Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie

And now we get to the end of the Imperial Radch trilogy. Anne Leckie made quite a splash when Ancillary Justice, the first book of the trilogy, was published October of 2013.  I did not write a review of that book. I started posting reviews only last year. But on my Goodreads page I did give it five stars. It was quite a good book, with a strong protagonist and more than a few emotion evoking moments within its pages. It was a tour de force; winning the Arthur C. Clark, Hugo and Nebula awards.

I did write a review of book two, Ancillary Sword, last year. You can read it here. In that review I had this to say about Ancillary Sword,

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.

Ancillary Mercy is no different from Ancillary Sword in that regard. But before I launch into the thing I object to most about this book, here is the publisher’s summary for the sake of getting us all humming the same tune,

The stunning conclusion to the trilogy that began with the Hugo, Nebula, and Arthur C. Clarke award-winning Ancillary Justice.

For a moment, things seem to be under control for the soldier known as Breq. Then a search of Atheok Station’s slums turns up someone who shouldn’t exist – someone who might be an ancillary from a ship that’s been hiding beyond the empire’s reach for three thousand years. Meanwhile, a messenger from the alien and mysterious Presger empire arrives, as does Breq’s enemy, the divided and quite possibly insane Anaander Mianaai – ruler of an empire at war with itself.

Anaander is heavily armed and extremely unhappy with Breq. She could take her ship and crew and flee, but that would leave everyone at Athoek in terrible danger. Breq has a desperate plan. The odds aren’t good, but that’s never stopped her before.

The emphasis is not mine. It’s the publishers. And to be quite honest, it is a load of bull. There was nothing stunning about the end of this trilogy. What started with such a bang ended with little more than a whimper. It was disappointing.

Does that mean I regret reading it? No, I do not. Book three was necessary to make me understand that these three books are not the trilogy Ancillary Justice should have inspired. These three books are only two-thirds of the trilogy that should have been written.

Look, I could go into spoiler territory and tell you how the “someone who shouldn’t exist” was a wasted character that had practically no impact on the outcome of the story. I could talk about all the “conflicts” that ended up being no conflict at all really. They just sizzled when they should have gone boom. But that’s not what’s got me so dissatisfied.

My dissatisfaction stems from this third book, the climax of the trilogy, Breq’s Return of the King moment, being nothing more than the second half of Ancillary Sword. It picks up days after that book ends, and is the logical continuation of the events which began on Atheok Station in Ancillary Sword. I’ve been robbed!

When I bought Ancillary Mercy, I was afraid this was going to happen. I was once before very disappointed in a trilogy that started our strong and ended weakly. That was the Eden series by Harry Harrison. West of Eden, published in 1984, was an incredible book, full of interesting characters and interesting ideas. The follow on novels in the trilogy got progressively shorter and progressively less inspiring. The last book felt rushed, and nothing more than a contract fulfilled. It certainly didn’t fulfill me the reader.

Ancillary Mercy has left me with the exact same feeling. It too is the shortest of the three books at 336 pages paperback (Ancillary Justice 386 pages paperback; Ancillary Sword 356 pages paperback.) It’s not badly written. Quite the opposite in fact. And the characters are just as good as before, many of them being the same. It’s just not a good end to this trilogy. It would have been a great end to Ancillary Sword though. In fact, it would have been a better ending than the one we got in my opinion, but now at least I know why Ancillary Sword ended so openly without any real closures.

Regardless, I recommend you read Ancillary Mercy. Don’t spite your face because you don’t like your nose. It’ll at least answer a few unanswered questions from Ancillary Sword. And it does end the trilogy, and that’s frankly tragic. I think the third book could have been better than Ancillary Justice. However, explaining that will require a lot of spoiler, and I don’t like doing that to people. If you want to know what I think should have been the third book, click on the break below to see the rest of this review.

To any great trilogy, there is a beginning, a middle and a decided end, which is also a new beginning. The classic case here is the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but there are others, like the original Star Wars trilogy. We did not get that in the Imperial Radch trilogy. We got an awesome beginning, a good middle, but there is no decided end. The civil war continues. Nothing is concluded between the two factions of Mianaai. If the Lord of the Rings ended at the fall of Orthanc, that would be an apt comparison.

But in Ancillary Mercy, the question of AI self-determination is brought up to the Presger translator, and the translator informs the Lord of the Radch a Conclave would be needed to determine if AIs are indeed a separate species and thus protected under the Presger treaty which keeps all humans safe from annihilation. THAT, THAT RIGHT THERE should have been the third book of this trilogy.

In that book, we’d have learned the true nature of the Presger, something I want explained. No author should create such an enigmatic race and then leave the reader hanging as to what they truly are like. I was teased and teased by Ms. Leckie about their nature, but I never got to “see” one, or learn the why of them, and that upsets me.

In that book, the civil war would have been settled. There would have been epic battles; epic personal struggles. Lieutenant Tisarwat would have gotten that command she so desperately wants. Seivarden could have reestablished his house a better human being than when his ship was destroyed 1000 years ago. Ancillary Mercy started her down that path, but it is an incomplete journey. Other characters would get more resolution than one measly chapter at the end of a measly second half of a good book.

But even if the book I envision isn’t what Anne Leckie would write, the third book should still give us an end that is also a beginning, and Ancillary Mercy does not give that, any more than winning the Battle of Helms Deep ended the War of the Ring. Maybe we’ll get lucky and the Presger continuation will be a second trilogy. But please Ms. Leckie, give us three complete books in proper trilogy fashion. This is too good to be run of the mill space opera.