Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

“Unity, I thought, implies the possibility of disunity. Beginnings imply and require endings.”

Very rarely does a book strike such a differing chord with me. No, I’m not waffling on about the New Weird genre; I’m saying that, honestly, I’m divided on this book.

It’s going to take a lot of explanation. Bear with me.

The story opens easily enough. Breq, our narrator, is on a frozen piece of hell, finds a thousand year old soldier in the snow, and decides to venture out into the tundra in search of a gun that can take down shields. Sounds straight-forward. Don’t you agree?

“Without feelings insignificant decisions become excruciating attempts to compare endless arrays of inconsequential things It’s just easier to handle those with emotions.”

Well, throw in a brisk writing style that reads like a robot, peppered with gender-blindness, and you have an inkling as to how the story unravels.

But the plot’s not where it’s at, even if it chooses to be complex at times, even too complex. The thing’s a slow burner. A real slow burner. Molasses slow.  Nothing wrong with a character-oriented book, though, if the characters actually gained something of a trait early on. Yes, we have the very alien Breq (which I can’t note enough. The rift between our cultures (in a 1st person narrative no less!) is amazing. But I digress…) and the grumpy Seiverdan. Other than that, the flashbacks offer a few other block characters who receive nothing to latch onto. This alien-ness, as said, works to a degree, but not enough that I enjoyed it. Characters can’t only be “interesting,” especially with a cast this small.

And if you don’t have a strong plot to make up for this unsympathetic mesh of people, then there’s a problem.

Sure, Leckie manages to capture a strong atmosphere, especially in the first few chapters, both on the frozen planet and the flashback one full of revolting tension and marsh stink. But all focus on the playing field, even if a beauty to watch, isn’t an excuse for rushed endings or turgid pacing.

Yes, all the time jumps and waiting at the end then explosion afterward creates uneven pacing. Doesn’t do to slam your hand down on a quiet bingo game and say it’s okay. If there was more subtlety, more build-up, these brilliant flashes of plotting and confusion would’ve been marvelous. Just not here.

And I believe for all its faults that I’ve laid out, you have to understand this is a thinking novel.

Leckie does a fabulous job of throwing together thoughts on gender blindness, privacy, religion and philosophy, colonialism, and linguistics. I think all of this could be filed under culture clashes. The empire she has formed, the Radch, strikes me as a mesh between the Mongols and the Romans, in the religious tolerant and close matriarchal Mongols mixed in with the imperialistic and “civilized” Romans. Doubt it was intentional, but a fun thought nonetheless.

And I believe that’s my biggest complaint, besides Breq jumping off a bridge to save some prick she was going to leave anyway. (Stupidity and plot progression disguised as character development at its best.)

“If you’re going to do something that crazy, save it for when it’ll make a difference. But absent near-omniscience there’s no way to know when that is. You can only make your best approximate calculation. You can only make your throw and try to puzzle out the results afterward.”

Leckie has some great ideas, but she doesn’t explore them enough. And if she does, she doesn’t integrate them wholly in the plot. (Besides the focus on gender blindness.) We get either an inner monologue or an existential dirge between characters. There is no easy middle ground, and I think, sadly, there can’t be. I won’t give Leckie any room for this, though, because nearly every review I’ve seen by experienced bloggers says she’s going to be the big debut of 2013.

Saddens me that we’re going after diversity over execution.

But then, I digress…

It reminds me a lot of The Quantum Thief, but without the lazy flashback structure that falls into nowhere when used up, or the lack of intrigue and sheer fun. Also reminds me of why I don’t like Bladerunner: The uninteresting plot-line and heavy ideas that don’t make a story. Ancillary Justice doesn’t have a strong central plot, and hinges too much on coincidence without telling us how we reached this point, where the thoughts came from. I’ve seen this “unreliable narrator” handled to a better extent by John Grisham, and if that’s any cause for concern, then duly note it.

If the infodumps during the flashbacks don’t put you off, or the befuddling usage of multiple POVs between paragraphs (in a 1st person novel) don’t grind your gears, I doubt the remainder of the book will. It throws around a lot of interesting pieces to mull upon, both as an avid reader and writer. But just because the prose is smooth and economical doesn’t mean I can’t fault her excessive usage of “indignant” and “abortive.”

“Thoughts that lead to action can be dangerous. Thoughts that do not, mean less than nothing.”

*I was given this ARC for my honest review.*

Rating: 7/10

Amazon US: Ancillary Justice (Imperial Radch)

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