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on 23 June 2017
Always difficult to get into new authors style. Not finished it yet but am getting the hang of her ideas.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 2 January 2014
Breq is unique but she wasn't always. Once Breq was a spaceship, Justice of Toren, comprising thousands of corpse soldiers, each with a shared identity, one of many such vessels spreading the influence of the Imperial Radch around the Galaxy. Breq is now alone, her vessel destroyed, and she has only one goal - to take vengeance on Anaander Mianaai, the lord of the Radch, who exists in an almost infinite number of forms. Breq is also our narrator and it is through these strange eyes, this unusual perspective, that we witness the events that brought Breq to her single-minded purpose.

Ancillary Justice is an unusual novel, reflecting the nature of its narrator. Breq has lived in one form or another for thousands of years but in many ways she is socially naive. This expresses itself in her language. She can communicate with most races but not necessarily correctly. She doesn't readily know gender pronouns; everyone is `she' unless Breq is corrected. This has the rather peculiar result that we are not sure whether we are being introduced to men or women and, as we work this out, there are surprises. However, for me, this reinforced how little gender can matter when a story's narrator has far more basic identity problems to solve. While this use of the `she' pronoun has been an issue for some readers, it mattered little to me and I enjoyed the rare excuses for humour that it provided to the novel.

The novel opens on an icy planet with a moment of inexplicable mercy by Breq. She finds Seivarden lying in the snow, close to death. Seivarden had once been one of Breq's human crew members, many hundreds of years before, and there is no reason for her to be there, let alone still alive. Despite having no feelings of warmth for Seivarden, Breq picks her up and together they continue Breq's hunt for vengeance. The story then moves back and forth over a 19-year period, the years that saw Justice of Toren destroyed and the Radch divided.

Above all else, Ancillary Justice is a novel about identity and justice, set against the background of the Radch which conquers worlds by `annexation', a sanitised word for an inhuman process that leaves most people dead or emptied of life, becoming these corpse soldiers who police the empire. We witness the process of annexation on one planet through Breq's prejudiced understanding - there are acts of terror - but Breq is in the process of becoming one and with that comes other emotions, including loyalty, affection, heroism, selflessness. Not that Breq would necessarily recognise these qualities in herself. But it isn't just Breq who changes - Seivarden, too, alters over the novel and her journey is, for me, the most memorable and warming aspect of the novel. There are also events that strike out of the blue, shocking the reader as well as Breq.

There has been a lot of excitement about Ancillary Justice and so I was very keen to read it. It is undoubtedly an ambitious and original debut SF novel by Anne Leckie. It is also, I believe, the start of a new Imperial Radch series, although it stands alone very well. I liked the characters a great deal, I felt for them in this cruel world they had become part of and I was very intrigued by Anaander Mianaai - a split personality taken to extremes. However, the pace and story left me disengaged. Its sudden movements backwards and forwards disconnected me from events and at times I found it hard going. I was glad I persevered as I enjoyed the second half much more than the first but the style is not one to suit every reader, including this one.
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on 2 January 2016
It was ok
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on 3 April 2017
Very creative and entairtening. Maybe too complex at times
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on 17 June 2014
A fabulous world and culture has been brought it life. I don't think you will ever have come across a culture that the raaadch . Read this book!
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on 24 October 2013
Began this with the usual reservations about a a new author and found myself gripped by the story and the character from the first chapter. The use of the feminine pronoun for all characters is a bit unexpected - and makes one question one's own attitudes and preconceptions as the story develops but its never offensive or strident. The plot is well crafted and the alternation between the current and past stories is very well handled, giving great depth and a very real sense of anticipation and suspense to the story. Anne is obviously an author to look out for in the future and I will be very keen to see what she publishes next.I'd certainly buy it. I heartily recomend this book to anyone who wants something a bit different from the staple fare on offer.
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on 9 March 2017
Late to the party, like the cop in Die Hard, but here are my thoughts.

I don't really understand the fuss, and I'm glad I bought this second-hand. This is not great SF. In fact, it's arguable that it is SF. The background could just as easily have been a Fantasy setting (perhaps even historical if you do away with the multiple bodies thing... which, again, really doesn't seem that relevant to what goes on in the foreground) - in fact, I'll go as far to say that it would suit some sort of Fantasy realm better.

