The first book in Ann Leckie’s Imperial Radch trilogy, Ancillary Justice (winner of the Hugo and Nebula awards) opens with the protagonist, Breq, taking on a complication to her revenge quest by helping a familiar figure lying near death in the snow. It’s a quest that’s taken nineteen years, which we’re introduced to when the end finally seems in reach.
Leckie splits the timeline to show readers Breq’s motivation in one chapter, her current progress towards revenge in the next, and back again. Each chapter explains more of the far-future Breq inhabits, while raising more questions and building foreshadowing.
Told from the perspective of a former warship AI, now stuck in one single human body, the Imperial Radch trilogy interrogates the horrors of imperialism, the ripple effects of care and kindness, the ethics of placing controls on a non-human sentient entity for the supposed safety of humans, and the classic science-fiction question of “how do we decide who is a person?”
By writing entirely from the point of view of an AI character, Leckie deftly places the answers to those questions in the hands of the subject itself.
Outside of the revenge quest, Leckie uses the future setting to explore the interaction of language and gender. The culture that builds AI warships exclusively uses ‘she/her’ in its official language. Over the story, Breq must use other languages, with a variety of pronouns, and avoid giving offense or making her culture of origin too apparent.
Her frustration over inconsistencies in cultural gender markers ties back to her identity struggles; Breq’s first two thousand years of life were spent with constant access to information networks and databanks, in which she could know the appropriate pronoun for anyone around her in multiple languages in a blink. Nineteen years in a single, isolated body, the arbitrary need to choose pronouns for other people and for self-reference constantly drive home how different she is from what she once was.
With a debut trilogy this fascinating and hard-to-put-down, Leckie has established herself as an author worth watching.