Review: Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie (Spoiler-Free)

[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.

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Library Scavenger Hunt: September

This month’s LSH challenge – to read a book with “journey” (or a synonym) in the title – was chosen in honour of my best friend and co-moderator, Chloë, who’s just moved to Japan. I didn’t really have any idea of what I was going to read for it, and actually abandoned my in-person search after a few hours without success (the only book I could find was Fear Itself: Journey into Mystery, which is something like the twentieth book in a series, so no thanks… 😓). My second go was via the online catalogue, and I’m happy to say that this time I found more success! The book I ended up picking was…

JOURNEY TO THE CENTRE OF THE EARTH
Jules Verne

Brilliant but eccentric Professor Lidenbrock discovers a 300-year-old runic manuscript, which his nephew Axel is unexpectedly able to decode. It spells out the first step of what will become an extraordinary voyage – first to Iceland, and then on to the Earth’s core, with all kinds of unlikely discoveries to be made along the way.

What a fun book! It’s silly, but an incredibly good read. The story was well-paced, eventful and exciting, and though the characters didn’t seem too deep, their differing personalities made them interesting travelling companions. I particularly enjoyed the contrast between Lidenbrock’s wild theories (which seemed mad, but more often than not ended up being right) and Axel’s anxiety over them (which was actually very sensible, but was treated as – and came across as – the attitude of somebody who was just closed-minded). Hans’ unflappable nature was also delightful, and whenever the party got into a pinch, it was always fun to see how Hans would save them…

The Extraordinary Voyages series is massive, and seems only to be thematically connected, so I don’t know that I’d be likely to seek out the rest of them. I certainly wouldn’t be opposed to reading a few more, though, if I stumbled across their paths.

[Find out more about the Library Scavenger Hunt by following this link!]

Review: When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon (Spoiler-Free)

Dimple Shah has one dream, and one dream only: To create an app that can make a difference in people’s lives, while still being fun. The elite Insomnia Con could go a long way towards making that dream a reality, but she’ll need her parents’ permission (and funding) if she wants to attend the expensive app development course, and their plans for Dimple’s future are very different; a husband and family, as soon as possible.

Rishi Patel is hoping to attend Insomnia Con, too, but not because he has any particular interest in coding… He’s there just for Dimple, the girl his parents (and hers) have arranged for him to marry.

This book has been hyped to the skies recently, and I’ll admit that I may have fallen victim to that to an extent, but my main problem with When Dimple Met Rishi was not that it wasn’t what I expected, but just that it’s not very good. 😑 The advertising for the book is certainly misleading in regards to how important Dimple’s app (which, by the way, sounds very much like a narrower, less customisable version of Habitica) would be to the story, but as I was anticipating this (the first time I even heard about this aspect of the story was in a list of books that lied about themselves), it didn’t bother me too much.

What did bother me was how much of the book was taken up with the talent show sub-plot, which could easily have been cut without any consequences whatsoever – except that the book would only have been about half the length. To be honest, it was strange that this talent show was taking place at all at a convention that was supposed to be so labour-intensive that it’d been called “Insomnia Con”… It is explained after the show is over that the prize money is supposed to go towards the winning team’s app, but it doesn’t seem to me to justify the amount of coding time that’s sacrificed in order to prepare for the show. A question for people who know more about app development that I do: Is the money that goes into an app more important than the time? If yes, then I guess this is a non-issue, but otherwise… (Also, if yes, then Menon really should have tried to find a way to make that clear.)

And the characters were also pretty frustrating. Both Dimple and Rishi started out reasonably likably, but their characters went rapidly downhill once Insomnia Con started. They were really judgmental (Rishi less so than Dimple, but not enough to save him from also being incredibly irritating) about everyone around them, and in particular a group that they referred to as the Aberzombies – a trio of wealthy, elitist teenagers who were the most clichéd and one-dimensional villains Menon could possibly have added to the story. Celia and Ashish were the only other major characters at Insomnia Con, and they also only seemed to be there for the benefit of Dimple and Rishi: Celia’s presence meant that Dimple would always have amazing clothes on hand, without Menon having to portray her as the kind of girl who takes her whole wardrobe on holiday with her (which kind of feels like judgement from the author, as well as the characters; liking clothes doesn’t automatically make a person shallow), while Ashish popped up in order to teach Dimple and Rishi how to dance… And also to provide a contrast to Rishi. But since that contrast had already been provided in Dimple, there was really very little point to his being there.

