Authors: Ann Leckie
Publication year: 2014
Series: Imperial Radch
My rating: 4 out of 5
Owner: Frome Library
Having failed to kill Anaander Mianaai, Breq instead accepts a commission as the captain of a ship from her, and goes to a nearby system, Athoek, to help stabilize it as a civil war in the Radch brews. In Athoek Breq discovers that in addition to perpetuating massive division between ‘civlized’ citizens and more recently ‘annexed’ (read: colonized and conquered) citizens, that the more war-like and xenophobic part of Anaander Mianaai may also have deeper, more dangerous, and far older secrets here. Also, Breq tries to help.
Compared to the first book, Ancillary Justice, this one feels a lot more classical space opera: our protagonist is now the captain of a warship, and we’re getting to meet more warships and space soldiers and seeing more space stations… you get where I’m headed with this.
We also get to finally meet the Presger, the big bad truly alien threat-ghost that’s been haunting the Radch through the last book… in the form of their delightfully strange ‘Translator’ Dlique.
Breq, despite being an admiral now and having a lot more power, spends most of her time going straight to the bottoms of social hierarchies and really trying to help. Which fucks off a lot of the people you’d expect–those who have been profiting from the inequities that get hidden behind the buzzwords of justice, propriety, and benefit that the citizens of the Radch swear by. They never want to lose their edge, or, Breq notes, bear the cost of admitting they have been wrong and unjust, improper, and benefiting at the expense of others.
Where Justice hints at the difficulty of decolonization, and how much of what is taken for granted by colonizers has to be sacrificed in the theater of her own body, Sword puts this right front and center with actual populations and cultures.
We meet a group of transportees (which is a pretty heckin’ loaded term1) who are routinely exploited, whose speech is ripped away from them by assumptions about their laziness and proclivities, and who, even when they speak eloquently, clearly, and forcefully about their situation cannot escape these assumptions. And we meet other ‘newer’ Radchaai citizens, though not as new as the transportees, who are maybe most vociferous in reinforcing these assumptions, and who fight dearly to maintain their identities in orientation to the transportees.
At no point does Leckie give us the idea that anyone but the Radch is ultimately responsible for any of this… but she is very good at showing how complicated it can be to meet everyone’s needs once you’ve fucked a situation up this badly.
More generally, I’m in love with these characters. Seivarden is still complicated and struggles, the new character Teisarwat is a new fave… and Breq is still one of my new heroes. She never shirks responsibility for the things she has done or been part of, even when she could very easily pin the blame for some of them on people who could literally make her do anything, when she’s talking to someone directly and massively affected by it. And she is always resolutely looking for ways to help those who have been most exploited, while never stepping out of the shadow of her own privileged (well… complicated privilege) heritage.
Basically, I want to be more like her–owning what I’ve gotten for free at the expense of others, and using it to help others on their own terms.