Finally I got my hands on the third and final installment in the Imperial Radch trilogy by Ann Leckie. I wrote about the first two novels here, today I’ll delve deeper into the grand finale. Although “grand” might not be the most appropriate word…
The first book, Ancillary Justice, was great. Intriguing, mysterious, deeply engaging. A tragedy hidden beneath the flurry of clandestine activities of Breq – a mysterious, powerful stranger living in a world like no other, filled with intelligent AIs, memories of terrible genocides, slavery, sentient alien races and a multi-person evil emperor. Sounds cool or what?
The second part, Ancillary Sword, was not so good, but still decent enough to give me hopes for the third installment. Since it was supposed to be a trilogy, and no change of plans had been announced, I waited to see the grand resolution of the multiple story arcs, all converging in the overarching conflict between Breq and Anaander Mianaai. Unfortunately, I waited in vain.
Ancillary Mercy doesn’t offer any permanent resolution to the main conflict, doesn’t give any satisfactory conclusion to Breq ‘s story. It seems like the author’s focus moved somehow from the big space-opera type of military conflict to small, personal matters. In my opinion, the book seriously suffers from it. The enticing, immensely broad vision of the first installment is irrevocably lost. The clear lines drawn by Ancillary Justice are muddled, mired in hundreds of petty squabbles or depictions of various AIs mouthing off to each other. Even Anaander Mianaai loses character and becomes a small tyrant without vision, without goal, without resources. The war spanning the whole galactic empire becomes limited to one small fairly insignificant planet and one orbiting station. The class struggle on the planet and on the station is pushed to the fore and encrusted with heavy-handed morality. The questions of identity, belonging, emotions, of what does being AI really mean are still there, but not so prominent, and the answers are less than satisfactory, only skimming the surface and coming up with a bunch of politically correct stereotypes. In one word: BORING. To make it two, I’d add: UNORIGNAL.
The book’s only saving grace is the Presger Translator. Dlique was killed, her/his place is taken by another, called Zeiat. S/he might use a different name, but her/his capability of not understanding humans is very similar to Dlique’s. Her/his presence offers a very much needed distance to the events of Ancillary Mercy, a bit of comic relief in the ensuing, rather stilted drama, and gives more insight into the Presger logic and their vision of the world. I enjoyed those scenes and the crumbs of information I could get from them. I very much appreciated the idea of an alien race treating humans just the way Earth humans treat Earth animals, especially animals such as insects, which have no chance (at least in the nearest future) to be deemed sentient, conscious beings let alone eligible for the protection of human rights. Humans in Leckie’s world have acquired the status of Significant beings, along with a few other alien races, but some among Presger still doubt whether this decision was justifiable and proper. Their doubts seem well-founded as humans themselves do much to disprove the wild assumption that they are in fact Significant – as evidenced by Anaander Mianaai.
Don’t get me wrong, the book’s still quite engaging. There are some moments of action, a few hard choices to be made, a twist or turn here and there. Breq is likeable as always, even is suddenly and inexplicably more human and less three-dimensional than before, but at least Seivarden and Tisarwat are appropriately complicated, even if suddenly prone to melodrama ;).
It’s well written, goes smoothly along its prearranged tracks, and the ending, even if definitely underwhelming, didn’t feel entirely like something patched up in a desperate hurry. Well. It did seem rushed, it certainly was unconvincing, but it didn’t appear from nowhere. Leckie has been angling toward it for some time, and the trajectory of the story arc was self-evident, at least in the second part of the book. My problem with it is different – I expected this particular resolution to be one of the minor ones, not the major, all-encompassing ending. I think that’s the main reason for my feeling of being cheated somehow ;). I expected a resolution to a conflict that defined the first book and was still markedly present in the second book. Here, it just disappeared. Dissolved in the sea of small, day-to-day squabbles and political games that were… did I already use the word “boring?” Yeah, I did. Well, then. Uninteresting, insipid, and tedious. Some of it stemmed directly from the events in the second installment, some of it – from the change of focus I wrote about earlier. I acutely missed the beautiful big picture painted in part one.
That said, I’d gladly visit Radch Empire again. It’s a great place, full of undiscovered wonders and untold stories. Let’s hope Leckie comes back to it with style which marked Ancillary Justice.
P.S. I’ve found one “him” in the book! 😉