Ancillary Justice, the debut novel from Ann Leckie, first caught my attention thanks to its gorgeous John Harris cover art. It was hard to escape, and, frankly, antithetical to the idea that one shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. With a cover this good, it’s hard not to be immediately interested. Skip forward a few weeks, and Orbit Books, publisher of Ancillary Justice, noticed a trend on twitter: everybody loves Leckie’s book. And, by golly, they’re right.
So, naturally, I had to see what all the fuss was about, and picked up Ancillary Justice myself. They were right, they were so, so right. I’ll withhold my full opinion for a review, but Ancillary Justice is a bold, mind-twistingly adventurous SF tale with big ideas and so much confidence that it’s hard to believe it’s Leckie’s first novel. Come award season, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Leckie and Ancillary Justice all over the ballots. It’s that good.
So, I’ve gathered together some of the early reviews that nail exactly why I’m so excited about this book (and why I think you should be, too. Orbit’s had huge success with James S.A. Corey’s Expanse series, and it looks like they’re about to add another heavyweight to the mix with Leckie. It’s a damn good time to be an SF fan.
On a remote, icy planet, the soldier known as Breq is drawing closer to completing her quest.
Breq is both more than she seems and less than she was. Years ago, she was the Justice of Toren–a colossal starship with an artificial intelligence linking thousands of corpse soldiers in the service of the Radch, the empire that conquered the galaxy.
An act of treachery has ripped it all away, leaving her with only one fragile human body. And only one purpose–to revenge herself on Anaander Mianaai, many-bodied, near-immortal Lord of the Radch.
You can read an excerpt from Ancillary Justice on Orbit’s website.
Ana Grilo, The Book Smugglers:
In a way Ancillary Justice is a study about identity, of the “I am” and what it means to be this “I.” Breq was Justice of Toren for two thousand years before she became a separate entity. Who is Breq, how it/she identifies, the question of whether she can even be human is explored and examined in multiple occasions throughout the novel. There is a question of person but also of personality and it is both thoughtful and fun to follow Breq in her journey.
I love this – LOVED THIS. It’s definitely a top 10 book of 2013 for me. Actually, this might well be my favourite novel of 2013 so far. I can’t think of the last time I was this excited about a sequel.
Thea James, The Book Smugglers:
[At] its heart, this is a revenge story. We learn what has happened to Breq, now just a single ancillary body, and damn it’s a good reveal. The way the story unfolds, alternating between the then and now, is wholly engaging. I know that the concepts in this book sound both abstract and complicated, but in truth Ancillary Justice (though dense) is an easy book to read because it is so immersive and never once stumbles in its telling. Above all else – or, to stick with the theme of collectiveness – Ancillary Justice is more than just the sum of its parts. Like Breq, Ancillary Justice is utterly memorable, utterly distinct, and utterly original.
Liz Bourke, Tor.com:
It’s not every day a debut novel by an author you’d never heard of before derails your entire afternoon with its brilliance. But when my review copy of Ancillary Justice arrived, that’s exactly what it did. In fact, it arrowed upward to reach a pretty high position on my list of best space opera novels ever.
Ancillary Justice is both an immensely fun novel, and a conceptually ambitious one: it has many layers and many levels at which it can be enjoyed. And I can’t hardly wait for the sequel.
Saxon Bullock, SFX:
A sharply written space opera with a richly imagined sense of detail and place, this debut novel from Ann Leckie works as both an evocative SF tale and an involving character study. Heavily reminiscent of the novels of CJ Cherryh, it’s also a strongly female-driven piece, tackling ideas about politics and gender in a way that’s both engaging and provocative. It may have a different flavour to many of the bigger UK-based space opera giants, but Ancillary Justice is a gripping read that’s well worth a look.
Annalee Newitz, io9:
For people who love science fiction, there are also many little tips of the hat that are pleasing without being intrusive or fan servicey. Breq’s division on Justice of Toren are fond of singing, which brings to mind Anne McCaffery’s incredible novel of ship consciousness, The Ship Who Sang. And of course the Radch civilization’s lack of gender roles is reminiscent of the civilization that Ursula Le Guin describes in The Left Hand of Darkness. But as I was reading, the one comparison I kept making in my mind was to Iain M. Banks, who always reminded us that politics (and people) are far more complicated than most space operas will allow.
It’s very rare to find an author who can balance suspense and violence with subtlety and character development. But, like Banks once did, Leckie has done a marvelous job here. This is a novel that will thrill you like the page-turner it is, but stick with you for a long time afterward, infecting your perspective on the so-called familiar world around us that is a lot more alien than any of us give it credit for.
Justin Landon, Staffer’s Book Review:
I’ve sat here for some time looking at a blinking cursor trying to come up with something critical to say about the novel. How can any debut slide through the meat grinder that is this blog without running afoul of some pet peeve? There’s a first time for everything. Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice does everything science fiction should do. It engages, it excites, and it challenges the way the reader views our world. Leckie may be a former Secretary of the Science Fiction Writers of America, but she’s the President of this year’s crop of debut novelists.
Ancillary Justice might be the best science fiction novel of this very young decade.
Sarah Chorn, Bookworm Blues:
Well, my dear readers, it might be stupid, but the truth is, I try very hard not to give away anything about the books I review, and half of the joy of Ancillary Justice is puzzling it out yourself. The thrill lays in being absolutely confused, and learning everything as you go, while letting Leckie guide you through her complex, twisted, psychological, political, delicious far-flung future universe.
Ancillary Justice unabashedly plays with the qualities that make us “human” and “alive” in a captivating and creative way. Leckie is one of those authors that burned herself into me. Ancillary Justice is a novel that is a joy to explore.
Epic in scale, but intensely character-driven, Ancillary Justice never gets lost in the minutia of world building details that so often befalls most space operas: Leckie is focused and precise with her story and characters, putting them through their deliberate paces as the story advances.
Ancillary Justice is easily one of the best books that I’ve read thus far this year (in a year crowded with excellent books!), and it’s one of the best first novels of this new decade. Already well known for her work as a short story author and editor, Leckie is now a novelist to keep a close eye on.
Paul Weimer, Skiffy & Fanty:
[Ancillary Justice is a] first rate, rollicking space-opera with plenty of action, intrigue and adventure in addition to the deeper thoughts on identity, cultural worldbuilding and agency for female characters. The novel does its antecedents in the genre proud, and I was particularly reminded of Walter Jon Williams’ Dread Empire series.
Elizabeth Bear, author of Range of Ghosts:
Ancillary Justice at its best establishes Leckie as an heir to Banks and Cherryh. At its weakest, it’s still one of the best first novels I’ve read in five years.
The G., Nerds of a Feather:
Though Ancillary Justice is by no means perfect, it’s also worth remembering that it is a debut novel; its teething problems, for the record, are also evident in Banks’ Consider Phlebas and Reynolds’ Revelation Space. Like those debuts, Ancillary Justice is a rewarding, if imperfect, read, and furthermore suggests that Leckie is a considerable talent whose best work is ahead of her.