A book picked up purely on the hype, I would have skipped it otherwise. The cover blurb sounds ridiculous, the main character used to be a ship? What could that even mean? But in came the early reviews. They talked about many different things but seemed pretty unanimous in one aspect; the book was praised everywhere I looked.
But hype is a funny thing, and while it has often been enough to get me interested it just as often disappoints. Was this going to be one of those books in which everyone fell in love with the uniqueness and ignored obvious flaws? Perhaps some fell in love with the gender bending society and overlooked a lack of plot? In short, is the book going to be more idea than execution? Let me put minds to rest, oh hell no.
Excuse the language here, but “Ancillary Justice” is one glorious mind fuck. Every preconceived notion a reader has going in has to be reset. Get used to she as the default pronoun, understand how little it matters in Radch space. Then try to refigure it all out when in a society that does; suddenly the right gender pronoun matters to avoid insults and we have no more knowledge on how to recognize the clues than Breq.
“The impending arrival of her first grandchild hadn’t yet been announced to the neighbors, so I pretended I didn’t know either, and used only the simple respectful address toward a male person.”
Turn your brain in knots as One Esk describes everything going on around the Justice of Toren; through a dozen sets of eyes, all in a different place. No convenient setting changes to help us along here (meanwhile, back on bridge B is not the kind of thing you will find here), it is all one mind and one stream of thought.
“Actually I was doing the guarding, seven of me ranged along the corridor”
The early portions of the book may move slow and seem to have a lack of focus but it is a slow burn to a great payoff. The story follows Breq, or One Esk; one single Ancillary from The Justice of Toren. She is also The Justice of Toren, or what’s left of its mind after a betrayal left her the only surviving appendage. An Ancillary is basically a drone, but made from a living human. Breq wants revenge for her betrayal and wants to kill the immortal Lord of Radch. Who is not really immortal, but rather is living in many different bodies. She doesn’t even travel with body guards; the loss of a single body means nothing. How would one kill her then? Ha, if only it was that easy.
One glorious mindfuck. Especially as everything I just said is simplified well beyond what is really going on. I mean, what if someone with many bodies has multiple minds? What does a culture based on expansion and domination do when there is no more expansion? What if all these things take thousands of years to develop?
I hate to be that person. I don’t want to feed the hype machine, jump on the bandwagon, raise expectations so others can’t help but feel let down when they come later to the party. But just read the book. Tell me I am wrong. All the space adventure goodness a person can ask for; incomprehendible aliens, action, technology that is completely out of the world. All that, wrapped in amazing writing, amazing ideas, and a certain uniqueness that is rare.
5 Stars. One. Glorious. Mindfuck.