Review: Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

Summary

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.

Review

The plot of Ancillary Justice feels like a fairly standard space opera. It was enjoyable and entertaining, but it isn't what made me love the book. The thing that made me love it--the thing that is really extraordinary--is the point of view.

It's told from the perspective of an artificial intelligence. That, in itself, is a pretty original way to tell a story. But what's more innovative is the fact that the AI has "ancillaries", or autonomous segments, embedded in human bodies. They are connected, but independent, so that it can be in many places at the same time. The result is a first person narrative from several perspectives at once. Here's an example, where the narrator is both inside, talking to Lieutenant Awn, and outside, watching someone approach the house:

"Jen Shinnan invites you to supper this evening," I told her, that next morning. I also ate breakfast, cleaned weapons, walked the streets, and greeted those who spoke to me.

[...]

"I suppose I don’t have a good excuse to refuse."

"Not that I can see," I said. I also stood at the perimeter of the house, nearly on the street, and watched. An Orsian approached, saw me, slowed. Stopped about eight meters away, pretending to look above me, at something else.

"Anything else?" asked Lieutenant Awn.

"The district magistrate reiterates the official policy regarding fishing reserves in the Ors Marshes..."

Lieutenant Awn sighed. "Yes, of course she does."

"Can I help you, citizen?" I asked the person still hesitating in the street.

I think in almost anyone else's hands, this multiple first person style would have been confusing, and hard to follow, but is handled so well that it was always clear, always interesting, and quickly became my favorite part of the book.

The story is fun, and the plot actually hinges on the idea of this dispersed but singular intelligence, so it isn't just a gimmick, but the main reason to read Ancillary Justice is to see how well Leckie pulls off this totally original narrative voice.