Archive for the ‘Fiction Review’ Category

Review of Den of Wolves, by Juliet Marillier

Thursday, January 5th, 2017

Den of Wolves

A Blackthorn & Grim Novel

by Juliet Marillier

ROC (Penguin Random House), 2016. 433 pages.
Starred Review
2016 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #1 Fiction

I was saving this book up to read after I finished judging books for the Cybils Award, and was happy about having a sick day this week — because I got to spend the day reading it. So my memory of the day is lovely.

This is the third book in Juliet Marillier’s series about Blackthorn, a wise woman and healer, and Grim, her giant-sized companion. Though you wouldn’t feel lost if you started with this book, to really enjoy the nuances and character growth in these books, you should start at the beginning with Dreamer’s Pool.

At the beginning of the series, Blackthorn and Grim were locked up in a nightmarish prison. Here she’s reflecting on how they escaped.

Ah, Conmael; my mentor, who was one of the fey. A mysterious stranger, or so I’d thought at the time, who had saved me from execution and released me and Grim from vile imprisonment, but only after I’d promised to adhere to his rules for seven years, gods help me. Those rules were three: I must live here in Dalriada and not go south to seek vengeance against my enemy, Mathuin of Laios; I must say yes to every request for help; and I must use my abilities only for good. To someone who did not know the angry, bitter creature I had become, that might not have sounded so hard. But it was hard. Making Mathuin pay for his crimes, not only against me but against a whole host of wronged innocents, had become the only thing that mattered to me; even more so after a year’s incarceration in his cesspit of a lockup. I had struggled to keep my promise. Twice, I had come within a hairsbreadth of breaking it, even in the knowledge of the punishment Conmael had threatened. As for saying yes when folk asked me for help, that was not always as simple as it sounded.

In each book, Blackthorn and Grim have a large case to solve for someone else, involving something uncanny. But at the same time, in each book, things come up regarding Mathuin. By now, he’s found out where Blackthorn lives and wants to eliminate her.

It turns out that this third book brings the larger story to a satisfying conclusion, but I hope this won’t be the last we see of Blackthorn and Grim. After all, Juliet Marillier continued the Sevenwaters series after the first trilogy.

But the more immediate issue in this book involves a wild man who returns to Wolf Glen after being in the Otherworld for 15 years. The landlord at Wolf Glen wants Bardan, the wild man, to finish the heartwood house that he began 15 years ago. He hires Grim to help build it, but sends his daughter away to Winterfalls. At Winterfalls, she comes under Blackthorn’s wing. Between the two of them, Blackthorn and Grim realize something is not as it seems at Wolf Glen.

I think what I love most about this series is the gradual growth and healing we get to watch happen in Blackthorn. Yes, they were both traumatized, and both still have nightmares and flashbacks. (I like that the author doesn’t pretend that just goes away.) But as Blackthorn helps people, we watch her innate kindness shine. And slowly, slowly, she learns to trust. Slowly, slowly, her heart opens again.

Grim, for his part, also shines as someone who’s kind and will give himself to help others, but especially Blackthorn. His growth is mainly in learning to value himself, and offer his common sense and great strength.

The resulting romance is exquisite.

julietmarillier.com
penguin.com

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Source: This review is based on my own copy, pre-ordered via Amazon.com.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Dept. of Speculation, by Jenny Offill

Thursday, November 17th, 2016

dept_of_speculation_largeDept. of Speculation

by Jenny Offill

Vintage Books, New York, 2014. 179 pages.
Starred Review

I began reading this book today while waiting for my son’s dental appointment. I finished tonight before doing anything else. Couldn’t look away.

Dept. of Speculation is the story of a marriage. But it’s also the story of how it feels when your husband has an affair. And that’s why I couldn’t look away.

I didn’t cry when I read this book, so I can’t say it brought it all back. I was oddly detached, looking at it in some ways like the wife in the story is looking back on their history together, numb.

The story isn’t coherent and ordered. It’s from the perspective of the wife, looking back on their marriage. I like the way it changes from first person when the marriage is good to third person while the affair is happening, talking about herself as “the wife” in this scenario.

Her marriage and her husband’s affair weren’t very similar to what happened to me at all — and yet — the emotions of the time, that detached, crazy feeling, the sense of incredulity — so much here that I can’t put into words — It was all so, so recognizable to me.

