After the rightfully celebrated Ancillary Justice, I was both thrilled and cautious to see what else the trilogy had to offer; the first book had left a lot of threads hanging, a lot of topics still worth exploring – but could its sequel live up to its quality? Well, I read the second book and I was not disappointed; Ancillary Sword is surely different in scope, mood, impact, but equally interesting and an absolutely noteworthy development.
Title: Ancillary Sword
Author: Ann Leckie
Publisher: Orbit Books
Publication Date: 7 October 2014
Genre: Science Fiction Novel
Standalone or Series: Second book of the Imperial Radch trilogy
Synopsis: After the events described in Ancillary Justice, Breq is now (begrudgingly) working
Analysis: Not unlike Ancillary Justice, Ancillary Sword is told in first person by Breq, thus adopting her own voice and mannerism – the most famous one being her habit of calling eveveryone “she”. The style may not come across as innovative and surprising as it did in the first novel, where its cultural significance was explicitely discussed and played a key role in fleshing out both the setting and Breq as a character; however it is still very effective in conveying the worldview of an individual much different from us, struggling to translate the concepts of her own culture in multiple other languages.
The wordlbuilding heavily relies on what we already know. Where the first book uncerimoniously shoved the reader in the midst of a very complex and unfamiliar reality – a feat that was both majestic and potentially quite confusing – here the general map of the universe is already established; which allows the author to explore its details and otherwise neglected corners, digging deeper in the implications of a society previously portrayed in broader strokes.
Despite its belligerent title, Ancillary Sword isn’t especially action-packed. The story is focused on Breq’s investigation on some local accident – which may or may not hint to a larger plot, and is surely tied to the injusticed and contradictions of Radchaai society. Where Ancillary Justice described the Empire as a macrocosmos, with a perspective that was comprehensive at the price of feeling at times detached, here its policies are seen through the point of view of a microcosmos, thus highlighting the oppression as experienced by real people. This goes hand in hand with the development of Breq’s own critical thinking: once thoroughly indoctrinated by the Radchaai ideology, is now questioning those assumptions more and more, acknowledging the exploitative practices and the deep injustices barely disguised under the thin excuse of civilization.
And of course, Breq’s mission is also perpetually intertwined with her complex feelings, both towards the local residents and her peculiar situation as a former Ancillary. Where in Ancillary Justice her main drive was a revenge, here instead she’s seeking atonement – more honestly facing her guilt, rather than hiding it under a bombastic cover of righteous violence.
Conclusions & Recommendations: If you have enjoyed Ancillary Justice, there is no doubt you should read this second book as well. Strictly in terms of plot, it doesn’t do much to solve the issue the first volume had left hanging. Instead, by shifting to a smaller and more personal scale, it provides a refreshing new approach to familiar themes, as well as focusing on the protagonist’s personal growth and establishing a thoroughly developed base for its subsequent conclusion.
Content Warning: Slavery – Xenophobia – Death – Violence – Suicidal thoughts – Rape.