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.
When everyone was making a fuss about the pronouns in Ancillary Justice (in the main language there is only one gender and it is translated into English as "she") and decrying it as a feminist text, I was wondering what book they had read. The book I read did not have strong feminist themes and was mainly about colonialism. I have to admit I didn't think very much about themes in Ancillary Sword, but this final volume, Ancillary Mercy, deals very interestingly with ideas of sentience and personhood, particularly when it comes to AIs. Perhaps not a surprising development given the main character and first person narrator is/was a ship. But it is interesting that many of the questions raised took so long to come to the fore. Reading this book, I was thinking "yes, this makes perfect sense given what we know" and then being baffled when other characters didn't agree with me/Breq and friends.
Another strength of Ancillary Mercy comes from the very fact that it is the third book in the series. We know the key characters well, we already care about them and there aren't a huge number of new characters to have to remember. Leckie deals well with the character stuff, not letting the story be completely taken over by action and external events (something I have had issues with in other SF books). My favourite parts were small interactions between often minor characters, like the soldiers' protective feelings towards their lieutenants and Breq. As well as characterisation, the universe is very well developed. Leckie makes us care about tea sets! Plural!
Ancillary Mercy was a great conclusion to the series and I had trouble putting it down. I enjoyed it more than Ancillary Sword, which I gave 5 stars to already. They're not wildly different books (Ancillary Justice, which sets everything up and has a lot of flashbacks is the most different in structure to the other two) and I think Ancillary Mercy was my favourite mainly because the comic relief characters were funnier. Which is kind of an odd thing to say since this is hardly a comedy, but it is what distinguished Ancillary Mercy for me. (Although of the three I find Ancillary Justice the most iconic).
I highly recommend this series to all fans of space opera and hard SF. It's really excellent and showcases Leckie's writing talents and worldbuilding skills. This concluding volume was great and although it didn't tie up everything — the series ended up showing us a self-contained slice of a very large conflict — it was still satisfying. A must read! (But start with the first book.)
5 / 5 stars
First published: October 2015, Tor
Series: Imperial Radch book 3 of 3
Format read: ePub
Source: Google Play