‘Ancillary Justice’ by Ann Leckie

*There may be spoilers ahead, read at your own risk*

I bought this book for a birthday either earlier this year or last year (I think it was last year). Long enough after it came out to have heard the buzz, but before it had really started winning awards. I started to read it immediately, but wasn’t in the right headspace so put it down again (a frustratingly frequent phenomenon for me these days). I finally picked it back up again last week, and just finished it today.

I’m frustrated that it took me so long to get back around to it, but at least I don’t have to wait for the next two to come out now, I can just borrow them from the library and continue with Justice of Toren One Esk’s story. Because the Justice of Toren and One Esk character(s) are so fascinating to me both as a reader and a writer. The story didn’t suck me in so deep I couldn’t admire the technical aspects of the prose, but the narrator-character kept me coming back day after day. I like her (it? them?) and her story is unpredictable and unusual enough to leave me guessing.

One of the most fascinating, delightful, and slightly odd things about the book was the language. The Radch eschew gender entirely in their language, but rather than contort English to try to display this, Leckie signals this in other ways. One way is the constant default of every character’s gender to a single gender, regardless of their true gender, with the narrator having to correct herself on occasion as she interacts with differently gendered people. So far, not exactly unheard of, if not usual in SF/F. The twist is, the default gender is “she”. Not “he”, not “they”, not even “it”. She, if you please, and everyone including several characters clarified as male are referred to by the narrator exclusively by the female pronoun. It’s both beautiful and disorienting, and infuriating that it should be so disorienting. After all, he has been a default pronoun for centuries. Why can’t we have a default she now and again?

In any case, it’s a highly enjoyable bit of space opera, with some jagged edges and dealing with dark topics, but not so filled with despair that I have difficulty reading it. I definitely understand why it’s won so many awards, and wholeheartedly approve.

I’m ready to locate a copy of Ancillary Sword now!

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