I feel like I don’t actually need to recommend Ancillary Justice, since everyone’s been gushing about it all year. It won the Arthur C. Clarke award for best novel, the Nebula for best novel, the BSFA award for best novel, and currently it’s up for a Hugo for best novel. Plus a boatload of other awards. Still, I’ll toss in my two cents and say that I thought the book was fantastic.
The protagonist of the book is the spaceship Justice of Toren, or rather, the artificial intelligence that controls it. In the world of the novel, the Radch empire has been expanding unstoppably through space, taking over planets left and right. Some ships are crewed by humans, but some are crewed by ancillaries, which are bodies controlled by an artificial intelligence. The bodies themselves are supplied by people whose original personalities have been scraped away. Justice of Toren controls twenty such bodies, with hundreds or even thousands more kept cryogenically frozen in the ship, and can also monitor the emotions and vital signs of the entire crew. At the moment, they’re stationed on a planet that has recently been taken over by the Radch empire.
Running parallel to this is the plotline of Breq, who is one of the ancillaries of Justice of Toren. It’s twenty years later, and for reasons that are initially unclear, Breq is no longer a ship or a crew, but simply one person. She (and in the language of the narrator, all people are ‘she’, even if they are known to be male) is on a solitary mission of revenge and is making her way through a world that does not consider her to be a person.
It’s a very ambitious first novel, and handles the odd narration style beautifully. The writing is spare and elegant, told from the point of view of an AI that tries very hard not to become emotionally involved in the world. Despite the fact that the protagonist is so inhuman, she becomes immensely likeable. The book itself is the first in a trilogy, which I didn’t know when I was reading it but was delighted to find out. Breq is someone I really want to read more about.
I’ll admit that the intricacies of the plot were a little hard to follow at times, and I plan to read the novel again to understand it a bit better. I think the fact that I want to read the sequel so badly speaks well for the writing. It’s a gorgeous first novel and I highly recommend it.