Ann Leckie’s stunning debut novel Ancillary Justice (my review) deservedly swept the major awards this year. To say that expectations for the sequel were high is an understatement, but, happily, Ancillary Sword meets those high expectations and then some. This is a novel that’s as good as, if not better than, its predecessor.
It is, however, a very different novel in a number of ways. For one, the narrative is no longer split between two time lines: Ancillary Justice moved back and forth in time for most of its length, going from the story of Breq-as-Justice-of-Toren to the story of post-Justice-of-Toren-destruction Breq and back, thereby explaining how one led to the other and setting the scene for one of the most fascinating space operas I’ve read in years.
Ancillary Sword, instead, picks up at the end of the previous novel and moves forward in a linear fashion. This allows Leckie to improve on one of the very few weaknesses of her debut novel, i.e. the ending: because there’s no shuffling back and forth between timelines here, the various character arcs, plot lines, and themes can build up more naturally towards an emotionally powerful finish.
Being with Breq throughout the novel also creates a more introspective atmosphere: there’s much more time for reflection here, both on the nature of the Radchaai Empire and its conflicted ruler, and on who Breq is and was. There is a plot, and it concerns the future of the Athoek system and the wider Radchaai Empire, but throughout it all there’s a firm focus on the inner turmoil hidden under Breq’s placid exterior — and that’s what makes this novel and series so brilliant.
Because of this, I won’t waste time trying to sum up the plot here. I’m much more interested in discussing some of the finer points of this excellent novel: Breq’s evolution; the novel’s themes of oppression and racism; its incredibly nuanced treatment of rape; and most specifically, two stunning scenes at the very end of the novel that almost had me in tears. However, all of this that would stray far into spoiler territory, so I’ll save it for another post or discussion.
For now, I’ll just give Ancillary Sword my highest recommendation. I don’t think many people expected the sequel to Ancillary Justice to actually improve on its predecessor, but Ann Leckie has accomplished just that. Here is a sweeping, emotionally and intellectually challenging novel that deserves all the awards the first one received. I hope you’ll read it.