I did find Dimple and Rishi’s different perspectives on Indian culture very interesting, so that’s something that this book has going for it, and I also thought that the relationship between Dimple and her father was very sweet… Menon seemed to be going for a mixture of cute and quirky that makes so many contemporary romances so fun to read, but ended up with something that was mostly just shallow. On the whole, When Dimple Met Rishi ended up falling rather flat for me.

Library Scavenger Hunt: August

This month has been so busy! I was afraid for a while that I wasn’t going to be able to complete the August challenge (read a book with two of something on the cover) at all – which would’ve been a shame, as I was really proud that I came up with this idea. (Obviously, my fears were unfounded, or I wouldn’t be writing this.) So without further ado, the book I picked out this month was…

ANCILLARY JUSTICE
Ann Leckie

Nineteen years ago, Justice of Toren was an Imperial troop carrier; an enormous starship with hundreds of human ancilliaries whose eyes she could see through and bodies she could act through all at once. Now there is only Breq, a single fragment of her former self, with no other bodies, or eyes, or voices. But if she’s lucky, her long mission may be nearing its end, and although it will not right the wrongs that were done all those years ago, it will bring them into the light.

If that summary was a bit nonsensical, it’s because this is a very difficult book to describe. I struggled a lot with the first few chapters, not because anything particularly confusing was going on, but because the idea of a protagonist who is simultaneously both an individual and a collective was a tough one to wrap my head around. There were several places early on in the book where I was taken aback by what seemed to be a sudden, jarring time-skip or change of scene (sometimes even in mid-conversation), only to realise afterwards that Breq/One Esk (Justice of Toren One Esk being Breq’s true name) was actually just looking through one of her other sets of eyes… My confusion was short-lived, however, and it’s a testament to Leckie’s skill as a writer that I was able to adjust to it so quickly, as it’s such a baffling concept.

It was also completely worth any initial struggle on my part. Ancilliary Justice is one of the best books I’ve read all year, and the best sci-fi I’ve read in even longer. Breq’s perspective was fascinating, both of the alternating timelines were entirely (and equally) gripping, and the the world that Leckie has built for this series is incredibly rich and detailed. Her use of gender was also really interesting, and Breq’s frustration whenever she needed to stop and consider it when she (as someone who is part of a gender-neutral society) had to speak to anyone in a language that specifies gender was kind of charming.

For me, however, the best thing about this book was its characters and the relationships between them. I’ve already talked about Breq, but Lieutenant Awn was wonderful, too, and although (like Breq) I really didn’t like Seivarden much when she was first introduced, it was really incredible how much she grew as a character as the story went on; by the end of the book, I liked her just as much as the much more generally likeable Awn… And the sharp contrast between how One Esk interacted with Lieutenant Awn and Seivarden was another thing that I really enjoyed; both relationships almost brought me to tears (of sadness/joy/laughter) in several places. Needless to say, I will be continuing on with this series at the earliest opportunity – I can’t wait to pick up Ancillary Sword!

[Find out more about the Library Scavenger Hunt by following this link!]

#BookTubeAThon 2017: Update 3 & Review

JUST FINISHED: Nowhere People by Paulo Scott.

Driving home one evening from a Workers’ Party meeting, Brazilian law student Paulo meets a young girl on the side of the road, and decides to give her a lift. Maína is fourteen years old, Guarani Indian, and lives with her family in a roadside encampment; she’s not planning on going home.

If I could rate the two halves of this book separately, then I would. I didn’t exactly dislike the first half of the book, but I found it very difficult to get through… Scott’s words themselves (or at least Daniel Hahn’s translation of them) were really beautiful, but I found the way they were structured – each paragraph seeming to take up three or four pages, for no apparent reason – made it really tiring to read, and although (again), I didn’t precisely dislike the main character Paulo, I disapproved of nearly all his life decisions, and found it extremely uncomfortable being inside his head. The sections from Maína’s perspective I found easier to get through, but there weren’t very many of them, and they were all quite short.