Just yesterday, my cousin expressed surprise that after her ex was nice to her, she was feeling down — and I remembered that feeling so well. While reading this book, I found myself actually jealous of the protagonist, that she ultimately kept her marriage — even though staying with the person who hurt you so incredibly deeply has its own sort of horror.

This isn’t a book about rational thought. It is a book about feelings.

I’m not sure it was therapeutic to read this book and remember what that horrible time felt like. But since I didn’t cry, I think that shows I’ve gained some distance, thank God. I think something was gained to see that I could look at an affair from a new perspective. And be thankful that time is past.

I do have to say that my heart bleeds for this wife in sad recognition. The way she finds something she did wrong that she thinks set him off. Her simple bewilderment that the stars in the sky have changed position. Sigh.

This part:

People say, You must have known. How could you not know? To which she says, Nothing has ever surprised me more in my life.

You must have known, people say.

The wife did have theories about why he was acting gloomy. He was drinking too much, for example. But no, that turned out to be completely backwards; all the whiskey drinking was the result, not the cause, of the problem. Correlation IS NOT causation. She remembered that the almost astronaut always got very agitated about this mistake that nonscientists made.

Other theories she’d had about the husband’s gloominess:

He no longer has a piano.
He no longer has a garden.
He no longer is young.

She found a community garden and a good therapist for him, then went back to talking about her own feelings and fears while he patiently listened.

Was she a good wife?
Well, no.

Evolution designed us to cry out if we are being abandoned. To make as much noise as possible so the tribe will come back for us.

I find myself hoping that anyone who’s thinking about having an affair will read this book and realize that the utter devastation it brings to multiple lives is not worth it. But it’s not a message book; it’s a story.

Spoiler alert: The book ends happily, and I’m glad for that. It’s an exploration of feeling, an exploration of the fragile thing that marriage is, and the bewildering process of holding on when life falls apart.

jennyoffill.com
vintagebooks.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Everyone Brave Is Forgiven, by Chris Cleave

Friday, October 14th, 2016

everyone_brave_is_forgiven_largeEveryone Brave Is Forgiven

by Chris Cleave
read by Luke Thompson

Simon & Schuster Audio, 2016. 12.75 hours on 10 discs.

First, let me say that Chris Cleave’s writing is magnificent. His use of language is rich and evocative. Narrator Luke Thompson’s voice and dreamy accent is wonderful — the voices of the different characters were distinct and clearly distinguishable throughout.

This is another World War II novel — but showed me aspects and details of World War II that I knew nothing about — the siege of Malta, the fate of children who were not evacuated from London, the treatment of Negroes in England, and what it was like to be in London during the bombing.

But — it’s another World War II novel. Yes, I was enthralled. Yes, I was never tempted at all to stop listening. (Did I mention the author’s magnificent and evocative use of the language?) But I’m afraid, sadly, I’m getting tired of World War II stories. I’ve read so many good ones in the last year: All the Light We Cannot See, Anna and the Swallow Man, Salt to the Sea, and The War That Saved My Life.

This one, I’m afraid I never was very fond of the characters. They were interesting. I liked Alistair best — but mostly it was sympathy for all he had to go through. (And his voice was the dreamiest.) The rest were all right, but not necessarily people I’d ever be friends with if they were real.

And the main love story didn’t quite work for me. As far as I could tell, it was some sort of spell cast on them when they laid eyes on each other. Despite obstacles. I just couldn’t quite get behind that, even though they kept telling me how strong that attraction was. I didn’t feel like they actually knew each other well, despite some flirtatious letters (which were fun to listen in on).

And Chris Cleave can think up horrors like no one else! He still hasn’t topped the scene in Little Bee for the most horrific scene I’ve ever read. But this was a book about war, and there were several truly awful moments. They were warranted — this is a war story. But that may be partly why I’m getting tired of World War II stories.

So — I can’t stress enough that this is a well-written book that shows you the daily lives of a group of people caught up in World War II. It lets you peek into their hearts. But those are a few reasons why I personally liked and admired it but didn’t love it. If you take it up, be sure you’re ready for a story about war.

chriscleave.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Glamour in Glass, by Mary Robinette Kowal

Wednesday, August 10th, 2016

glamour_in_glass_largeGlamour in Glass

by Mary Robinette Kowal

TOR, Tom Doherty Associates, 2012. 334 pages.
Starred Review

A big thank-you to my sister Melanie for giving me this book, which I finally got around to reading.

