Review – Ancillary Mercy

Posted October 30, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Ancillary Mercy by Ann LeckieAncillary Mercy, Ann Leckie

The finale of the trilogy! If you are hoping for a massive showdown between multiple parts of Anaander Mianaai, this isn’t quite it. It remains the story of Breq, and all the characters around her: Seivarden, Tisarwat, Mercy of Kalr, Ekalu… Breq continues to hold Athoek Station, dealing with the resistance to her insistence on changing things and figuring out who supports what faction and how to move all the pieces on the board to protect those she feels responsible for. And of course, the Tyrant wants access to the Athoek System, and wants revenge on Breq, and that arc does play out here.

All in all, I find it both a satisfying and climactic ending — involving a lot of the small (and not so small) pieces coming together into a new whole. Not only that, but there are some amazing explorations of the relationships in the story: Seivarden and Breq, Seivarden and Ekalu, Breq and Mercy of Kalr, Breq and Basnaaid… One of my favourite bits involves a three-way conversation between Seivarden, Breq and Mercy of Kalr, but there’s so many other favourite parts to choose from: Translator Zeiat and Sphene, Breq and Sphene, most scenes with either Zeiat or Sphene… There’s a lot going on emotionally as well, and I don’t feel unsatisfied by the fact that the story is entirely tied up in a bow.

I do think these books have disappointed some people by not being focused on the Tyrant tearing herself apart, the larger story which is often just a backdrop to the interpersonal affairs we see. Others have been disappointed by Breq’s measured perspective on things, that her reactions are not more human, more immediate. She does feel things deeply, but you see that through a sheet of ice sometimes, because she was a Ship and she is also analysing things from that perspective, as someone who has been many people in one (or one person in many — I think it’s clear it goes both ways, though: the ancillaries are both the ship’s mind and control, and also a little bit themselves). The deep attachment to Breq and to the other characters through her is one that has grown on me, rather than being there ready-made; it’s not an instantaneous liking as of meeting a person you want to know. I love the way Breq’s character is developed, and the things she has to learn and the ways she feels, but I think she’s an acquired taste, and perhaps one some people won’t acquire, and that’s fine.

But for me, Leckie’s first trilogy remains not just groundbreaking space opera for being different or doing daring gender things or not just being generic white culture in space or any of the things that people have praised it for — it’s also something with a lot to think about, and a lot to love if that kind of story and those kind of characters are to your taste. There’s stuff here to come back to again and again, and I’m sure I will continue to do so.

Rating: 5/5

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Weekly Roundup

Posted October 26, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 6 Comments

Good morning, folks! The bunny hutch drama took some sorting out — it arrived, and we spent about three hours trying to push it into the flat, but we couldn’t manage it. Buuut we found a local moving company willing to help, and they shifted it in, and now it sits in our flat, minus only the trim on its roof! To gain an appreciation of how truly large it is (and how cute the buns are), here are some pics (click them to embiggen)…

That last pic is me standing on the floor, body mostly straight… I am 5ft4, or around 1.6m tall.

You see why it was a bit of an effort! In any case, a mostly quiet week for acquiring and reading books…


Cover of Gilded Cage by KJ Charles Cover of Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri

Read this week:

Cover of Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water by Vlyar Kaftan Cover of Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie Cover of Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie

Reviews posted this week:

Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water, by Vylar Kaftan. Less plotty and more character-focused than I expected; I found at least one of the twists rather… not so much predictable, in retrospect, as banal. Of course that was what happened. So it left me a little cold. 3/5 stars
Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie. A reread, and just as beloved as ever! I found myself focusing on Seivarden and how she is an utter problematic fave. 5/5 stars
Any Old Diamonds, by K.J. Charles. Lovely relationship between the characters, wrapped into a plot that’s both heart-wrenching and satisfying. 4/5 stars
Ancillary Sword, by Ann Leckie. Quieter than the first book, maybe; I think this had people thinking about second book syndrome, and yet to my mind it totally avoids that. Perceiving it as that is to sort of miss the point of Breq’s quiet one-step-forward-and-then-the-next passage through life. The point isn’t to shake the stars, it’s to stay alive and do what one can in one’s own orbit. 5/5 stars

Other posts:

WWW Wednesday. The usual Wednesday post, including lesbian space pirates and Ann Leckie.

