Book review · novel

Books review: The Imperial Radch


Description of Ancillary Justice: (from Little Brown)

The Radch are conquerors to be feared – resist and they’ll turn you into a ‘corpse soldier’ – one of an army of dead prisoners animated by a warship’s AI mind. Whole planets are conquered by their own people.
The colossal warship called The Justice of Toren has been destroyed – but one ship-possessed soldier has escaped the devastation. Used to controlling thousands of hands, thousands of mouths, The Justice now has only two hands, and one mouth with which to tell her tale.
But one fragile, human body might just be enough to take revenge against those who destroyed her.

I had read Ancillary Justice already a few years ago, rated it 5 stars, and then didn’t read the rest of the series, don’t ask me why because I’m still shaking my head at past-me.
A friend kept nagging me about how amazing this trilogy was and how I really needed to read the rest of it so, in March, I decided to re-read Justice so I could enjoy the trilogy as a whole. I can’t thank her enough because I re-discovered a favourite book and the rest of it was even better than what I anticipated.

The first book is told in first person narrative by Breq, an Artificial Intelligence.
There are chapters in the past from when she was a military ship controlling ancillaries, (human bodies linked to the AI) and chapters in the present with her only body left, separated from the whole of her after an incident I will not spoil but that will set her on a path of revenge. The next two books are set within a ship, a space station and a tea planet.

Breq is one of the strength of this trilogy. She is more than just a simple AI, she has an individuality, which is a strong theme in the series. She loves songs and singing, is understanding, seems to more often than not be several moves ahead of others, is practical but cares about other’s feelings, she is articulate, not afraid to speak her mind about people and what she thinks of them but also about the whole system they live in.
The most central aspect being the Imperial Radch, an empire that keeps on expanding and annexing planets and systems. Of course when reading those parts, you can’t but make parallels with the history of our world and this social and historical commentary was, to my knowledge, very accurate and sensitive to real-life issues.

One interesting feature about the Radch is that their culture, or language, doesn’t see/talk about gender the way we – and other worlds in this series – do. They always revert to the pronoun “she” for everyone, and since seeing the story through Breq who’s a construction of the Radch, we also view everyone as a “she”. With some exceptions, there is no way to know each character’s gender for certain and I found that fascinating. Especially the fact that Leckie chose to use “she” as neutral and not “he”.
I also loved how the novels addressed sexuality and asexuality, though the words aren’t used there are conversations about it and some characters are definitely coded that way. Here’s a nice tumblr post Ann Leckie posted on this.

(In Provenance, we are introduced to another use of pronouns, where youngs use “they” until they become adults and can choose their “adult name”, meaning as well their prefered pronoun, either “she”, “he” or “e”.)

The themes of these books are not the lightest, but they are perfectly handled by Ann Leckie. Through an AI’s eyes, we look at humans’s relationships, humans caring for each others, humans being abusive, and at the center of it all, colonialism. Ann Leckie always makes sure to not put her main character on the white savior path, to have her always looking for injustice and heading for one destination: a better future for herself and everyone else.

While I rated the first book 5/5 without hesitation, upon reading the second I was even more awed and said it even deserved 6/5 if I’d given 5 to the first. A sequel doing better than the first book in a trilogy, without dragging or feeling like a set up for the last book is rare, and here we have one of those gems. BUT, the third was even better yet! It made me laugh even more than the first two, made me highlight so much quotes and whole pages, made me yell in my friend’s private messages about how good and intelligent this was, sending her pictures of those same pages.

Like I said, the whole trilogy deals with heavy themes, but it manages to be funny in a very improbable way at times, using weird scifi stuff and aliens to make my eyes go wide with the possibilities and the imagination behind, but also laugh at situation that come out of nowhere and lines of dialogues that doesn’t make any sense in the best possible ways.

It is not a fast-paced action-packed kind of series. While there is always something happening, this is more on a politics side of things, with dialogues and thoughts and observations. Though guns and punches are present as well.

As a whole, I can safely say this might very well be my new favourite trilogy.

If you liked A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers but wished for stakes a bit higher, or if you liked the concept of Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee but found it too dense, this trilogy is the perfect middle child!

AND when I was finished with this trilogy but not ready to start something new, I was glad to learn that there were two short stories and one standalone novel that were set in this world as well!


I also loved to find that the fandom is very much alive on tumblr, and this post is really great at shouting about the good things in these books!!

ALSO have a look at the (now out of print but still nice to look at) covers from Subterranean Press:


Content warning: misgendering (part of the worldbuilding, not intended to be harmful), suicidal ideation, rape mentionned, death

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