[Warning: This is a spoiler-free review, but I will be referencing some events from Ancillary Justice, so if you haven’t started the series at all yet, beware. Click here for my review of the first book.]
Athoek Station is almost as far from the Lord of the Radch’s influence as it’s possible to get without leaving the Empire; with a great deal of wealth and prestige – both from it’s thriving tea industry – and an alarming schism between the ruling and working classes. Breq has been sent here in order to protect the Station from the no-longer-secret war between the two different parts of the Lord of the Radch herself… but she has her own agenda, too: to make contact with the Horticulturalist Basnaaid Elming, the younger sister of Lieutenant Awn.
This book involved a mixture of politics and culture that made for an incredibly interesting story, but the scale of it surprised me somewhat; the ending of Ancillary Justice seemed to promise far-reaching changes to the Radch Empire, but it seems that Athoek Station is just a bit too far for those changes to have taken effect. And although this does make sense when considering that Athoek is a remote station, on the very edge of Radch territory, it makes it an odd place for Leckie to have chosen to set the book.
It’s also never made entirely clear why Breq is sent to Athoek at all. She mentions several times in the first book wanting to track down Awn’s younger sister, Basnaaid, which is motive enough on her own part, but why does the Lord of the Radch want her there? Is it simply to spread the word of the now-open war? Because that would seem to be a mission that Breq would approve of, but she expends very little effort in trying to convince the local government of what’s happened. Or is she simply there to defend the station? That’s definitely a task that she throws herself into, but it seems strange that the Lord of the Radch would send Breq to protect a place that is both incredibly far away from her, and also grants her very little tactical advantage… While I did enjoy the story a lot, I’m still not sure why it happened, or how it’s supposed to affect the series going forward.
Another surprise in this book was how small Seivarden’s role in it was; when at the end of the last book, she decided to accompany Breq on Mercy of Kalr, I expected that their relationship (which was one of my favourite things about Ancillary Justice) would be explored a lot further, but although Seivarden’s feelings towards Breq are made even more plain in this book, they actually spend very little time together. I did, however, like the focus that was put on some of the newer characters: Sirix provided an interesting and unique perspective on Athoek Station; Tisarwat played an unexpectedly prominent role in the story, and managed to bring out a new side of Breq that was both frightening and compassionate. And I particularly liked the contrast between Mercy of Kalr’s human crew who acted like ancillaries (usually represented by Kalr Five), Breq who was an ancillary but was thought to be human, and the actual ancillaries of Sword of Atagaris that they encountered at the station…
(If you’ve noticed that I didn’t even mention Basnaaid Elming, then it’s because she also played a surprisingly small part in the book.)
Ancillary Justice is a tough act to follow; it’s probably my favourite book of the year so far. My sky-high expectations, combined with a dramatic shift in tone, meant that naturally this sequel was something of a disappointment to me… but it’s still an excellent book. I’m very eager to finish the trilogy.