by Ann Leckie
Rating: 4 Stars
‘What if you once had thousands of bodies and near god-like technology at your disposal?
And what if all of it were ripped away?
The Lord of the Radch has given Breq command of the ship Mercy of Kalr and sent her to the only place she would have agreed to go — to Athoek Station, where Lieutenant Awn’s sister works in Horticulture.
Athoek was annexed some six hundred years ago, and by now everyone is fully civilized -or should be. But everything is not as tranquil as it appears. Old divisions are still troublesome, Athoek Station’s AI is unhappy with the situation, and it looks like the alien Presger might have taken an interest in what’s going on. With no guarantees that interest is benevolent…’
As this is the review of the second book in the series it will contain some spoilers for the first book – Ancillary Justice.
I loved the first book in this series – I struggle to articulate just how much. But I’ve tried in my review that you can find here.
Unfortunately, the second book is not quite up to the incredibly high standard that was set by the first. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still really good – after all we’re dealing with largely the same cast, the same world and the same concept of a former colossal artificial intelligence confined within one ancillary body.
But, and it is a big but, the form of the novel has changed. Now that the narrative only operates along one timeline – occasional forays into Breqs past for explanatory purposes aside – we’ve lost something integral that made the first book so brilliant. I really felt like the multiple timelines of the first novel served a greater purpose other than just to tell more of the story. They allowed Leckie to show more of the world than Breq’s current circumstances allowed; to further illustrate the incredible scope of Breq’s mind.
I can understand why this technique is gone. The flashbacks explaining the mystery of Justice of Toren’s destruction reached the end of it’s timeline in the first book. As such it makes sense that Leckie is no longer jumping back and forth to this time period. But I wish she had somehow found a way to incorporate another story from Breq’s past into her current timeline. I suppose it does fit with Breq’s shrunken perception of the world, but as a point of personal preference I miss it. I also think it exposes the slim nature of the plot in the sequel.
I also really missed Seivarden, her parallel journey was pivotal to what made the first book in the trilogy so interesting. We do still get glimpses of her, but she is no longer Breq’s sole companion and as such is pushed to the sidelines. This is a side plot in one way – her struggle to maintain her newfound sobriety is an interesting counterpoint to Breq’s own quest – but mostly I just miss Breq having someone she could interact with on a deeper level, someone who knows the whole story.
Another consequence of the end of the first book, is that we are now dealing with a casts of characters that – aside from Breq, Seivarden and the rare appearances of Aanander Minai – are entirely new to us. As such it takes some time to warm up to them and few of them are distinct personalities. I did find the new lieutenant really interesting and Leckie was able to draw clearer relation between Breq and the nature of Aanander Minai due to the manner in which they both treat her.
Overall, Sword is a very, very different sort of book. Oddly more personal than the first, despite Justice living largely inside the ships consciousness. At it’s heart, Sword is the story of working out how to keep living,when the thing you were making yourself live to do is done and not necessarily done well.