What was Book #1, you might be asking? Purity, by Jonathan Franzen. Enough ink has been spilled on that book already to where I see no need to add to it. If you like Franzen, you’ll probably like Purity, tho’ I didn’t find it quite as good as either The Corrections or Freedom. I hated every character, but loved reading about them getting their various comeuppances. It’s a book generally about well-off, hateful white assholes designed to be appreciated and enjoyed by well-off, hateful white assholes. It succeeds miserably and completely on that front. The End.
So, Book # 2 on the year is, uncomfortably, the middle volume of a three-book sci-fi romp that has garnered all the praise and awards (seriously, the first book took home the Hugo, Nebula, Clarke AND Locus. And it was Leckie’s debut novel. That’s some achievement right there), and the first book, Ancillary Justice, sure deserved them. I enjoyed that volume tremendously and was looking forward to this sequel.
Unfortunately, a lot of what I liked about the first entry is missing in the second. Breq, again our protagonist, was rather fascinating as a ship. Not so much as a human. Anaander Mianaai, a wonderful villain and concept (Near-Immortal Emperor of the big human empire who also happens to be at war with herself), is relegated to a brief appearance at the very start and some background mentions in passing otherwise. The completely alien and beyond-powerful Presger? Also almost entirely absent, except for a short stint as a Plot Device spent by the wonderful character of Dlique, their human-born but otherwise completely alien translator. Frankly, even the use of “she” for all genders (the Radch do not recognize gender in their speech, so the characters generally refer to everyone using female pronouns), which was a neat trick in the first novel, is more of a nuisance here, and actually set aside entirely in one scene where it would’ve muddled things up too much.
What we do get is a thinly-(very)-veiled morality play about Why Imperialism And Colonialism Are Bad. Most of the action takes place on Athoek Station and its namesake planet, both of which feature a colonial overlord class that lords it over the other races and keeps them oppressed. On the station, they live in the “Undergarden”, which is heavily and brutally policed, and completely unserved by the social and health services that exist for everyone else on the station. On the planet, the non-Radch are either plantation masters or the actual not-slaves-but-totally-slaves that harvest the tea that is the source of the planet’s wealth. Yes, really. A sci-fi book that centers on tea plantations.
I’m seriously hoping we just had a bad case of Middle Book Syndrome here, because I’ll be getting to the closing volume of the trilogy after a quick palette cleanse, but for now I am as disappointed in this book as I was impressed with the first.