Book Review: Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie

Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie
Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie
Orbit, 2015
Cover art by John Harris

Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie satisfies my hopes for her Imperial Radch series. It’s a worthy conclusion to the story of Breq Mianaai / Justice of Toren One Esk Nineteen.

I admit I had reservations going into this third book of the series. The first novel showed so much promise but the second was strangely limited and left much to be desired. I really couldn’t get a sense of where the concluding volume would go.

Ancillary Mercy is a well-balanced amalgam of its predecessors. It takes place in the same location as Ancillary Sword but brings back the galactic scope of Ancillary Justice. It presents an ending which manages to be believable and appropriate, but also unexpected and compellingly unresolved.

It’s still a personal story, told on a personal scale, but it offers the potential of grand consequences for civilization as a whole.

We learn more about the old conflict which split Anaander Mianaai into multiple versions of herself; we gain new and fascinating perspectives on the alien Presger; and Breq brings a brand new set of players to the field who fundamentally alter the stakes of the conflict in a way which could forever change the nature of galactic civilization.

In particular, Breq finds a solution which doesn’t require war. She discerns the possibility of a peaceful conclusion to the conflict rending the Imperial Radch. It marks a striking change in Breq’s personal growth: from someone out for blood and revenge in the first novel, to a successful statesman who seeks to minimize bloodshed and find political solutions. Someone who puts the good of society ahead of her own. Someone who embraces uncertainty and lets go of control.

A true foil to Anaander Mianaai. Breq chooses to trust, where Anaander chooses to fear. Breq empowers others, where Anaander seeks to dominate. Breq is one reduced from many, whereas Anaander is many replicated from one. These characters constitute one of the most interesting juxtapositions in the history of SF.

What I admire most about this whole series is that Ms. Leckie never loses her focus. This is Breq’s story, and not a story about the Imperial Radch as a whole (Breq just happens to find herself at the center of the definitive conflict of her age). Ms. Leckie shows us only what we need to know to make sense of Breq’s experiences, but that’s more than enough for the reader to learn the scope of the larger galactic context.

The universe in these novels is compelling and complex—the kind of universe in which it would be far too easy to get distracted and side-tracked, lost in the details. All too often, such is the downfall of many authors who create settings on a similar scale. Ms. Leckie neatly avoids this pitfall and never loses control of her narrative. It remains Breq’s story throughout.

With Ancillary Mercy, Breq’s story concludes by leaving her in a position of strength. But this doesn’t mark an end to the conflict raging in the larger context of the Imperial Radch. Anaander Mianaai is still split and at war with herself, and the Presger still present a potential threat. We don’t know how the new players Breq throws into the mix will play out. The stage is set for a resolution of these larger issues but their conclusion lies outside the scope of Breq’s story. Ms. Leckie wisely leaves them unresolved.

Throughout the series, Ms. Leckie blends the personal with the political, the small scale with the grand. Judged from that perspective, Ancillary Mercy ends story exactly as it should.

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