So that’s that. How’s everyone else been doing?

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Review – Ancillary Sword

Posted October 24, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Ancillary Sword by Ann LeckieAncillary Sword, Ann Leckie

In the second book of this series, Breq is sent by one version of Anaander Mianaai to secure a system. Before she even arrives at Athoek Station, of course, Breq sets out to change things, defend the system, and serve only her own notions of what is best. Which sounds pretty disloyal, but another version of Anaander Mianaai destroyed the other parts of Breq, and a lieutenant that Justice of Toren loved…

Okay, it’s all very complicated to explain if you haven’t read the first book, and I don’t think it’s a good idea to jump in with Ancillary Sword. It’s in some ways a quieter story than Ancillary Justice: the problems faced are all very local, problems with the crew and with the staff on Station, with only hints of the larger conflict intruding.

In that sense it might feel rather middle bookish, but I think that would be a mistake — seen as a whole, the second book is very much the point of this trilogy. Not epic space battles and daring escapes, but drinking tea, talking to people, changing things with a refusal to accept that things must be right as they are simply because they are that way when you find them. Breq has a journey in these books, but it isn’t to become leader of the whole Radch, to overthrow a whole regime, and this book reflects that: Breq simply wants to make a place for herself, and to take care of those she has become responsible for.

The first time I read it, I definitely didn’t enjoy it as much as the first book; the second time, I think I enjoyed it more. It’s one of those books where I find more to appreciate each time, not in a whirlwind of plot but in people making connections, in people doing what they believe to be right.

Rating: 5/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted October 24, 2019 by Nikki in General / 6 Comments

The three ‘W’s are what are you reading now, what have you recently finished reading, and what are you going to read next, and you can find this week’s post at the host’s blog here if you want to check out other posts.

Cover of Barbary Station by R.E. StearnsWhat are you currently reading?

Lots of things at once, as ever. I just started Barbary Station last night, more or less on a whim: I’d forgotten everything about it except the space pirates, and so I was surprised and pleased to remember that it involves lesbian space pirates. I’m not seeing hugely positive reviews for it when I cast around quickly, but I’m only 10% into it and haven’t really made a decision myself yet. Candidate for my sister’s Christmas present, perhaps (it’s the lesbians).

Cover of Ancillary Sword by Ann LeckieWhat have you recently finished reading?

I just finally sat down and finished my reread of Ancillary Sword. Every time, it surprises me how quiet these books are really — most of it is not civilisations crashing into each other, or high octane combat: it’s Breq drinking tea, talking to people, managing relationships. There is an action-filled climactic scene, and one or two in the middle, but this isn’t sensawonder space battles, and it’s even less so than the first book. Which is a thing I enjoy, but is possibly another reason some people don’t get along with these books. You expect something earthshaking, but Breq’s not going to bring down the Radch alone, and doesn’t even want to try. She’s lit the fuse, but now she’s off in another system protecting those important to her and letting what will happen go on without her.

Cover of Gilded Cage by KJ CharlesWhat will you be reading next?

Ancillary Mercy is probably a good bet, but also K.J. Charles’ Gilded Cage came out today, so that’s high on my list! I didn’t get into either of the characters that much from the first book, but I trust Charles to deliver what I didn’t know I wanted.

What are you currently reading?

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Review – Any Old Diamonds

Posted October 23, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Any Old Diamonds by K.J. ParkerAny Old Diamonds, K.J. Charles

In Any Old Diamonds, Alec has a score to settle with his family, and to do so, he enlists the help of a notorious pair of jewel thieves: the Lilywhite Boys. To get them into his father’s home in order to steal his mother-in-law’s jewellery, Alec must put aside all pride and grovel to his father, and then pass Jerry off as a friend who can be invited as a guest to a fancy party, giving him the opportunity to complete the theft. In the meantime, he must work closely with Jerry, taking his advice on how to ingratiate himself with his father, and create the impression of intimacy between the two of them.

