This isn’t and has never been a book review blog but I have to put this down somewhere and why not here. (Also why shouldn’t it be a book blog? I’ve started reading again, maybe it could be.)
The recommendation ticked most of my boxes for “This Is A Book You Should Read Because
of Reasons You Will Love It”. It had science fiction, world building, tea, (supposedly) female heroes etc. And oh how right it was! I immediately bought Ancillary Justice off Amazon for my Kindle and got a great deal for the audio book version as well. I don’t normally do audio books – I can’t stay focused and keep losing my concentration and suddenly three pages have gone by and I have no idea what is happening.
This time I decided to listen as I read and it worked out well (although it’s slower than ordinary reading). The world of the Radch has names that feel unusual and foreign and having them pronounced by the narrator helped. It didn’t hurt that the narrator was the excellent (voice) actor Adjoa Andoh (Martha Jones’s mother in Doctor Who – which I only found out when I googled it after I had finished the first book). She has made some amazing choices for the character voices.
The world Radch that Leckie has created doesn’t use gendered pronouns and it was challenging and rewarding to read a book where every parent was Mother, every sibling was Sister and everyone (unless the protagonist was in a place and spoke a language other than Radch) was referred to as She or Her. As the story develops you find out the gender of some of the characters but it is only because of our culture’s obsession with gender that it matters. (As an aside – it’s interesting that they use Sir and Lord as a title though rather than Ma’am and Lady – but I’m sure Leckie has a reason for this.) This is where Ms Andoh’s narration choices were so excellent – her voices were pretty much gender neutral and didn’t tip you in any direction – again because Western culture is so fixated on gender that I keep trying to “figure it out” only to find out that it doesn’t matter.
The book is about a traveler who calls herself Breq. She used to be a 2000 year old space ship, Justice of Toren, but has been destroyed and all that is left of her is one ancillary body with a fierce determination to avenge her destruction by the Radch Lord Anaander Mianaai. Anaander has ruled the Radch for three thousand years and is made up of hundreds or thousands of bodies with a connected consciousness. But are all Anaanders still the same person?
We first see Breq as she is closing in on finding the weapon she has been searching for since her destruction. The only gun that can damage and possibly kill the Lord Anaander. Just before the last leg of her journey she stumbles over someone she used to know when she was still a ship. Seivarden Vendaai used to be a Lieutenant (not one she particularly liked) aboard Breq when Breq was Justice of Toren, over a thousand years ago. How is she here? And was she sent to help or stop Breq, or is it just coincidence?
It’s easy to get lost and caught up in the Radchaai world Leckie builds. Small details that set the mood and convey character and social status, like the inhabitants obsession with fine porcelain to drink their ever present tea from. The way they dress, always gloved as bare hands signal an intimacy reserved for lovers and family. Their system of patronage and clientage to promote their family houses and further their climb in society.
Since I just finished the series I know I am still in a sort of honeymoon stage but right now I feel that if I was allowed only one book series to read for the rest of my life, I would pick this one. There are contenders (and the one I am reading now most certainly fights for a top spot – more on it later) certainly but right now I would love to live in the Radchaai universe.
Find me on Goodreads.