I have trouble getting around to reading books I own – they don’t have a due date. I read the first book, Shades of Milk and Honey, on a plane trip, and enjoyed it, but wasn’t terribly impressed. I didn’t like the jealousy between the sisters and the tribute to Pride and Prejudice made it quite predictable.

So when I finally read this second book on a plane trip, I thought only to pass the time – and then I loved it!

Jane and her husband Vincent are newly married. They are now working together as Glamourists – people who use magic to create illusions. As the book opens, they have just finished working months on a commission for the Prince Regent.

From there, they decide to go to Belgium as a sort of honeymoon, celebrating the end of the war. Vincent is going to consult with a glamourist there who is developing a new technique that allows one to walk around a glamour and see different things from different sides. There Jane gets an idea of a way to record a glamour in glass so that you can carry it along with you. As they experiment together, they manage to record an invisibility glamour.

However, before long Jane’s activities as a glamourist are put to a halt when she becomes pregnant. The work of creating glamours is too taxing for pregnant women, and she has to sit on the sidelines for a time.

But then word comes that Napoleon has escaped his island exile and is coming back to France, via Belgium. Vincent is more embroiled in events than Jane had realized. Between spies on both sides and the military advantages of the invisibility glamour, Vincent gets into trouble, and it’s up to Jane – who can’t perform glamours – to find a way to get him out.

I thought this book was delightful. Jane’s younger sister wasn’t in it, so there was none of the jealousy or sibling rivalry I didn’t like in the first book. I liked the easy affection between the couple, with natural worries and stumbles as they figure out how to work together and merge their lives together.

This time, I didn’t expect the magic to be earth-shaking – it’s only about glamour, after all – but I think I enjoyed all the more the way it turned out to have military applications. Even before that bit, I liked the way creating glamours was presented as a skill that requires practice and study and invention – and the way Jane and Vincent both brought their talents to this work together. It was a lovely picture of a marriage – yet in a world quite different from our own. The plot wasn’t at all predictable, and I enjoyed the suspenseful elements and political intrigue – all with our heroine mixed up in the middle of it.

I’m going to have to catch up on this series!

maryrobinettekowal.com
tor-forge.com

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Source: This review is based on my own copy, a gift from my sister Melanie.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Kingfisher, by Patricia A. McKillip

Wednesday, July 13th, 2016

kingfisher_largeKingfisher

by Patricia A. Mc.Killip

Ace Books, New York, 2016. 346 pages.

This fantasy tale begins with a young adult named Pierce who is ready to leave his sorceress mother, ready to go to the capital city and find his father, a knight. It’s also about an illegitimate prince looking for his own heritage, a chef who takes on a job her shapechanging father is opposed to, another chef who makes beautiful food that is tantalyzing but tasteless, and a princess who’s worried about her half-brother.

The fantasy world is interesting — with modern things like cars and cellphones, but a magical realm with gods and goddesses competing for power.

The unifying theme is a quest for an object of great power. No one knows where it is or what it will look like, but their heart will know it when they see it.

Along the way secrets are uncovered and there are battles between good and evil.

This is the kind of fantasy I find a little bit annoying. It’s beautifully written and evocative — but I never feel like I actually know quite what is going on or exactly how the magic works or what just happened.

I’m still glad I read it and glad to have spent time with these characters and enjoyed their quest. But it will be better for readers who don’t get hung up on details of world-building and internal logic like I do.

penguin.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit, by P. G. Wodehouse

Wednesday, June 8th, 2016

jeeves_and_the_feudal_spirit_largeJeeves and the Feudal Spirit

by P. G. Wodehouse

The Overlook Press, Woodstock & New York, 2001. (First published in 1954.) 231 pages.

Honestly? The reason I continue to review Jeeves and Wooster books is so I can remember which ones I’ve read. I will list them in order on the side for the benefit of my readers, and the more I include, the more helpful that is. (Not that order makes a huge difference with these books.) The library has The Collector’s Wodehouse, which I must admit, I would love to own myself. But thanks to space constraints, I am very happy the library owns them, so I don’t need to.

Yes, the books featuring the young and feckless Bertie Wooster and his brilliant gentleman’s personal gentleman Jeeves are all very similar. But they are also all clever, quirky, and laugh-out-loud hilarious.

