Book Review: Provenence

Book Review: Provenence

This one kinda snuck up on me, seeing how I only recently finished the Imperial Radch series. I was able to go almost directly into Provenance, which is set in the same universe although not in the Radch itself. It's a very different animal, but it still bears Leckie's indelible stamp.

Ingray has a reckless plan to win her mother's favor and beat her brother: set free a notorious thief and use the thief to track down a famous set of missing vestiges. But things never go according to plan. When a murder occurs, with Ingray's thief the main suspect, Ingray and her allies become embroiled in a conflict between her home planet, the Geck ambassador to the Presger, and a rival planet trying regain its lost influence.

Overall, I felt like the characters were not as engaging as those in the Imperial Radch trilogy. Breq was part of what made that series so special; as a result, Provenance feels like it's lacking some magic. But Ingray is far from bad, and she's definitely relatable - we've all felt like we're a screw up at times. Her mother is a fun almost-villain, and her nuncle Lack is one of the book's most quietly interesting characters: wise, hardworking, and loyal.

There's more playing with gender here, and it's as fun to read as it was in the Imperial Radch trilogy. The society of Provenance has three distinct genders, and we see characters of all three in action. Meanwhile, the Radch ambassador misgenders the people she speaks to, as we would expect, except this time we see if from the other side of the coin.

The worldbuilding is good though - it's nice to get outside the Radch and see what the rest of the universe looks like. The Geck, often referenced but never seen in the previous series, are just fascinating - they remind me of Lovecraftian Deep Ones. 

Ingray's society has a fascinating obsession with the past and with remembrance (ergo the book's name). They collect "vestiges," minor objects that have connections to important historical figures or events. Other human civilizations consider it odd, but the people of Hwae feel a strong connection to their history. As we discover that many of the vestiges are fake, the book plays with questions of identity and how a society validates itself and its actions based on its past. Leckie excels at picking interesting concepts to explore, and that hasn't changed.

Provenance is set directly after the events of the Imperial Radch trilogy, so we see some of the fallout of that play out here. It's the reason the Geck ambassador is around, a secondary subplot that plays a large role in the resolution of the main plot.

Speaking of which, the main plot is fine. It's nothing to write home about - at its core, it's a trade dispute with some politics and imperialism on the side. It takes a while to build, but when the climax finally arrives, it's gripping and full of tension, providing an excellent platform for Ingray to come into her own as a hero.

Provenance isn't as good as the Imperial Radch trilogy, but it's an enjoyable read in its own right and well worth the time to read. It opens up the world of the Radch and lets us peer through another window at the some of the deep questions Leckie explores there.

Grade: 4/5

Memorable Quote:

“So what happened?” asked Ingray, after a short silence and another sip of her arrack.

The captain picked up his cup. Took only a sip this time, and set it back down. “My gills never developed. Don’t look at me like that, it’s a very big deal there. Without gills, you can’t swim down. And if you can’t swim down by a certain age, you can’t stay on the planet.” Ingray considered asking what he meant by swim down but decided any answer would probably just puzzle her more.
— Provenance, pg. 70
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