The Skull Throne

By Peter V. Brett

I’ve been following this series since a coworker dropped a copy of The Warded Man on my desk back in 2010, and I’ve enjoyed each installment since then. The Skull Throne picks up where the last one left off, with Arlen and Jardir having just faced off in single combat. Both men end up surviving their duel, and grudgingly come together to look for a way to infiltrate the Core, to find a way to finally end the demon threat. Meanwhile, the Krasian occupation of the greenlands continues, and Jardir’s sons seek to push further and capture Fort Lakton. There’s intrigue culminating in a coup attempt, a lot of battles as the Krasians clash with the greenlanders, and both fight against the corelings. Enough is shaken up in this book that I can honestly say I’m not sure how things are going to end.

One thing that’s interesting to me is that as long as I’ve been reading this series, I never really thought very much about the gender or racial portrayals in it, even though they’re not particularly difficult to notice. I did think about it this time, but I wasn’t really sure where to come down on either. The Krasians, for example, are pretty clearly patterned on Muslim Arabs, while the greenlanders are the typical Europeans that you see in most fantasy novels. The differences between the two cultures sets up a lot of the conflict in the series as a whole, but rather than casting the Krasians solely as the antagonists, or as monolithic, Brett seems to go out of his way to show a certain amount of diversity in the different Krasian characters, as well as giving complex backstories to the central Krasians, Jardir and Inevera, and making their motivations understandable, even while their methods are not excusable. Too, the greenland cultures aren’t shown in particularly good light, either; the entrenched class structures and sexism of feudal societies also form a backdrop for some of the central character tensions. I’d be tempted to say that Brett seems to deal with the cultural stuff fairly well in that regard, but I can’t help wondering if he’s trading too much in certain stereotypes in his portrayals.

Similarly, there seem to be a number of strong female characters, with a pretty diverse range of backgrounds and personalities. On the other hand, a lot of the agency that women in this world effect comes through their sexuality, or their skill at healing, or working behind the scenes. There is a lot of stuff that made me uncomfortable in terms of specific women being portrayed as desiring a certain type of subservience to their husbands, but then much of that also explicitly gets commented on by other characters. I really wasn’t sure what it all amounted to. These types of questions are something that come up a lot with genre fiction and particularly with fantasy, working as it does with a pseudo-historical milieu, and while Brett certainly doesn’t seem to be any worse than average for fantasy writers, that’s not a particuarly high bar, and I’m not really sure he does a lot better. But I’d love to hear from other people of color and from women to get their reactions.

All that said, I’m still planning to pick up the last book, which will likely be out some time in 2018. I’m not sure how it will all wrap up, but I look forward to finding out.

Started: 6/28/2015 | Finished: 7/1/2015

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The Martian

By Andy Weir

It’s been really interesting to me to see the different reactions to this book from the people I know who have read it. A few (mostly writers and professional critics) have found it fair but a bit workmanlike in its prose, others (mostly male engineers) have proclaimed it the best book they’ve read in years, while others (mostly women) have found it infuriatingly sexist. As for me, I pretty much get where everyone is coming from. The prose isn’t great but it’s adequate. The engineering aspects are very well-handled, and it works pretty well as a survival story. I wouldn’t call it “great” by any stretch, but I get why my male co-workers were so thrilled by it—any group of people who are used to being underrepresented in media are going to enjoy seeing themselves cast as heroes. And although I wasn’t personally moved to anger by the sexism in this story, I did find it irritating and definitely a drag on what could have been a fun, science-y, Castaway-in-space story. I will say, I was a little surprised at just how much in the minority I seem to be in my opinion; browsing through the responses on Goodreads, it seems like just about everybody loved it. I guess you’ll just have to make up your own mind about it.

Started: 6/19/2015 | Finished: 6/26/2015

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Nemesis Games

By James S. A. Corey

Most of you will know that I’m horribly biased about these Expanse novels, having a personal connection to the authors as well as the roots of the story. So I’ll just come out and admit that I enjoyed the hell out of this book, even though I completely understand some of the criticisms I’ve heard of it. The series is, as I understand it, planned to span either 9 or 12 volumes, depending on sales and the whims of the publisher. As the fifth book, then, Nemesis Games is pretty squarely positioned as the second-act turning point of the series, the part where all hell breaks loose—the Empire Strikes Back moment, as it were. And, yeah, that’s pretty much what happens.

The Rocinante gang, freshly back from their trip to the colony world Ilus, feel a bit of down time and go their separate ways. Thus, for the first time, each crewmember becomes a point-of-view character, which was particularly gratifying for me when it came to the Amos chapters. And, of course, the moment they split up, everything hits the fan. As we’ve come to expect from this series, there are conspiracies and terrorism and plots, and a whole lot of high-stakes action. Much of this is left a bit unresolved, but these books tend to be written in pairs, with the odd-numbered books providing the setup and the even numbers paying things off, so it only makes sense.