When I started this I had high hopes, going off all the five star ratings and exclamation marks, and also the fact that Leckie writes a lot like C J Cherryh. However, with Cherryh, her strong characters are part of her SF background, her stories and character interactions centred around SF concepts (when she wasn't writing out-and-out Fantasy, of course). With Justice characters are everything, and the concepts and action secondary to the point of almost not existing. Don't get me wrong, character-driven fiction can be very powerful, but here there's very little involvement or sense of what might be at stake in the interactions, just lots of tea and social/class manners intricacy... which, considering nothing else is focused on anywhere near as much, only makes for a just about readable novel (sad, too, as the multiple bodies idea deserves more exploration and extrapolation, and the background universe looks interesting). The gender-confusion comes over as more gimicky than anything else, and the plotting often verges upon the unlikely.

From what I've read of the reviews for the two sequels, nothing much changes, so I doubt I'll be reading them. Cherryh retains her crown.
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on 27 April 2014
Sometimes slow. Often confusing. Carefully written dialogue and less bothered about action sequences than other SF writers. And plenty of wider ideas to think about as the plot develops. It made me think hard about what is alien culture and what is mine. And about how someone understands alien ness when it can only be described in their own terms. As is the case for everyone. And I think Ann Leckie meant me to think some of that. It reminds me of the first time I read Iain Banks in its freshness though it is much more reminiscent of the last time I read him in its calmness, depth and quality.
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Ancilliary Justice starts with its central character, who goes by the alias of Breq, on a wintery planet in search of a weapon with which she hopes to revenge events from 20 years previously. The story of those events is told in alternate chapters where we learn about a universe which is home to the imperial Radch, whose artificially intelligent starships control networks of telepathic soldiers, created from the bodies of those unfortunate enough to have been conquered and killed by these interstellar Romans.

Breq, it turns out, is one such avatar, One Esk Nineteen, last survivor of the troop carrier Justice of Toren. That sentence is indicative of two of the key features of author Ann Leckie's book. Firstly, that the ships control multiple avatars, all of whom are aware of what each other is/are thinking and seeing. Leckie handles the description of multiple viewpoints and rapidly changing perspective really skilfully. Secondly, this is very much a story of confused identity, as One Esk struggles to understand who and what she is. Crucially for the plot she and her like are not the only multiple entities in the book...... While the confusion created is intentional, it does occasionally step a little too far as, early on, Leckie rapidly introduces races, nations, factions characters, and interchangeable avatars at a pace which left this reader at least, somewhat disorientated.

As well as effectively describing the experiences of the multiple entities, Leckie gives the isolated One Esk a convincing, dispassionate voice, viewing the worlds around her in an unemotional, detached manner. While reading the book, one term which didn't enter my head was 'zombie', but in retrospect, that would be one way of looking at it. If all zombie stories are really about something else, Ancilliary Justice is a zombie story about identity and about what it really means to be human. Here it is One Esk, who, despite her origins, turns out to be the most human character.

In using SF to consider issues of humanity, Leckie joins a long tradition in which, of course, Philip K Dick is the dominant figure. He is not her only speculative literary antecedent. Early on, with its dominant society and intelligent spaceships, it felt a bit like reading about the Culture's dark, imperialist cousin, but by the end, with a seemingly impregnable empire, weakened by internal corruption, and faced with mysterious and faintly sinister aliens, it is closer to Stephen Donaldson's Gap series.

One interesting feature, which echoes both Iain M Banks and Ursula K Le Guin, is the ambiguous and shifting sexuality of the characters. This is society where language is subtly nuanced to express gender but where actual sexual identity seems difficult to determine. The default pronoun is female, but individuals are referred to as both him and her depending on circumstances. This usage gives the impression of a universe dominated by women, which asks questions of the extent to which language echoes, and/or reinforces the balance of power in society. If Leckie is saying anything about the effect of the dominant gender on society, it seems to be that it is of little impact. This is a society every bit as violent and competitive as a male-dominated one.

Finally, I loved the end. I didn't enter into this book in the knowledge that it is intended to be the first in a series, but it is, and that results in a culmination which is like a door being slammed in one's face, and a feeling of "Wow, what next".

In terms of sub genre this is closest to military SF, but it is definitely towards the intelligent end of the spectrum, a long way from ultra-violent, video game inspired, shoot-em-ups, and run of the mill Napoleonic-navy-in-space stories which seem to predominate these days.

This is not a piece of planet-shatteringly original writing, its influences are too obvious for that, but it is a step above the average, and as such, well worth reading.
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on 2 October 2016
I am a voracious SF reader, but compared to Iain M Banks, Alastair Reynolds, Scalzi, Arthur C Clarke, Hamilton etc. this is just dull. Seriously I have read 100s, and bought it because of the numerous awards it won. Don't get it. Sorry.
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