Ancillary Justice – Ann Leckie (2014)

[I’m catching up with SF classics I have missed.]

I suspect there is little I can say about this. Ann Leckie’s debut won just about every award going in 2014, and I felt like I was the only person who hadn’t yet read it.

Sometimes, when you come to a book that has been so highly praised, it can be off-putting. There’s a little internal voice that says, ‘go on then, impress me.’ And if you aren’t immediately grabbed, you might turn against it.

I had no such problems here – this was fantastic. I’m sure everyone’s familiar with the set-up. The protagonist, Breq, is the sole remaining part of what was once a group of ‘corpse soldiers’, part of a hive-mind military unit controlled by the AI that runs a troop spaceship on behalf of an expanding galactic empire. The book tells the story of her seeking revenge against the person who betrayed her, and also in parallel the story of that treachery.

I was utterly gripped from page one. The storytelling was engaging and compelling. I was so impressed with the way Leckie made the reader care deeply about the characters, even while playing all sorts of tricks with gender, point of view, individual consciousness. I especially liked the way the main character referred to everyone as female, even when noting that some people appeared to be male! (This appears to have annoyed some readers, but I thought it was funny.)

The far-future society was suitably strange, and sketched convincingly by the author, without going overboard on exposition – the focus remained strongly on the characters and their struggles. Breq, as the remnant of an artificial intelligence controlling a cadre of zombie soldiers, ought to be thoroughly inhuman. But Leckie gives her warmth and character, and a humanity that outshines that of some of the more ‘normal’ characters.  The occasional line such as, ‘I’m not human, but my body is’, made me laugh out loud.

A definite 9 out of 10, and I expect I will read the two further books in the trilogy.