The main criticism I’ve heard, one that I agree with, has to do with how the female characters are handled, what their story functions are. And, yeah, it’s not great. One supporting character seems to only exist to be rescued, and the additions to one of the main characters’ backstory is disappointing in centering (as so often is the case with female characters) on her feelings about motherhood. Several of my friends were quite angry about the way women were written in this book, and I can’t blame them. I haven’t talked with the authors about this complaint, but I know both of them are thoughtful and open-minded, so I’m hopeful that things will be better in this regard in future episodes. (Thus far, there has been a pretty diverse cast of women in this series, with a broad range of personalities and motivations, so I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to assume that this will be the case going forward.)

Even so, I’m completely on-board with this series, and, as I mentioned, I really liked this book. If you’ve been following along already, you’ve probably already read this one, and if you’re new to the series and are a fan of science fiction, I give it a high recommendation. Check it out.

Started: 6/12/2015 | Finished: 6/18/2015

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The Southern Reach Trilogy

There’s a Lovecraft short story called “The Colour Out of Space” that describes a strange series of events following the impact of a meteorite in a stretch of rural Massachussetts farmland. It being a Lovecraft story, a whole bunch of eerie stuff happens and then pretty much everyone involved goes insane. But fundamentally it was a story about alienness. Lovecraft was specifically responding to the popular science fiction of his day, in which extraterrestrials were depicted more or less like humans with slightly different morphology, and with “The Colour Out of Space” he was trying to imagine an interaction with a truly incomprehensible “other.”

Jeff VanderMeer seemed to have the same concerns in mind when he was writing his Southern Reach trilogy, which pulls in the same exceptionally creepy tone that characterizes Lovecraft’s work, but in a modern style and without all the racism. In his series, VanderMeer tells us of a stretch of coastline in what appears to be a backwater part of Florida, in which some sort of “event” in the past has created a mysterious region known only as “Area X.” In the first novel we follow the 11th expedition into Area X, an expedition that sets out knowing that every previous group that has entered has come out insane, died of cancer, or not come out at all. And with each new chapter and new novel, things get more and more strange, and the mystery becomes deeper.

It’s not the kind of story for people who want happy endings, or even much of a sense of closure. But VanderMeer is a master of establishing atmosphere, and the books are very skillfully written. I’m still not sure, having had nearly two months to think it over, exactly what happened in these books, but the experience of reading them was breathtaking.

Started: 5/28/2015 | Finished: 6/11/2015

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Kat, Incorrigible

Regular visitors to the forums on this web site will probably have already heard of this series—indeed, that’s where I heard about them. The title character, Katherine Stephenson is the youngest of three sisters, growing up in Regency-era Britain. Opinionated and feisty, Kat is often in trouble with her prim, society-minded stepmother, all the more so when Kat discovers that she has inherited her late mother’s magical powers. In a sort of Jane Austen-meets-Harry Potter story, the series follows Kat as she explores her powers, becomes initiated into a secret magical society, and saves her family (repeatedly) from all sorts of nefarious sorcery.

Like Harry Potter, this series is aimed at a YA audience, and like the earlier Harry Potter novels, it’s quite a lot of fun. My only nitpick is the way in which literally every other character assumes that Kat is both helpless and either lying or wrong about what she says is going on. There’s some sense to this at the beginning of the series, but by the third book she’s repeatedly demonstrated both resourcefulness and general honesty, and her sisters’ (and parents’ and teachers’) insistence to the contrary seems a bit of a stretch. Still, I can recall feeling similarly dismissed as a tween, so perhaps it’s not too far off the mark. I’m definitely going to be keeping my copies of these books for when my own kids get older.

Started: 5/14/2015 | Finished: 5/27/2015

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What Art Is

By Arthur Danto

A while back, a fellow photographer brought up Arthur Danto and his definition of art while we were discussing some work we’d both recently seen. It was an interesting conversation, enough that I decided to explore Danto’s writings on my own. As it turned out, though, I spent most of this book frustrated and irritated.

As you might guess from the title, the central point of the essays collected in this book is Danto’s definition of art. Art, he says, is “embodied meaning.” There’s a certain looseness of language to that definition which a self-proclaimed philosopher probably ought to have worked out better—after all, embodiment as a prerequisite excludes art forms that don’t rely on physical media. That’s a bit of a quibble, though. What really bothered me was that Danto seemed similarly willing to play fast and loose with both history (the development of both art and art criticism being more evolutional than he admits) and with epistemology. Danto explicitly waves aside epistemological questions, saying that he’s concerned with what art is, not how we know what art is, but many of his arguments rely on taking for granted his own ability to understand an artist’s intentions.

