BSFA Shortlist Review: Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie

ancillarySwordAncillary Sword by Ann Leckie

Setting: Mostly on a space station belonging to the vast Radsch Empire, thousands of years in the future of the galactic human diaspora.

Summary: After the destruction of the ship Justice of Toren, the Lord of the Radsch gives Breq, the only surviving Justice of Toren ancillary soldier, command of a Mercy ship. She is assigned to Athoek Station, where institutionalized classism has led to the neglect and abuse of conquered citizens.

The blurb that was never blurbed:

Time for Breq-fast! (Because it was a long time between reading Justice and Sword. Get it? Ohnevermind.)

The premise-puncturing quote that everybody’s thinking:

‘I may well be extremely foolish just letting you live, let alone giving you official authority and a ship…’ [5]


Synopsis quote:

…there were no tiny, brightly colored penises hanging in the corridors,… [18]

Haha, just kidding, but yeah… a funny scene in book full of “shes” and “hers.” I think Leckie is digging at herself here.

How it feels: Television-in-a-novel, much like its predecessor. Less than subtle address of imperial classism. Lots of indignant dialogue of the Picard shirt-tugging variety, which upstages the much more interesting quirks of an “unplugged” AI protagonist. Much tea drinking.

Word count time: Tea is mentioned 74 times, up from 39 in Ancillary Justice.

The blurb that was never blurbed, part 2:

More tea with your Breq-fast? (Eh?… eh?)

But about that tea drinking: It is a worn out sensory detail that I am quick to condemn, but it does serve the character of this sprawling empire maintained by delicate diplomacy.

Should you read this: Meh. Dramatized sci-fi makes for a blasé read, but I genuinely look forward to seeing this on the small screen, where the indignant dialogue and overt social commentary will be best utilized. Non-gendered pronoun use among sexually-ambiguous humanoid characters is not the most nuanced form of social commentary– it should not blow away dedicated SF readers– but this will be good for mainstream ‘Murica. I eagerly await the conservative huffing and puffing that will come from this development.


This review is part of an 8-part review series on the 2014 British Science Fiction Association Best Novel Shortlist. The winner will be announced at the BSFA ceremony at Eastercon on Sunday, April 5.

Previous BFSA Shortlist Reviews:
Europe in Autumn by David Hutchinson
The Race by Nina Allan
Cuckoo Song by Francis Hardinge
The Moon King by Neil Williamson
Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor

Upcoming BFSA Shortlist Reviews:
The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North
Wolves by Simon Ings


Ancillary Justice (2013) by Ann Leckie


I finally caved to the pressure and picked up the book award darling of the year, Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie, which has been nominated for every major SF award so far, and is likely to continue that trend for the rest of the year. Having not read many 2013 novels yet, I can’t vouch for its presence on these shortlists without an adequate comparison (coming later), but its exponentially growing accolades are difficult to ignore.

Breq is on a personal mission, a vendetta. She is guarded about her identity, but through her first-person narrative, Breq reveals that she is actually Justice of Toren, a starship, or rather the artificial intelligence of a starship computer that once operated her unit’s corpse soldiers (ancillaries). Unfortunately, her mission gets waylaid when she gets stuck caring for her snooty former captain suffering kef withdrawals and, during that time, she unfolds her story of love, intrigue, murder, and vengeance. We also learn that Breq loves to sing (picture AI-operated soldiers singing in perfect rhythm, but nowhere near one another). Continue reading