Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie

Orbit, 2015, 340 p. Borrowed from a threatened library.

 Ancillary Mercy cover

Fleet Captain Breq Mianaai, once an ancillary of the AI spaceship Justice of Torren, the only surviving fragment thereof, starts this third in Leckie’s Imperial Radch sequence effectively in charge of Athoek Station, trying to do the opposite of what her enemy, Anaander Mianaai, Lord of the Radch, would in similar circumstances. Things are complicated here by the arrival of Translator Zeiat from the alien Presger, whose incomprehensions and misunderstandings of human customs provide moments of humour – as does the ancillary Sphene, a remnant of a ship survived from a long ago war with the Radch. What in Ancillary Sword had seemed the apparent sideshow of Athoek Station becomes here the setting for the unfolding of Breq’s wishes as ships under the command of that half of the Lord of the Radch which hates Breq come through the gate from an adjacent system.

As in the previous two Radch books the narrative viewpoint is firmly fixed with Breq. This makes the transition to (recorded) viewpoints of Lieutenants Seivarden and Tisarwat when Breq is injured and cannot go on the final mission herself a piece of authorial legerdemain that seems a little clumsy: but it also highlights how much Leckie’s mode of story-telling, taking in the experiences of all those connected to ship as seen by Breq, had been assimilated (easily) by the reader.

This gives Leckie the opportunity to examine what effects such dissemination of consciousness might have on those who experience it and on what it means to be human, or, indeed, a Significant Being, more generally. Within the book Leckie also addresses the impossibility of endings. Whether this presages further Radch instalments, only time will tell. Breq doubtless has her ardent admirers who would be delighted with more of this universe. The wider conflict to which Breq’s story is a minor component remains unresolved at the end; yet her (its?) actions have the potential to change relations with the Presger.

I must say the emphasis on tea-drinking gets stranger and stranger the more these books progress. Were it not for this (or perhaps because of it? – within the book it is an Imperial/Radch custom – ) I might have idly wondered whether the trilogy may have been a thinly disguised rewriting of the American War of Independence – though the word Radch may hint at a different historical inspiration.

No matter. Leckie can write, has psychological insights and focuses more on personal relations and feelings than the average Space Opera author. It will be interesting to see what she does next.

Pedant’s corner:- As in Ancillary Justice and Ancillary Sword, Leckie uses the feminine form of personal pronoun throughout but the utility of this choice seems to be undermined by the one instance where she employs “him”. Like with the two previous books, appended at the rear are 25 pages from a novel by another author entirely.
At the beginning of Ancillary Mercy – no doubt for the benefit of those who haven’t read Justice and Sword – several things were mentioned twice – I submit unnecessarily.
Then we had “Translator Zeiat scoffed ‘She would,’” (it doesn’t seem like a scoff to me,) off of (USian but still awful,) complacence (complacency.)

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