Book Review: Ancillary Sword

Book Review: Ancillary Sword

Ancillary Sword is one of those rare books that's very different from its predecessor and yet still an utterly enjoyable sequel - in fact, I think I might've enjoyed it more than Ancillary Justice.

Ancillary Sword picks up not long after Ancillary Justice's conclusion. Anaander Mianaai has given Breq her name and a ship and commanded her to go stabilize Athoek Station (though in reality, this command is really more a confirmation of what Breq would have done anyway - because Lt. Awn's sister lives on Athoek Station). On Athoek, Breq encounters a host of problems with Radchaai politics and policies, as well as the shadow of the other Anaander.

The revenge plot is gone, and Breq's goals are now more oblique. But she's struggling more with how to live her life now that being a ship AND her vengeance are gone from her. This story is more about how she moves on with her life and honors Lt. Awn's legacy.

Being plugged back into a ship seems like an exquisite torture for Breq, because she can never be what she was, yet Mercy of Kalr helps her get as close as possible. She can read physical data of her crew, she can see through the eyes of her crew, and she can spread her awareness across multiple areas. The narration of the entirety of Sword matches the narration of the Justice of Toren chapters in Justice; it's not uncommon for us to get two scenes simultaneously as Breq continuously has Mercy of Kalr feed her data on her soldiers. 

Yet it's not enough. Breq notes at one point that when her ancillary bodies needed comfort, she could supply that comfort to herself, something she can no longer do. So it's touching when one of her crew, who try to be like ancillaries as much as possible, attempts to provide that human touch for her later in the novel.

All in all, Leckie continues to impress with her nuanced depiction of Breq, and it's one of the book's highlights.

After often being annoyed with Seivarden in Justice, I actually kinda missed her here. Seivarden spends so much time on the ship, we barely get to see her. But the new characters are definitely entertaining in her stead.

Kalr Five is a delight and just steals the show for me. She reminds me vividly of one of my friends, and her fastidious attention to detail makes her the perfect complement to Breq, who can ignore or overlook certain details when it suits her. I have never in my life been quite so captivated by how many ways one can snub another person with the use of china.

But the real emphasis is on Lt. Tisarwat. Her complicated existence allows Leckie to really delve into Breq's psyche by proxy. (Leckie is *really* good at creating foils for her MC). After being subjected to the ancillary procedure by Anaander and freed from it by Breq, Tisarwat is struggling to regain her own persona and dealing with the loss of the Mianaai persona (and all the uniqueness that comes with it). Breq's experience is similar, so in a way, these two are the only characters who can truly understand each other.

And then we get our villains. They're on a much smaller scale, since Anaander Mianaai doesn't really appear in this novel, but Raughd Denche and her mother are the type of douchey characters we love to hate.

The plot moves slower here, but it's emotionally more rewarding than the previous novel IMHO. Watching Breq set about social justice with a vengeance is just extremely satisfying, as is seeing douchebags get their comeuppance. (I hope the Valskaayans have an effing amazing tea party). And the climax, while smaller in scale than Justice, has far greater emotional weight to it as Breq tries to rescue the sister of the lieutenant she loved, and Tisarwat tries to rescue someone she has come to love.

As I said, I do think I enjoyed Ancillary Sword slightly more than Ancillary Justice, but on the whole, they're close to the same level for me - thought-provoking, emotionally gripping reads that are well worth your time. Stay tuned for my review of Ancillary Mercy!

Grade: 4.75

Memorable Quote:

“I am older than I look,” I replied. “I have been in the middle of more than one annexation. I have seen people do things that a month or a year before they would have sworn they would never, ever do.”


System Governor Giarod spoke across the table in the dining room in my Undergarden quarters. “Why, Fleet Captain, do you think I would be one of those people?”

”Everyone is potentially one of those people, Governor,” I replied. “It’s best to learn that before you do something you’ll have trouble living with.” Best to learn it, really, before anyone-perhaps dozens of anyones-died to teach it to you.
— Ancillary Sword, pg. 307-308
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