Ancillary Mercy is both the conclusion and the high point of Ann Leckie’s Imperial Radch trilogy. The series follows Breq, the last splinter of a destroyed starship, on her journey from soldier seeking vengeance to…
I’m going to stop there because I don’t want to give away too much, but the ending is both surprisingly low-key and deeply satisfying.
At its best, science fiction is able to use a broad canvas to explore very human concerns. And the Imperial Radch trilogy — and especially Ancillary Mercy — really is science fiction at its best.
Autonomy matters. Personhood matters. And, if personhood is a function of sentience, then there is no rational reason to limit it to humanity. When the autonomy of people is acknowledged — regardless of whether those people happen to be human, or a sentient space station, or a warship, or more — then a small group can work together to achieve the seemingly impossible.
It’s a message that could easily come across a trite but, in Leckie’s hands, the effortlessly gripping narrative incorporates these ideas in a manner that is both unobtrusive and effective.
This is all the more impressive given the way Leckie cherry picks her way through the mass of space opera tropes. Rather than a series of epic space-battles, we have determined individual, a stubborn space station, a teenager, and a lot of discussion. While the backdrop for this novel is huge, involving an interplanetary war between the various selves of a divided, and quite possibly mad, tyrant, the focus is very much on the characters, their relationships and the immediate problems they face.
Ancillary Mercy is a superb finale to an excellent trilogy and a remarkably good novel in it’s own right. And while this story arc comes to a very satisfying conclusion, there is clearly a great deal of space for more stories to be told in the same universe. I sincerely hope that Leckie finds the time to tell some of them.