Breq was a space ship, the Justice of Toren, equipped with enough power to destroy planets and enough ancillaries to invade and conquer ‘uncivilised’ worlds in Radch ‘annexations’, however now she’s just Breq, human (more or less) and alone despite her memories. She’s the last surviving ancillary (corpse soldier) of the One Esk division, of Justice of Toren, and she has a self-imposed mission.
There are two stories here, the one happening in the now, and the backstory that led up to it. In one Breq is alone, in the other, she’s an omnicient AI running a ship full of ancillaries and human officers.
The action opens on an icy planet when Breq, in pursuit of an artefact she needs to complete her mission, comes across Seivarden, once a lieutenant on Justice of Toren a thousand years before. Old habits die hard and without really justifying it as an act of kindness Breq rescues Seivarden and ends up acting as a nursemaid. Seivarden is a recovering junkie, driven to dark places after jumping the intervening millennium in cryo-stasis and waking up in a universe that seems to make no sense.
Breq and Seivarden hardly seem to like each other, but their paths intertwine, at first almost accidentally and then with growing reliance.
To be honest the beginning seemed a bit slow because there are so many ideas in here and the set up requires an understanding of the way all Justice of Toren’s ancillaries are a part of the central ship’s intelligence, each one fully aware of the whole. But once I got over the initial strangeness I found that Leckie does a marvellous job of writing this without making it too confusing for the reader. One Esk comprises twenty linked individuals and each one is referred to as I, but it works.
Pronouns are confusing too, at first. Everyone is referred to as she, whether they have a curvy or straight physique, and you get very few clues as to what gender individuals are, which actually works well in this context. Breq has problems with pronouns in the non-Radch worlds because she can’t get the hang of gendered pronouns and sometimes makes the wrong call.
As an adjunct of an AI you’d expect Breq to have no emotions, and, indeed, she can and does carry out instructions from her superior officers even if that means going against her personal feelings. It’s one of these actions that she’s forced to carry out that drives the plot and we do discover that Breq has feelings, she just doesn’t express them in quite the same way as we might expect.
This is a book with big ideas, that doesn’t sacrifice characterisation for ideas and though Breq’s future seems inevitable, we find that there are choices which depend on personalities as well as logic.
Intelligent, thoughtful, complex and engaging, this is one of those books that you end up thinking about long after you’ve read the last page and closed the volume. It deserves all the awards it’s up for.