Alec and Jerry quickly discover that they’re attracted to one another, and their tastes align in particular ways; it’s worth noting for any potential readers that Alec’s submissive side, and Jerry’s eagerness to exploit that in a consensual way, are rather key to the plot. There are several sex scenes which are important both to the overall plot and to the relationship between the two characters, and if that’s something you can’t even stand to skim through, this will not be the book for you. Nonetheless, I thought the romance was beautifully handled: they communicate with one another (with one notable plot-specific exception which is not to do with sex), they’re clear about their desires, needs and intentions, and despite Jerry being a criminal and fully capable of awful violence, the relationship between the two of them is always completely frank and consensual.

I did wring my hands rather about a certain development partway through the book — I was sure it was going to put paid to any easy resolution between them — but everything turned out beautifully. Alec and Jerry might not have quite a conventional romance, but I adored their dynamic and how everything turned out. There are some very difficult parts of the story to do with Alec’s family, but I promise, there’s a happy ever after and excellent payoff.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Ancillary Justice

Posted October 22, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Ancillary Justice by Ann LeckieAncillary Justice, Ann Leckie

This has somehow become a comfort read for me, and it’s hard to explain why. It’s clever, of course: it’s so very clever, with the slow unfolding of the dual-timeline narrative, with the pronouns, with the various bits of worldbuilding that make up a whole lived-in universe. It’s a beautiful exploration of how you might shackle powerful AIs, and also of how identity might fracture and change when you spread yourself through hundreds of bodies across an empire so large you can’t keep them all in immediate contact with one another, and also of various moral decisions to do with colonialism and empire, but also the right thing to do step by step and day by day.

I think this time in particular I noticed how quickly I began to care about Seivarden, despite the fact that nothing about her behaviour is sugar-coated. She’s selfish, inconsiderate, fragile in her refusal to accept her new circumstances — and yet in Breq’s company she begins to change, and even before that change has really had any effect you begin to care. To feel betrayed along with Breq when Seivarden does the wrong thing; to be anguished when you see Seivarden’s misunderstandings of Breq, and the trouble that comes despite it… Seivarden is a walking Problematic Favourite, and made for the purpose: it’s a masterclass in how a character (a person) can be awful and yet redeemable, and worth the effort of doing it too.

The first time I read Ancillary Justice I liked it, but I wasn’t in love. But it haunts me and keeps coming back to me, and I’m sure I’ll keep coming back to it, again and again.

Rating: 5/5

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Review – Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water

Posted October 20, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water by Vlyar KaftanHer Silhouette, Drawn in Water, Vylar Kaftan

Received to review via Netgalley

This novella went wholly different places than I expected, though not in a way that could really be foreshadowed. It was okay, but I wasn’t in love with it; I did enjoy that it is clearly, unapologetically queer, with Latinx main characters. It opens on a prison planet, in a mysterious maze of tunnels which Bee and her lover Chela navigate blindly. They must explore the caves, seeking for supplies which are left for them at intervals, and ensure they arrive there before the bugs that infest the place and seem to hunt them — their punishment for the crime of being telepathic terrorists. However, despite the block on her telepathic powers, Bee feels someone trying to contact her… a woman she realises is in fact her wife.

Things take quite the turn from there, in a way that wasn’t really foreshadowed — too much detail would have made it far too obvious. It’s hard to discuss the rest of the novel without spoilers because of that: suffice it to say that this is a character-focused book, and Bee has to face certain facts and her own trauma in order to win through. The sci-fi plot turns out to be a vehicle for a story about trauma and healing.

In the end, it didn’t bowl me over, but I don’t regret giving it a try. I’d probably try something else by Vylar Kaftan to see whether it was just this story or if it’s her whole style.

Rating: 3/5

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Weekly Roundup

Posted October 19, 2019 by Nikki in General / 6 Comments

This has been a slow reading week, and a week for getting those backlogged reviews out there! Only three books read this week, booo. I’m not even sure why, but there you go — sometimes it happens that way.

