When the first novel of a trilogy wins the Hugo and Nebula awards, one tends to expect big things in the follow up. It was with this assumption that I made my way to Ancillary Sword, the second of the Imperial Radch Trilogy from Ann Leckie. The first of the books, Ancillary Justice was a space opera that I found exciting, with the story unfolding from the point of view of an AI on a craft getting input from reanimated bodies, called Ancilliaries. It ended with a high point that promised so much more.
The version of Ancillary Sword that I “read” was actually the audio version, read by Adjoa Andoh. The presentation was capable enough without being obtrusive, but with enough emotion to be Breq, the main character in the novel. Breq is all that remains of the ship from the first novel, and the AI now has to find its way through the universe without all the accoutrements that a ship size AI can expect.
Knowing that a civil war will soon be occurring, Breq does not do what you would expect. Instead there is moral umbrage on local issues and side tracking from the major concerns of the trilogy.
Leckie has continued with the AI’s misunderstanding of gender, a device that is both enduring and a little limiting. With everyone a she, it can make it difficult to really get a handle on what is going on. Breq still maintains her ship ability to evesdrop on Ancilliaries, which allows for the single person narative to switch to scenes where the charater is not actually present. In the audio version this requires particularly close listening, as it is easy to forget where you are. My biggest problem is that I found it distracting, in that we would go from a single person’s experience of a scene, to a scene where our main character was not even available. It made me wonder why not being a ship was a tragedy when you still possess all the abilities you had before the ship was destroyed.
The action in this novel is a little slower, but this is not an action space opera. It is a ‘clean up the local issues, play local politics, throw military muscle around’ space opera, so don’t expect something that moves at a fast pace. When it does move, Leckie is able to move it along with a touch of the old Deus Ex Machina.
Overall Ancillary Sword isn’t a complete waste of reading time. The original premise of the first book is carried through, although the revelations at the end of the first are quickly ignored. Outside of those who have read the first in the series, I would recommend this to those who are looking for a new voice in science fiction. In this sophomore effort, Anne Leckie shows us that although she still has some things to learn, she will be an imagination to keep an eye out in the future.