This is a clever book, with a few great, thrilling moments. What I like best of it is the cold, harsh nature of some parts of Radch society. The AI/ship part of the story is also well done, but it reminds me a bit of Banks’ ship minds and other AIs elsewhere to be called truly original. It’s distinct enough though, so no sweat there. Near its end, the book also features some good phrases on the (non-existing) freedom of the will: (the illusion of) choice is it’s most important theme. Leckie at first makes you think there are choices, but ultimately, not so. Cunningly done.
On the other hand, it’s not as epic as I thought it would be: it’s actually a pretty small story, without a lot of characters, exotic worlds, interesting technology, or notable aliens. Aside from one (crucial) part, the story of this book could have just easily been a political intrigue set in ancient Rome. It’s not really high concept space opera on a grand scale.
Much has been said about the book’s gender issue, but that isn’t crucial to the story at all. It’s fresh to have mostly “she”s instead of “he”s, and it works pretty well, but it’s not an important aspect that truly advances the story. (But: it’s not believable at all that a highly advanced AI cannot distinguish between biological gender, so Leckie should have edited out the parts where that happens, it could have been easily done without hurting the story or the rest of the gender stuff.)
Ancillary Justice is recommended, and I will eagerly read the sequel, but for now Leckie is not a space opera writer of the same caliber as Banks, as some reviews tend to suggest. She might become one, and although her writing is a bit wooden at times, this debut definitely proves she has great potential.
originally written on the 1st of February, 2015