Ann Leckie’s 2013 novel Ancillary Justice, which swept the major science fiction awards that year, was a first novel that was compelling, innovative, and left readers wanting more. Told with an alternating past/present structure, the book presented a human society that felt alien, in part because of Leckie’s approach to gender. In her star-spanning empire, the Raadch, she/her are the default pronoun for all humans. It was a daring approach, and coupled with the zoom-in/zoom-out first person singular/plural viewpoint of the protagonist Breq, the last surviving member of a compound intelligent military ship, kept readers on their toes and challenged them to rethink their approach to gender. When you don’t know anyone’s gender, eventually the question becomes not “Is this character a man or a woman?” but “What business is it of mine, really?”
The sequel, Ancillary Sword, maintains the first book’s approach to gender and identity, but abandons the asynchronous structure of the first book. That’s wise, but in part because of that, this second-novel has some of the first-novel problems that Justice managed to avoid. The pacing becomes a bit uneven in the middle, the subplots don’t all mesh neatly, and at times Breq seems a bit too prescient, a bit too moralistic. But there are no missteps large enough to discourage fans of the first book, and the resolution moves from climax to climax such that the reader feels launched towards the upcoming third book. If Ancillary Justice has a major flaw, it’s that it ends too quickly, and that readers will have to wait another year for the next one.