Review: Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie
Orbit / #3 of 3, Imperial Radch
“The point is, there is not point. Choose your own.”
This review remains spoiler-free for all three books, apart from character mentions (so you’ll be aware of a couple of people who are still alive as of Ancillary Mercy).
As with Ancillary Justice, I’m struggling to write a review for Mercy that doesn’t for sound like incoherent gushing because I loved it so much. An example of how much: I picked it up today with the idea of flipping through to find a quote for the beginning of the review, and two hours later realized that I hadn’t moved and was halfway through rereading it. Most of this book is people just talking to each other, politicking and navigating personal relationships, and yet it is completely spellbinding and impossible to put down. Moments of suspense and action are combined with social commentary and a rich array of thematic material about how people (some of them AIs) negotiate sentience, decision-making, personhood, privilege, feelings, self-determination. And did I mention the protagonist being a singing spaceship?!? These books are amazing. Ann Leckie is amazing.
And Breq is amazing. I love Breq when she is politely tactful, when she is sarcastic, and most of all when she is absolutely not giving a shit. I love her long moments of introspection, her moments of being a total badass, her decisiveness, and her vulnerabilities and insecurities—which we see more of in this book than in any other. Ancillary Mercy has an incredible sense of loss. This isn’t a new theme. But in Mercy, the focus is on the loss of what she once was—dealing with the mortality, relative powerlessness, and loneliness that comes with being a single ancillary.
Ancillary Mercy is also a book about relationships, between comrades, between ships and captains, between friends, mentors, lovers. The stories are told with an almost invasive intimacy combined with an impassive distance, both a result of the not-quite-human narrator. So much is conveyed in the small details. An example: a couple of times Breq casually notes crew members humming or singing to themselves. Breq observes it only because she’s attracted to the music, but for the reader it is a touching indication of the crew picking up on Breq’s habits. It’s the dozens of little things like this that end up making this book so emotional. The result is a story that is exciting and thought-provoking, as I’ve come to expect from the series, but also one that is intensely beautiful and personal.
And I want to specially mention Seivarden. After her smaller part in Sword, she is back doing her thing: that is, being arrogant and self-loathing, trying (and failing) to overcome her classist assumptions, and struggling with addiction. She is flawed and defensive, but she is gradually learning to acknowledge her privilege and trust the validity of others’ feelings and experiences, and it makes for a meaningful character arc. I spent about half the book wanting to yell at her and half wanting to give her a hug, which is the true sign of a good character.
The biggest surprise of Ancillary Mercy for me? This book is truly, genuinely hilarious. Each Imperial Radch book has had a couple of real laugh out loud moments for me, but the introduction of two fantastic new characters – neither of whom I want to spoil for you! – had me laughing out loud constantly, even during some of the greatest moments of conflict in the book.
So. I laughed a lot. I cried a little bit. I read portions of it (one chapter in particular) with this deep, profound ache of sadness and loss. Closing it, I am so disappointed my days with Breq are over, but ridiculously excited about what could come next for this universe. The trilogy has lived up to all the wonder and awe and promise I felt in Ancillary Justice – and it’s such a rare and glorious gift to find a finale that does this.
Only time and rereading will confirm… but right now this feels like one of the best trilogies I’ve read ever. Possibly the best. I adore nearly everything about it, and I have no doubt I will be singing its praises (ha… ha… ha) for years to come.
If you like reading about ______, you should read the Imperial Radch trilogy (starting with Ancillary Justice):
- All of those amazing themes I talked about in this review and others (Colonialism, oppressive frameworks, identity, classism, self-determination, blah blah blah….)
- Spaceships with feelings
- Super badass protagonists
- Beautiful, non-sexual love stories
- Loss, and learning to continue on in the face of that loss