On a remote, icy planet, the soldier known as Breq is drawing closer to completing her quest. Breq is both more than she seems and less than she was. Years ago, she was the Justice of Toren - a colossal starship with an artificial intelligence linking thousands of corpse soldiers in the service of the Radch, the empire that conquered the galaxy. An act of treachery has ripped it all away, leaving her with only one fragile human body. And only one purpose - to revenge herself on Anaander Mianaai, many-bodied, near-immortal Lord of the Radch.
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I'd heard a lot about this book in the sci fi world and after hearing its premise--a woman out for revenge whose body used to be a corpse-solder inhabited by the AI of a sentient ship--I figured I could hardly go wrong. The results were not as riveting as I'd hoped.
First of all, if you're on the fence about this book, let me make one thing very clear: this is not a book for sci fi noobies or casual readers. If you're not an experienced hand at sci fi, I would not recommend this book. The author uses some very confusing (if interesting) concepts throughout the book, such as a language that does not differentiate between male and female. The narrator refers to everyone she meets as "she" regardless of their biological gender. It's interesting on the one hand, because it really shines a light on what a social construct gender is, but it's very disorienting at the same time, and there's no lead-up to it at all. It's ambiguous throughout the book if some characters are male or female...not that it matters, but it does help alienate you from the getgo.
Also, the book's other main weird gimmick is the use of what can only be described as "first person omniscient" perspective. I don't know if it's ever been done before, and it works fairly well here, but it can get rather confusing. The first half of the book is interwoven with a flashback, during which the protagonist was an AI distributed simultaneously among thousands of bodies. As such, she can see and hear multiple perspectives at once. It's an interesting concept and as I say, Leckie pulls it off as well as I imagine anyone possibly could. But it's another alienating hurdle to get over.
Those challenges to the reader would be fine, if they were the only barriers to enjoying this novel; sci fi is famous for challenging perspectives and ideas, and is one of the main reasons I read it. But this book has bigger problems. One of the criticisms sci fi often receives is that it sacrifices genuine characters for an agenda of ideas and concepts. I think this is a fair criticism in general, although there are numerous counterexamples. But with authors like Alastair Reynolds and Stephen Baxter, who write "hard" sci fi, based on actual science or at least theoretical science, what their stories lack in detailed characterization they make up for with a vast sense of wonder and awe. If you can't do wonder and awe, you'd probably better stick with characterization, then. Unfortunately, Leckie is adept at neither. The protagonist is, literally, a computer in a human's body. She doesn't feel, think, or act like most humans do, and yet little time is spent on just how she adapts to society around her. She is cold, hard to like, and inscrutable at times. The supporting characters are even worse. Lifeless, they speak in stilted dialogue that no living person would ever use. They're hard to tell apart, especially with the ambiguous gender issue.
Leckie also falls into the trap of doing more telling than showing. Many times Breq, the protagonist, simply KNOWS she knows things, without evidence. Leckie tells us such and such is so, and we're expected to take it as gospel. Characters don't show their emotions through their actions, but through adverbs. I felt throughout the book that the author knew what was going on with her convoluted, muddy plot, but didn't quite know how to explain it to anyone outside her own head, so she just had her characters explain it to themselves as best they could. It's not a good writing style; I felt like I was not a part of the reading experience. I had no characters I really cared about, nor any concepts that wowed me enough to draw me in; there WERE some interesting tidbits of the larger universe in Leckie's world, such as a group of posthumans living outside the xenophobic Radch empire, but we are only given fleeting glimpses of them. It seems like Leckie skipped the coolest parts of her world for the most confusing and uninteresting.
The first half of the book was a real slog. It picked up for me about halfway through. But the pacing is glacial. Entire chapters are devoted to single conversations between two characters, who argue philosophy and engage in more telling-not-showing. I found myself wishing in exasperation that the characters would just DO something already instead of thinking about it for hours and hours. The ending is...confusing to say the least, and sets up a sequel, so I expect this will be a series. If you're a sci fi buff, it might be worth your while just as an experiment, but I would hardly call it a book I enjoyed reading.
Now I must say something about the narration of this book. The narrator was absolutely god awful, quite literally the worst audiobook narrator I've ever heard. She has the oddest delivery of dialogue and speech rhythms. It feels like a recitation, not a narration. She tries to do male voices but ends up sounding like a cartoon character (see also her voices impersonating children). Is that what she thinks men sound like? Maybe I'm spoiled by the Steven Paceys and Frank Mullers of the world, but this lady stinks. I think her narration actually detracted from my ability to concentrate on the story and put yet another barrier between me and it, and there were plenty to deal with already. If I'd read this book on paper or kindle, I might have enjoyed it more. If you're still interested in reading it after all I've said here, I recommend avoiding the audio and reading it in your internal voice. And avoid anything this narrator does in the future, believe me.
- Greyflood "Thirty-something geek who loves sci fi and fantasy."
I can't get in to the story because of reader.
This book wasn’t for you, but who do you think might enjoy it more?
Buy the ebook, the voice actor is unbearable.
Would you ever listen to anything by Ann Leckie again?
I couldn't get in to the story because of the horrible voice acting. I gave up after about 3 hours.
What didn’t you like about Celeste Ciulla’s performance?
I've listened to hundreds of audiobooks over the years and this is by far the worst performance I've heard. The inflection is all wrong, pauses when there shouldn't be, you name it. I gave up a few hours in because I couldn't immerse myself in the story. Every other line the voice actor would screw up and that took me out of the story. I will never listen to Celeste Ciulla again, and I'm pissed off at her for ruining a Hugo Award Winning book. I actually feel bad for the author because her story was ruined by this woman.
What character would you cut from Ancillary Justice?
I listened to 3 hours of the book while driving today but I can't remember a single character name. The horrible voice acting was too distracting.
Any additional comments?
I actually yelled a couple curse words while damning the voice actor while driving. I think the people around me thought I was having road rage.