Things to keep in mind:
1. I’m a total Leckie fangirl
2. Like, seriously.
3. This is nothing like the Ancillary books at all.
4. Not even genre, let alone anything else.
I received this book from the publisher, Hachette, at no cost. It’s out now WHICH IS EXCELLENT NEWS FOR EVERYONE LET THERE BE REJOICING.
I’ll admit that when I heard Ann Leckie was doing a fantasy novel I was… discombobulated. I do like fantasy but I’ve read a lot less of it recently for various reasons, and when I thought of how the author of the Ancillary books might translate to fantasy I started thinking of lush epic fantasy which is fine but not what I’m enjoying at the moment.
HOW WRONG I WAS. I mean, seriously. What was I thinking.
For starters: this is a standalone book. That’s right folks, you can read this book and not have to wait for a sequel. Which is great.
Ok, look, I actually read this without reading the blurb or knowing anything about it, just going on trust. And I really truly believe that this was the best option – having now read the blurb, it kinda gives you an idea of what’s going on but as so often happens, I think it sets up the wrong ideas in the reader’s mind. So if you trust me, and you trust Ann Leckie, just go find this and read it without reading anything else about it.
But if not, you can keep reading.
One thing that may potentially put people off is that more than half the book is written in the second person, by an omniscient (ish) narrator. That is, it opens with “I first saw you when you rode out of the forest…” which I thought was going to be weird. But because the narrator isn’t restricted to what they can see, we get a good understanding of actions – just not of internal motivation, which I found utterly intriguing. Hello semi unreliable narrator! The rest is in first person, which is also really intriguing. In addition, the book meanders over time, going back and forth to different events, and in such a way that your knowledge of the actors and the world context grows kinda organically and sometimes with a great thump in the stomach. It’s a masterful work of narrative structure. So, tick of approval for that.
The characters also develop splendidly over the novel. Learning about the “I” is perhaps the most intriguing, and I think Leckie is doing wonderful, tricksy, maybe even genre-subverting things there on a rather subtle and magnificent level. The “you” is Eolo, if you read the blurb, and he’s deeply fascinating – a conundrum to most of those around him because of the mismatch between accent and vocabulary+attitude, disinterested in playing political games, and clearly fascinating to the narrator. He seems so harmless, AND THEN.
It feels like Leckie is playing with Hamlet here, just a bit. Eolo arrives in Vashtai with the heir apparent to discover the heir’s uncle has taken power, and the heir is later confronted with childhood companions (when they are first introduced, my first reaction was “ooh, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern!”). There’s no Gertrude figure, though, to my reading, more’s the pity. It’s not Hamlet as a fantasy, although I would read Leckie’s version of that, but I’d be interested to know if the parallels were deliberate.
There is an enormous amount more to discuss about this book, but so much of it would be spoiler-y and believe me that would be a real shame. There’s imperialism and economics and tradition and politics, whether bargains are worth it and the price of secrets.
Look, I’ll absolutely be reading this again and at this stage it’s top of my Hugos list for next year. ’nuff said.