4 / 5 Stars – I loved the main character and the world building Radch culture, and the treatment of AI as more than cold logic. The story line got muddled at a few places throughout the series and the main story arch ended abruptly enough I had literary whiplash. Overall, the few faults of this series don’t make it less of a great read.
I’m a sucker for complex representations of created beings and space operas–Ann Leckie’s Imperial Radch trilogy scratched both those itches. Throughout the series I found Leckie’s attention to seemingly random details made the world feel more vibrant and real to me. The first one of these little details is that the main character Breq struggles with identifying the correct gender to the people she meets. This is a trait that’s shared with all AIs.
More impactful however is that instead of following the standard convention of referring to the unknown parties with masculine pronouns–he, him, son–the main character refers to everyone in her consciousness as female — she, her, daughter.
You should read the Imperial Radch series, if for no other reason than this (and there’s a lot of other reasons to read these books).
It’s jarring at first, but that simple consistent change in pronouns had a profound impact on how I read the story, decoded character interactions, and tried to suss out relationship dynamics. What’s amazing to me is that I know I ‘read’ the entire series differently because of this, but I couldn’t point you to explicit places where the pronoun ‘her’ made me feel different than ‘him’ would have.
The story follows the semi-rogue AI named Breq, trapped in a single ancillary body. An ancillary is a human who’s had their identity wiped away to allow an AI to take over. While this could be an interesting exploration, the Leckie just lightly touches on the moral ambiguity of ancillaries. Honestly, that is fine — she tackles a lot in these books culturally and while I wanted to explore the moral implications more, Leckie glossing over them didn’t hurt the story at all.
Much of the story follows a few key players that Breq the surrounds herself with, and always from Breq’s point of view. I don’t want to give too much away of the story, but suffice to say that the cast is pretty limited in scope, which is good considering how in-depth and detailed she gets with each of these characters.
If you want to find it, there’s a nuanced, deep and critical social commentary wrapped amongst the story. But the story stands on its own virtues. It’s engaging, made me laugh out loud several times, and had good pacing … for the most part. It’s Leckie’s attention to little details (who knew tea sets were so important?!) that made this such a delight to read.
It has one major fault — events build to a culmination in the last few pages of the book without any real closure. Ultimately, that was my problem with the end of the series; it just….ended. I described it as literary whiplash because I was devouring the book, loved where everything was going and then it just stopped with no real warning or wrap up.
It bears mentioning, but at times the story seemed to lose focus and a little cohesion. There are times when Breq gets lost in her own head and it’s challenging to follow. These times are minimal and pass quickly, but stuck out enough in my mind for me to call them out.
But ultimately, it’s a good fault to have. I wanted more–I wanted to read more, understand more and delve deeper into this smartly detailed world. I just wish Leckie could have given me a bit of a smoother transition from super engaging story to end of the book.