Acquired this week: 

Cover of The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal by K.J. Charles

Read this week:

Cover of Dreadful Company by Vivian Shaw Cover of Making Eden by David Beerling Cover of Weekend at Thrackley by Alan Melville

Reviews posted this week:

The History of Life in 100 Fossils, by Paul D. Taylor and Aaron O’Dea. Not solely a coffee table book, but the details can be annoyingly focused on other unpictured specimens, or just not quite the thing I wanted to know. Still, lovely presentation. 4/5 stars
Making Eden: How Plants Transformed a Barren Planet, by David Beerling. I loved Beerling’s other book, The Emerald Planet, and bought this on the strength of his enthusiasm and clear communication in that book. I don’t know what was different here, but it just didn’t really work. It wasn’t uninteresting, but didn’t have the joy. 3/5 stars
Dreadful Company, by Vivian Shaw. A reread to get ready for the final book! Deeply enjoyable, as ever; Greta is an awesome character. 4/5 stars
The Gendered Brain, by Gina Rippon. I think there’s a lot of genuine value here, but I also had questions about the way Rippon seems to view sex as a genuine binary, when a scientist should know darn well it isn’t. 3/5 stars
The Border, by Diarmaid Ferriter. Darn near unreadable if you don’t already know the topic, in my opinion. 1/5 stars
Weekend at Thrackley, by Alan Melville. Somewhat less than cosy, but pretty enjoyable. A country house mystery, of a sort… 3/5 stars

Other posts:

WWW Wednesday. The usual weekly update!

Out and about:

NEAT science: ‘Feeding bread to ducks FAQ.‘ There’s a thing going round on Twitter about how you should feed ducks bread because they’re starving without it. So I decided to explain 1) why bread is bad, 2) why bread can be fine in moderation and 3) several other options to try feeding ducks that would be more healthy. Please feel free to share it…

So that’s that. Today the bunnies’ new custom hutch is arriving and I will be spending the day tetrising it into our flat. Wish us luck!

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Review – Weekend at Thrackley

Posted October 18, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Weekend at Thrackley by Alan MelvilleWeekend at Thrackley, Alan Melville

Weekend at Thrackley is a country house mystery of a sort, but not exactly the cosy comfortable sort. It’s clear fairly early on that the host of the party is a crook, and up to no good, and there’s something very sinister about all the proceedings. I have no idea why the editor of the series refers to this as being like The Red House Mystery, because the tone is utterly different — there might be a couple of points where the style is similar, but really I don’t see much similarity between the two books at all. It’s also an odd duck among the British Library Crime Classics: there’s no murder case per se.

Our Hero is Captain Jim Henderson, who seems chronically underemployed and lodges in a boarding house. One morning he receives a mysterious letter from someone he’s never even heard of who claims to be a friend of his father’s. Intrigued, and definitely up for free food and drink and entertainment for a weekend, he accepts the invitation. Turns out one of his buddies is going too, so they head down there together. The house is odd and secluded, but full of all kinds of comforts, so they settle in. And then… things start to happen, of course. It’s an intriguing set up, and though I had a guess about one of the enduring mysteries, I wasn’t positive until the end.

There’s a love story, of course, and in true Golden Age style it proceeds at a massive pace and doesn’t really reflect much on how real relationships work. There’s some fun dialogue, and like I said, it’s far from a cosy: there’s a genuine sense that people might be murdered any minute, and it’s surprising that the body count ends as low as it does. The story is rife with useful coincidence, but all in all it’s entertaining and a fun read.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Border

Posted October 17, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Border by Diarmaid FerriterThe Border, Diarmaid Ferriter

This book professes to explain the importance of the Irish border, and to delve into its importance in the Brexit negotiations. I thought this was something worth informing myself about, because my knowledge of Irish history of any era is fairly limited, and I want to be better informed. This… is not a good place to start, I think: it throws names of politicians and political parties at you rapid-fire, and expects you to already have much of the context in mind. That makes some sense in a book focused on the border, but I’d still start with a bit of context to help orient people who are picking the book up for the reasons I did.

In the end, I couldn’t finish it. I found the style too dry and it just wasn’t calibrated for the level of knowledge I went in with. I’m sure it’s fine if you’re interested in the topic already, but then, a primer on the topic is why I thought the book would be useful, so it’s a little misleading in terms of the jacket copy.

Rating: 1/5

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