There is generally a young lady whom Bertie is in danger of marrying. He needs to keep her romance flourishing with one of his buddies. In this book, the lady in question is Florence Craye.

You see, the trouble with Florence was that though, as I have stated, indubitably comely and well equipped to take office as a pin-up girl, she was, as I have also stressed, intellectual to the core, and the ordinary sort of bloke like myself does well to give this type of female as wide a miss as he can manage.

You know how it is with these earnest, brainy beazels of what is called strong character. They can’t let the male soul alone. They want to get behind it and start shoving. Scarcely have they shaken the rice from their hair in the car driving off for the honeymoon than they pull up their socks and begin moulding the partner of joys and sorrows, and if there is one thing that gives me the pip, it is being moulded. Despite adverse criticism from many quarters – the name of my Aunt Agatha is one that springs to the lips – I like B. Wooster the way he is. Lay off him, I say. Don’t try to change him, or you may lose the flavour.

Even when we were merely affianced, I recalled, this woman had dashed the mystery thriller from my hand, instructing me to read instead a perfectly frightful thing by a bird called Tolstoy. At the thought of what horrors might ensue after the clergyman had done his stuff and she had a legal right to bring my grey hairs in sorrow to the grave, the imagination boggled.

Additional customary motifs are also present. His amiable Aunt Dahlia is in a scrape of her own and risks losing the services of her chef Anatole (a disaster of epic proportions). Bertie is expected to help in a scheme fraught with danger. Bertie has dared to go against Jeeves’ fashion sense (always a bad idea) by growing a moustache. And as usual, Jeeves is the one who can tie up all the threads neatly and save the day.

Some of the Bertie and Jeeves books are short stories and separate adventures. This one is a unified whole, with all the more threads to tie up neatly at the end.

I’ve gotten where I like to keep a P. G. Wodehouse novel handy to dip into now and then. I don’t really lose the train of thought – I know where they’re going by now! – and it’s sure to get me laughing and simply appreciating the clever word play. If I want to lighten up and give myself a few smiles, I pull out my current Wodehouse. I’ll be sad when I finish all the Jeeves books, but I won’t nearly be done when that happens.

If you haven’t tried Wodehouse yet, do so some time when you want to lighten up. It won’t fail you.

And a big thank-you to my sister Becky for introducing me to him years ago!

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Seveneves, by Neal Stephenson

Saturday, April 30th, 2016

seveneves_largeSEVENEVES

by Neal Stephenson
performed by Mary Robinette Kowal and Will Damron

Brilliance Audio, 2015. 32 hours on 25 discs.

When I told a coworker how much I liked The Martian, he recommended Seveneves. I’d long meant to read some Neal Stephenson, so I took on the project, listening in the car over the course of more than a month. (Fortunately, no one had a hold on the audiobook before I finished.)

First, the good things. This book, like The Martian, has a huge emphasis on technology. Almost all of it is made to sound plausible, with facts given in context and people using actual science to solve their problems.

And they are truly formidable problems! The situation in the book is this: Something (called “the Agent”) from outer space blasted through the moon and blew it into pieces. At first, people just think of it as an amazing curiosity in the night sky. But then a collision happens between two pieces of the moon – and scientists realize that there are going to be more and more collisions until finally, in about three years, the earth’s atmosphere will be filled with meteorites and everything on earth will be incinerated. This “hard rain” will last about five thousand years.

So – the people of earth begin making plans. They’re going to send up pods that can be attached to the International Space Station and try to save humanity by sending people into orbit.

More than half the book concerns these efforts of making a place for humanity to survive on the International Space Station. Then we fast forward five thousand years when their descendants begin to go back to New Earth.

I’m afraid I’m not crazy about this book. But once I’d listened to hours and hours, you can be sure I figured I might as well finish. The book is rather depressing. Besides the 7 billion people who die on earth, there are occasional scenes of gruesome violence. This book doesn’t paint a nice picture of the human race. You’d think with such high stakes, people would work together a little better.

I’m sure the science is well-researched – but I didn’t buy it at every stage. Supposedly the human race survives in space after getting down to seven living women (the Seven Eves). This is with the help of state-of-the-art genetic engineering equipment, but that was still something of a stretch. I also wasn’t sure I believed that after five thousand years there would still be seven distinct races.

And five thousand years later, ready to move back onto the planet, humans are at war with one another. There’s a huge Cold War going on between certain sets of races. Depressing to think that humans would have learned nothing in five thousand years.

