The short review of this book is it blew my mind and I loved it. Deep, transformative, and complex. The longer review with spoilers comes after the fold. Ancillary Justice won the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 2014.
When I first started reading Ancillary Justice I was immediately put off by an author “attempting to be clever” by creating a main character who couldn’t identify people’s genders and calling everyone “she” until I realized that the author wasn’t attempting to be clever she was actually being very clever.
At one point someone asks the main character how people from her culture have babies if they don’t differentiate genders. Her answer, paraphrasing, was, “Like everyone else, you go to a doctor, if you want to carry it yourself you either have it implanted or have a surgery so it can be implanted, or if you don’t want to carry it you get someone else to carry it.”
The key here is that technology has advanced far enough that gender really is only defined by social constructs because anything else you may want to do (grow a beard, have a baby) can be accomplished with the help of science no matter what your physical body was at birth.
The tiny landscape point went from gender blindness to a carefully crafted statement on technology and real vs imagined physical boundaries.
Then there’s the actual plot! Like nesting dolls Leckie unpacks idea after idea after idea regarding the concept of physical limitations and bodies. If gender is a limit then is age a limit, or having a single body, or having been born vs being an AI. What about wiping memories?
Yet she doesn’t linger over long on these thoughts, they are simply the underlying questions that drive a dynamic, interesting and emotional plot. The larger questions of love, individuality, responsibility, vengeance, humanity, and kindness are each given their place.
The main character is also an unreliable narrator. I love these. An unreliable narrator allows you to explore a reality through someone else’s flawed view. It’s not a perfect or impartial view of the world, it is a person’s view of the world.
Basically there’s a lot to love about this book. I’m looking forward to the next two in the trilogy and also rereading all three in a binge while on vacation.