjoy, but I got to the end of it and realised that I did actually really like it.

Initially the story is difficult to get into as viewpoints shift and the names of characters are tongue twisters in their own right! Not a lot happens early on as the characters slowly work themselves into good health (not really a spoiler) and dip in and out of backstory scenes. All of this time spent building up though does eventually pay off as you piece together the depth of events and the world these characters inhabit.

There are scenes and ideas in this story that will make your head ache as you try to wrap it all up, but it does work! Once this book clicks with you (it took me a good 40% or more) it will sink its hooks in and drag you along on a great ride.

Be brave and persistent!
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