Ann Leckie’s first novel, ‘Ancillary Justice’, has some interesting ideas that would work well in a short story but vastly padded out with descriptive detail and dialogue in this form. This isn’t helped when two significant events happen but are only given a line each and you have to go back and wonder how you missed it, mostly because it lacks the detail she uses elsewhere. I’m tending to put this down to inexperience than deliberation though. Reading her interview at the back of the book after finishing the story, Leckie points out all her material to date has been short stories. As much as I feel getting a grounding in short stories is essential for any writer, understanding the difference in requirement for the long form and that it is a more complex animal in plot than descriptive detail. This is a shame really as the reality Leckie has created here does show potential.
The Justice of Toren, an AI driven starship has been dead with the exception of its mentally injured captain, Seivarden Vendaai, and its last female organic avatars and one of them, One Esk, using the name Breq Ghaiad. She follow the captain down to Shis’urna, an icy planet to recuperate. As the story unravels, Shis’urna shows itself to have a lot of dishonest people which the local police force has difficulty keeping under control and so invariably focuses on ‘tourists’. There is also a mixture of class system and various houses. Also, Vendaai belongs to the House Seivarden, having been away a thousand years, various allegiances are gone, so she can’t ask for favours. All of this is interlinked to events in the past to provide the back story to what is going on.
It’s only towards the end of the story that the murderous captain of another AI ship is on the loose on the planet and Breq has to deal with her before she destroys the world. As pointed out in the introductory paragraph above, the action is brief and too much chatting in the aftermath.
This is supposed to be the first book of a trio of books in this series. I should point out that not all characters are female. However, there is just too much concentration of the main characters with less attention given to the reality and how the various houses function. In fact, their lack of involvement is a shame considering what information is given. Leckie shows promise for the future but she needs some more thought as to what makes a novel function and develop more complex plots.
(pub: Orbit/LittleBrown. 384 page small enlarged paperback. Price: £ 7.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-356-50240-3)