Saturday 16 August 2014

Ancillary Justice review

Ancillary Justice (Imperial Radch #1)
Ann Leckie
October 1st 2013

Winner of the Nebula, British Science Fiction, Locus and Arthur C. Clarke Awards, nominated for the Hugo and Philip K. Dick Awards. 

On a remote, icy planet, the soldier known as Breq is drawing closer to completing her quest.
Once, she was the Justice of Toren - a colossal starship with an artificial intelligence linking thousands of soldiers in the service of the Radch, the empire that conquered the galaxy. 
Now, an act of treachery has ripped it all away, leaving her with one fragile human body, unanswered questions, and a burning desire for vengeance. 

Ancillary Justice was kind of an odd choice for me, because I don't read a lot of adult fiction and I don't read a lot of science fiction (most of my experience with sci-fi books are dystopia which I'm not really that keen on. I'm more of a fantasy person, really). But I do try to be a fairly open minded reader and I'm always looking to read outside of my comfort zone, and I'd heard a lot of really great things about this book so I thought I may as well give it a go! And I actually enjoyed it a lot.

I will admit that it took me a while to get into, as it is quite confusing. Most of the book is told in alternating chapters between the present and past events which lead to Breq's present situation back when she was the Justice of Toren. I generally find books told like that take me a bit longer to get into just because there's really two storylines to adjust rather than just the one, and it's getting into both of them that takes a while. As well as that, the actually concepts are pretty hard to get your head around straight off the bat. Breq is an artificial intelligence who was a spaceship named the Justice of Toren, but also had these ancillaries, which are human bodies that she would use, and it is one segment of these ancillaries named One Esk that is the viewpoint character for the past timeline. Kind of. Because even though most of the events are told from One Esk's perspective, it's still the Justice of Toren, so it's constructed in such a way that there are parts where one event is seen through the eyes of all the parts of Breq. Which I think is the best way I can explain it. So, yeah. It's pretty confusing, but once you kind of get your head around it it makes some sense and is actually really well done. The other confusing thing is that in Breq's language (it's told in first person), they don't really differentiate between gender so everyone is referred to as 'she'. However, even though this was a bit confusing, it was actually one of my favourite parts of the book and, in my opinion, one of the most interesting. It really made me think about how important I consider knowing the gender of a character in a story, which is apparently more important than I'd thought as I kept trying to figure out the gender of every new character. I still don't know the gender of a lot of the characters in the book, but I'm okay with that now. I think.

I did find the plot itself a bit confusing too, but I think I get it now after having more time to think about it. I do think that I would really benefit from rereading it maybe before the second book comes out? And now that I do sort of get it, I think that it's actually a really clever book that isn't clever in that kind of full of itself, better than you kind of way (Inception, anyone? That film was so up its own ass I'm surprised it even managed to make it out). I liked how the two timelines came together and I'm really looking forward to seeing where Breq's story goes next. Despite the confusion, though, it's actually an enjoyable book. I didn't think it was too dry or boring and I had fun while reading it because it's just such a cool concept and it's executed so well. It's not actively funny or anything, but it is still fun.

Another one of my favourite parts of the book was Breq herself. Which kind of surprised me considering that she's an AI and I guess I didn't really expect her to have much a personality. But that's actually a large part of the book, and Breq really does stand out as an interesting and complex person. Plus she was a SPACESHIP. So there's that. She's one of those people who acts like they're all stoic and like they don't care about anyone when they really do which is one of my favourite types of characters. I also liked her relationship with Seivarden (which is NOT romantic I would just like to point out) and the way it developed over the course of the novel. I just think that they have a great dynamic. For some reason I think that in sci-fi character will be sacrificed for the sake of a cool concept, or at least come second to it when really (in my opinion) I think that cool concepts really need to be grounded by interesting, well developed characters. Though this might just be because I LOVE CHARACTERS SO MUCH GIVE ME ALL THE GOOD CHARACTERS PLEASE. Any way, I think that that is something that Ancillary Justice does well.

I don't know if I loved Ancillary Justice, but I did like it a lot. So many aspects of the book were just carried out so well and it was so well constructed that I think it's difficult to at the very least accept that it's a pretty good book whether you liked/enjoyed it or not. I will definitely read the second book even if I'm still not a massive fan of sci-fi. I do like it a bit more now, though.

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