Of course, the whole premise of the book runs counter to a Christian world view. Indeed, in the book after the destruction of earth, all religions die out among humans. Because 7 billion people died.

So this is indeed an interesting book because of the technology described. The story does have many moments of tension and amazing but plausible overcoming of great odds. But if you’re looking for heart-warming, definitely look somewhere else.

nealstephenson.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Ancillary Mercy, by Ann Leckie

Sunday, March 6th, 2016

ancillary_mercy_largeAncillary Mercy

by Ann Leckie

Orbit Books, 2015. 359 pages.
Starred Review

Wow! I suspected that I would appreciate the second book, Ancillary Sword, much more after reading the third book in the trilogy, and I was absolutely right.

Yes, you need to read this trilogy in order. It’s a unit, and everything comes together in this final book.

Book One, Ancillary Justice was about Breq, who was once the ship Justice of Toren and is now a lone ancillary, seeking revenge on the tyrant who destroyed most of her and the captain she loved. In the process of revenge-seeking, she starts a civil war, or at least makes obvious that a war is going on.

In Book Two, Ancillary Sword, Breq is Fleet Captain of a new ship, Mercy of Kalr, with a crew of humans, but with access to everything the ship senses. She goes to a distant planet and deals with politics and intrigue on the planet and its orbiting space station, which has its own AI.

In this third book, Ancillary Mercy, the part of the Lord of the Radch that hates Breq comes to the planet looking for her. Breq still wants revenge, and Breq is definitely in danger, and plot threads are woven in intricate ways.

I can’t say a lot about the plot, since I don’t want to give anything away from the earlier books. By this time, I’d gotten used to everyone being referred to as “she.” One thing I especially liked about this book was that even with the large cast of characters, there’s growth in almost all of the characters. Some things Breq was doing as a matter of course in the last book, she’s now questioning. And Breq’s lieutenants face their own challenges, and even the station and the ship come up with some surprising character development.

These books make you think about humanity and gender and perspective and justice and love and relationships in whole new ways — all while telling an intricately woven, imaginatively inventive story with thrillingly dangerous action sequences. (Yes, Breq’s trend of getting seriously injured in each book continues.)

I can’t wait for my son to read it so I can discuss it with him! (He gave me a copy of the first book for Christmas.) This book is mind-blowing and amazing.

annleckie.com
orbitbooks.net

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Ancillary Sword, by Ann Leckie

Friday, February 26th, 2016

ancillary_sword_largeAncillary Sword

by Ann Leckie

Orbit Books, 2014. 356 pages.
Starred Review

Ancillary Sword is the sequel to the astonishing Ancillary Justice. Breq, the former AI controlling a ship and multiple ancillaries, now in one isolated body, is now the captain of a ship, Mercy of Kalr, and holds a rank of Fleet Captain. Because Breq still has implants to connect her consciousness with her original ship, she can instantly receive information from Mercy of Kalr, though not as effectively as when she had more bodies.

In this volume, the events in Ancillary Justice have touched off a possible civil war between different bodies of the Lord of the Radchaai (more fun with consciousness and perception). Breq has gone to a distant planetary system, hoping to help the sister of a former captain she loved who was killed around the time Breq’s ship was destroyed.

The gates ships use to travel between planetary systems are down, so Breq is seemingly isolated once she arrives. But a military ship, Sword of Atagaris, accosts them as soon as they enter the system. Something strange is going on.

Breq goes onto the space station and sets up quarters where she is not welcome. There are political undercurrents to navigate and plots and counterplots.

This book was always interesting and absorbing, but the plot path wasn’t as clear to me throughout as I would have liked. The conflicts Breq faces are mostly local, and it’s not entirely clear how it fits in with the civil war she may have touched off.

I have a strong feeling I will like this second book better after I’ve read the third book (and this is the advantage to reading a trilogy after it’s already complete), which I’m going to do as soon as possible. Then I think I’ll understand better how it all fits together.

The author still pulls off showing her readers how it would feel to see the world through multiple perspectives all at once. And how it would feel to look at the world without seeing gender.

As a side note, there’s an interesting scene when they come to the planet and there’s a Genetalia Festival going on and garlands of brightly colored penises on the wall. Breq is told, “The Athoeki weren’t very civilized…. They mostly aren’t even now. They make a division between people with penises and people without.” Imagine that.