However, about halfway through the book we’re introduced to a new main character, Donato, from whose perspective almost the entire remainder of the book is shown, and I loved this part (despite the continuing problem with the paragraph structure). His outlook on the world, his circumstances, his relationships with his friends and parents… they were all really interesting, and only seemed to be becoming more so as the book went on. In particular, I really loved his performance activism towards the end, and the contrast it provided with Paulo’s much less fruitful efforts at activism at the beginning of the book… I only regret that the story ended where it did, as the final scene (a return to Paulo’s perspective) marked a dramatic change for both Paulo and Donato, which I feel could have been explored further.

CURRENT READATHON STATUS: So glad that I finished this book (& the review is slightly late, I know, but I promise that I finished it before midnight)! For a while I didn’t think I was going to make it, but I pulled through! 😆 This was still my least successful booktubeathon ever, but with this third book, I’m actually pretty happy with how it went, as I spent much of the week either  at work, or super-tired, or super-distracted (by Final Fantasy XII 😓)…

And I’ve decided to count this book as completing the cover-buy challenge, as well as the one it was originally intended for, as, well, the whole set of & other strories books that I own I bought at least 80% because they were so pretty. (The other two were By Night the Mountain Burns, and The Alphabet of Birds.)

Books Completed: 3
Pages Read: 914
Challenges Completed: 6/7

#BookTubeAThon 2017: Update 2 & Review

JUST FINISHED: The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken.

A terrifying illness sweeps over the US, killing almost every child who catches it – which is all of them. The lucky survivors, however, might not be so lucky after all, as they’ve all been corralled into massive, dehumanising rehabilitation camps that are supposedly going to help cure them of the frightening, uncontrollable new abilities the the disease has left them with… Ruby is in one of the worst camps, and has been hiding one of the most dangerous kinds of power; a power which may now have come to light.

It’s been a long enough time now since the end of the dystopian craze that I’m no longer put off by the very idea of reading a dystopian novel, but oddly, I think that I would probably have enjoyed The Darkest Minds even if I’d read it back then… Like most good dystopians, there are a lot of truly horrific things going on in this book, but it’s also strangely fun. The characters are all wonderfully quirky, and I loved the way they interacted with each other – and a decent chunk of the book is spent on exploring that dynamic. 😊

Ruby made for a sympathetic and likeable lead, and her fear of her abilities, and her hesitance to use them – even when they would undoubtedly have been helpful – made a lot of sense; I personally found her a lot more relatable than many of the dystopian heroes and heroines that I’ve come across before. As for the side characters: Liam was a sweetheart the whole way through. I’d like to see his character developed a bit more as the series goes on, but as things are now, I like him a lot. Likewise with Zu, who was a very interesting character, but a little under-developed. Chubs was wonderful, too, and the way that he and Ruby slowly warmed up to one another was one of my favourite things about the book… I also really enjoyed reading about Clancy, who was endearing and suspicious in equal measure until pretty close to the end of the book; I’m definitely looking forward to seeing what Braken has done with his character in the next two books.

Plot-wise, the beginning of the book shaped out the world really well, and the final part was exciting and action-packed. There was something of a lull in the middle of the book, but – as I said earlier – I appreciated the space that that left for character- and relationship-building. I’m also a fan of the Ruby-and-Liam romance that is in the works, though I also wouldn’t object to (and may have spotted some hints at) some further exploration of Ruby’s relationship with Clancy, provided that Bracken doesn’t shy away from how messed up it is (and I feel that she wouldn’t).

So, yeah, I really liked this book, and am glad that I finally got round to reading it… Now to hunt down the sequels! 😉

CURRENT READATHON STATUS: Finding it difficult to pull my mind away from Final Fantasy XII, so I’m not sure how much more I’ll be reading today, but I hope to pick up either Nowhere People or Darkbeast next…

Books Completed: 2
Pages Read: 608
Challenges Completed: 4