Tuesday, 1 August 2017

The Imperial Radch Series, by Anne Lecke

The Imperial Radch Series, by Anne Leckie, is a trilogy comprised of Ancillary Justice, Ancillary Sword and Ancillary Mercy. I won’t go into too many details on the characters or plotting, as the twists and turns of fate that trace the steps of the main character spin around short but vital bursts of action that are integral to the whole.

To be honest, I only finished the series a day ago, and while I started the first book a long while back, I still feel like the series requires some digestion before I know exactly how I feel about it. What I can say is that I enjoyed reading the books immensely, and am glad that I did, but they are different and interesting, which is why I walk away my full opinion as yet unformed.

I found the first quarter to third of Ancillary Justice to be rather impenetrable to begin with. First, the main character is gestalt – many bodies with one mind. Second, the culture to which this character belongs (perhaps observes is a better term) is quite separate from more traditional sci-fi staples; it is bound by traditions and observances, by ritual and belief. Third, the first portion of the book takes place on a world in the throes of having being conquered, which in itself provides a dichotomy of cultures to comprehend. Fourth and last, there is a back and forth between the present of the story and a vital past which expounds the whys and wherefores of the present.

So we have an unusual main character and several alien cultures, with their complex politics beating, arrhythmic, beneath the relatively calm surface. I found it a lot to contend with to be honest, but it was interesting, and Leckie provides us with secondary characters who act as something of anchor points from which to hang. As Ancillary Justice wound on, a crucial tipping point occurred, unfolding as ground shifting for us as readers as for the main character, and the story spun in a new arc; previous elements suddenly clarified.

The climax of Ancillary Justice felt short and almost hurried, but as I read through the series I felt that this was the pace of things that Leckie had intended. The pendulum of events in the Imperial Radch series feels like a gradual build-up of pressures released explosively in short bursts of action.

I think one of the things Leckie manages masterfully is the way in which she is able to capture what is being said that is not being said; the implication, suggestion, intention, the compliment and insult... what is communicated through a widening of eyes, a tightening of lips, a straightening of shoulders. Much of the dialog between characters is not what is said, but what is not, at least explicitly.

The Imperial Radch series is an interesting read. I think some will find it endlessly impenetrable, others slow paced and bogged in relationships. For me though, the series is interesting because of those things, it is somewhat impenetrable because of the detail Leckie builds into her worlds and characters, it isn't bogged in relationships, but relationships are fundamental - these are the fulcrums around which everything pivots and all meaning is lost without them.

The story, overall, is about relationships, the pressures are personal and political more than anything else, it is about identity and agency, and about the violation of those things.

The pacing is different, with its build ups and explosive reliefs, but as much as a flurry of action might pass in an instant the story does not feel slow. Having read the three books of the series, I find it difficult to disentangle them. I like the setting, there is much that is different and unique about it that could be mentioned, but as much as they are interesting, what I think rings strongest for me revolves around the themes of agency and ownership. Themes I can’t help but to relate to our own developing understanding of other animals on this planet, and of the technology we are developing.

I’m still not sure exactly how I feel about these books, but I am glad to have read them, and will be looking forward to whatever else Leckie pens.


  1. I actually have this series and I enjoyed it, I'll have to revisit it soon and we can discuss it if you like.

  2. What happened to Breq and Seivarden when they jumped off the bridge? How was that possible? I finished the first book but left it at that.

    1. My memory is hazy, while I finished the third book only a few days ago the first I read last year sometime. Both were injured - Breq more so from memory. I think they fell into something - but I can't recall specifically. Breq is also more than human - but as I said - my memory is hazy. I'll see if I can find the part...