Ancillary Sword is part two of Ann Leckie’s Space Opera series Imperial Radch. The opening book of the series, Ancillary Justice, won many awards including the Arthur C. Clark, Hugo and Nebula awards. That’s no small feat. It shows that Ann Leckie knows how to write well, and she continues to write well in book two. Here is the summary of book two from Goodreads.
The Lord of the Radch has given Breq command of the ship Mercy of Kalr and sent her to the only place she would have agreed to go — to Athoek Station, where Lieutenant Awn’s sister works in Horticulture.
Athoek was annexed some six hundred years ago, and by now everyone is fully civilized — or should be. But everything is not as tranquil as it appears. Old divisions are still troublesome, Athoek Station’s AI is unhappy with the situation, and it looks like the alien Presger might have taken an interest in what’s going on. With no guarantees that interest is benevolent.
If you haven’t read Ancillary Justice, that probably doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to you. That’s indicative. Don’t pick this book up and expect to get a self-contained story. Though it would not be a bad read, it would be a not very fulfilling read. These books will need to be taken in order to get the full appreciation of them. There are ongoing plots and sub-plots of which you’ll have no knowledge, like why does Lieutenant Awn’s sister matter, if you don’t read Ancillary Justice first. So do yourself the favor and take them in order.
And when you get to Ancillary Sword, don’t expect it to be another Ancillary Justice which won a total of five major awards and several more minor awards. It is not. Ancillary Sward is well written, but it is not nearly as engrossing as that first story was engrossing. But do not dismay, and don’t avoid the book because it isn’t as brilliant as the first. Here’s why.
This is Star Wars. Not in the whole grandiose good versus evil sense of that epic. Fortunately Imperial Radch is a bit more nuanced than Star Wars, and a better read for it. Where it is similar is that there was this spectacular series of events that got the whole thing rolling to a spectacular finale, but the issue wasn’t actually resolved in the least. Therefor we got The Empire Strikes Back. I am old enough to remember how disappointed everyone was in that second film come opening weekend. No one likes to see their heroes get battered so badly. And there was no feel-good hooray-for-the-good-guys emotion coming out of that theater I can tell you. Luke was mangled, Leia was tortured and Han was a block of carbonite! I’m not saying that happens in Ancillary Sword. But, I’m not saying it doesn’t either.
What I am saying is this is a bridging novel. It gets us from the beginning and into the heart of the struggle that’s got the entire galaxy fighting. Star Wars was the story of Luke Skywalker getting off of his backwater… no, strike that… outback world and into the greater universe. He learns a few things along the way and discovers he has a destiny. But in the end, it is a story about Luke Skywalker and only Luke Skywalker. It’s his journey. The Empire Strikes Back was an introduction to the monolithic struggle of good versus evil that had set the entire galaxy aflame. It was a bridging story to that grander conflict.
That is what Ancillary Sword is. It’s the road that gets you to that bigger future. And it’s a good road. I’ve read many worse novels and still enjoyed them. You will definitely enjoy Ancillary Sword. And like me, you will be Patiently™ waiting for the next book, Ancillary Mercy, to find out what happens next. The story isn’t over in Ancillary Sword, just like it wasn’t over in The Empire Strikes Back. In fact, I’ve more questions about what’s going on in Radch space now than I had at the end of Ancillary Justice. That’s as it should be I’m thinking, especially in Space Opera.