Book Review

Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie

Ann Leckie's Ancillary Trilogy ends with a whimper (I wanted a bang)

I read this book – the finale of Ann Leckie’s Ancillary trilogy, over Christmas.

I picked it because, as you can imagine, the holidays are not a great time for me (I lack sufficient people in my life to make any supposedly group or community geared experience hold anything but sorrow #boohoohoo) and I wanted to read something exciting, something frothy, something not too demanding and something that would keep me nicely distracted from the fact that I don’t really exist in any meaningful way.

The first book in this trilogy – Ancillary Justice – was brilliant and exactly that: a dual-timelined masterpiece that neatly wove narrative twists, high stakes, questions about sentience and explorations of disconnectedness into a cracking piece of science fiction high adventure.

The second one, Ancillary Sword, didn’t quite have the same magic and did that thing that sequels have often done and often done badly: raised the stakes exponentially without raising the emotion or the drama.

Unfortunately, Ancillary Mercy (this one, the third one) did this again, and in a novel roughly half the length of the previous two installments, Leckie kinda concludes – but kinda doesn’t – this narrative about a spaceship’s AI that was loaded into thousands of human “ancillaries” (their own memories and lives wiped) and all but one (and the spaceship) were destroyed by a megalomaniac space empress who had cloned herself so many times that intergalactic space war was happening between the various factions of the cloned genocidal warmonger.

It sounds like it should be good, right?

And the first one is not just good, the first one is great! And so too are parts of the second one, so too are parts of this one – especially the sections in Ancillary Mercy that feature Leckie’s first recurring alien character (the alien who briefly appeared in the second book was killed off almost as soon as they were introduced).

What’s great about these novels is Leckie’s “world building” (I know that’s a term that has reached saturation and we’re meant to avoid using it now): the intricacies of the space empire she creates is fun and intriguing enough, but the allusions and brief dalliances with characters and events set outside of this empire are the most exciting bits of these novels.

I liked Ancillary Mercy, I did, but I didn’t love it, and I wanted to love it. Maybe I even needed to.

Leckie has published a fourth novel set in this fictional universe that is not a continuation of the narratives from this trilogy, and I will definitely read that at some point as – I ‘ave to be ‘onest – I did like this, even though (to repeat) I didn’t love it.

Leckie’s settings and scenarios are evocative and exciting, but there are only so many times “the fate of all society as we know it” can be the narrative thrust, and – as much as I liked the two characters who featured throughout the trilogy – I never really cared for any of the later additions, except for the aliens, and I felt that the trilogy’s rather upbeat ending was a bit of a cop out.

I’d hoped that the main character would have to wrestle more seriously with feelings of guilt around inhabiting a body that had once been someone else’s (and that someone no longer existing), but this never really came up.

Rather than, as I said, escalating the emotional weight of the narrative, Leckie instead escalates the plot, but the plot is unescalateable, and this third novel is ultimately a disappointment.

I’ll read more Leckie, definitely I will, but I’d certainly be wary to read again a second book of a second trilogy of hers, no matter how strong the opening…

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