Again there are mysteries for Breq to solve and motivations to uncover. And we get to enjoy world-building done by a genius. I’m very curious what’s going to happen next.

annleckie.com
orbitbooks.net

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie

Thursday, February 11th, 2016

ancillary_justice_largeAncillary Justice

by Ann Leckie

Orbit Books, New York, 2013. 422 pages.
Starred Review
2014 Nebula Award Winner
2014 Arthur C. Clarke Award Winner
2014 British Science Fiction Association Award Winner
2014 Hugo Award Shortlist

My son gave me Ancillary Justice for Christmas because it was the best book he read in 2015. I read it on my trip to ALA Annual Conference in Boston, and it was amazing.

The book begins like a classic mystery:

The body lay naked and facedown, a deathly gray, spatters of blood staining the snow around it. It was minus fifteen degrees Celsius and a storm had passed just hours before. The snow stretched smooth in the wan sunrise, only a few tracks leading into a nearby ice-block building. A tavern. Or what passed for a tavern in this town.

There was something itchingly familiar about that out-thrown arm, the line from shoulder down to hip. But it was hardly possible I knew this person. I didn’t know anyone here. This was the icy back end of a cold and isolated planet, as far from Radchaai ideas of civilization as it was possible to be. I was only here, on this planet, in this town, because I had urgent business of my own. Bodies in the street were none of my concern.

Sometimes I don’t know why I do the things I do. Even after all this time it’s still a new thing for me not to know, not to have orders to follow from one moment to the next. So I can’t explain to you why I stopped and with one foot lifted the naked shoulder so I could see the person’s face.

Frozen, bruised, and bloody as she was, I knew her. Her name was Seivarden Vendaai, and a long time ago she had been one of my officers, a young lieutenant, eventually promoted to her own command, another ship. I had thought her a thousand years dead, but she was, undeniably, here. I crouched down and felt for a pulse, for the faintest stir of breath.

Still alive.

Seivarden Vendaai was no concern of mine anymore, wasn’t my responsibility. And she had never been one of my favorite officers. I had obeyed her orders, of course, and she had never abused any ancillaries, never harmed any of my segments (as the occasional officer did). I had no reason to think badly of her. On the contrary, her manners were those of an educated, well-bred person of good family. Not toward me, of course — I wasn’t a person, I was a piece of equipment, a part of the ship. But I had never particularly cared for her.

Reading the beginning over, it’s clear I need to read the whole book over, the better to appreciate certain details which were there all along. The world-building in this book is incredible, though now that I understand all of it, I think I’d appreciate the book even more.

The person talking was once a ship, or at least the AI controlling a ship. She had many bodies, ancillaries, taken from captured peoples and connected up to the AI. In her memories, she saw events from many different perspectives.

But something terrible happened, the ship was destroyed, and Breq’s current body is the only body left. She is now on a mission for vengeance — vengeance against one who also has multiple bodies.

We find out all this along the way. Meanwhile, Breq cares for and rehabilitates Seivarden, who was her officer more than a thousand years ago, and has some catching up to do.

This book is mind-blowing with the situations and ways of looking at the world.

Another thing I liked was the things the author does with gender. On this icy planet where the book opens, Breq is trying to figure out how to address someone.

She was probably male, to judge from the angular mazelike patterns quilting her shirt. I wasn’t entirely certain. It wouldn’t have mattered, if I had been in Radch space. Radchaai don’t care much about gender, and the language they speak — my own first language — doesn’t mark gender in any way. This language we were speaking now did, and I could make trouble for myself if I used the wrong forms. It didn’t help that cues meant to distinguish gender changed from place to place, sometimes radically, and rarely made much sense to me.

With the Radch language not marking gender, the author, seeing through Breq’s eyes, uses “she” as the default. For everyone. This is a refreshing change. I thought it was interesting that I didn’t necessarily adjust well to this, thinking of everyone as female. When I later found myself wondering which sex organs different people had — when it didn’t matter in the slightest — it dawned on me how much I see the world through gender lenses. It was interesting to look at the world a different way through the eyes of someone who was once a ship.

And besides doing amazing things with perception, this book tells a compelling story. We’ve got the whole history of how most of Breq was destroyed and what she is trying to do now. And how almost-dead Seivarden fits into that.

This is a fascinating and absorbing book. If you like science fiction at all, and if you like having your perceptions and assumptions stretched, give this one a try.

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