In the end, though, it’s probably more than it’s worth to get upset about such an esoteric discussion. If nothing else, reading this book got me to revisit and clarify some of my own thoughts on art.

Started: 5/9/2015 | Finished: 5/14/2015

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The Paying Guests

By Sarah Waters

At several points while I was reading Sarah Waters’ The Paying Guests I stopped to consider the phrase “not for me.” In the context of a review, those words usually translate to “I didn’t like it,” sometimes with the caveat “but I can understand why someone else would.” On the other hand, if you switch perspectives from the reader’s side to the writer’s side, it can instead mean “This was intended for someone else.” That may seem similar, but I think there’s an important distinction to be made, and it has to do with community, inclusion, intrusion, and the interactivity of art.

The Paying Guests is set in a genteel London suburb during the interwar period. Frances Wray and her mother, having lost Frances’ father and two brothers during the war, have fallen on hard times and are forced to take in lodgers in order to make ends meet. Their new tenants, Lilian and Leonard Barber are part of the newly rising middle class (as Frances calls them at one point, the “clerk class”), and their arrival brings a certain tension as the Wrays must alter their lives to accommodate the Barbers. Passions eventually flare, and everyone’s lives are thrown into upheaval.

Now, I realize that that description sounds terribly dull, but although The Paying Guests is certainly a slow burn, burn it does. As NPR’s Barrie Hardymon put it during an episode of Pop Culture Happy Hour, “it could be very fussy, but [Waters] doesn’t shy away from anything, so the sex is really sexy; the murder is super murder-y.” (Did I forget to mention the sex and the murder? Oh. Well there’s both.) It takes a while for things to get moving along, but that gives Waters plenty of time to establish her protagonist’s inner workings, as well as the atmosphere of the Wray’s house and neighborhood. It’s all just beautifully done. And, yeah, it’s really sexy, too. Not just sexy, but passionate, in the way that pulls you in and reminds you of that head-over-heels feeling of the young love in your own life.

So, I liked it, but at the same time, I have to admit that I felt a little… weird about it. That is, Waters is known for being a lesbian writer; as she put it, herself, in an interview with, “I’m writing with a clear lesbian agenda in the novels. It’s right there at the heart of the books.” Which is something that I applaud, and I’m so glad that these kinds of stories are getting written and published, and that so many previously marginalized voices are carving out their own spaces for expression. I think that’s legitimately great.

It’s the question of intended audience and safe spaces, though, that makes me a little uncomfortable, though. Now, I do think that there’s value to inclusion in both directions; that is, both in the majority culture including marginalized people and marginalized people reaching out to and including members of the majority. But I also recognize that it’s necessary and critical for marginalized people to have the ability and right to create their own spaces, and that part of that involves a certain amount of exclusion. This is a touchy thing for some people in the majority culture, but I firmly believe that a big part of empowerment involves spaces where oppressed people can act without fear or pressure.

How does this apply to a book like The Paying Guests? Well, the lesbian sex scenes in this book are by no means graphic, but they’re positively electric in terms of how sensual and passionate they are; it’s difficult not to get at least a little turned on by them. And having that kind of a response, I can’t help but wonder: is it OK for me, a straight man, to get turned on when a lesbian writer depicts two women having sex? On one level, I know that this is an intensely stupid question, but I keep coming back to that idea of safe spaces, and at times when I was reading this book, I felt like I was intruding, like I was in a private place where I really shouldn’t be.

Now, I know that this is entirely my issue. As far as I can tell from the interviews I’ve read, Waters is pleased at having all kinds of readers. And, who knows? Perhaps getting more straight people to read and enjoy books like this is a good step toward social justice. I don’t know. What I do know is that this was a really good book.

Started: 4/21/2015 | Finished: 5/8/2015

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Dept. of Speculation

In the first half-hour of reading this book I found myself reaching for my phone over and over again. I kept wanting to clip out lines for Twitter or Tumblr, or so that I could put them into the inevitable review I’d write. But I realized I’d be copying the whole damn thing. Every single shimmering, truthful line has my heart gripped in its little serifed fist.

Fucking hell, this book. I type into my phone. I mean, fuck.

I’m thirty pages in and already I know: I will never write anything this good. Never.


Back in January I attended a photography workshop, one evening of which involved the students all showing each other their portfolios. Afterwards, I was chatting with one of the other photographers there, and I mentioned how struck I was by his work.

“I always find it so impressive to see someone conjure up an image, to construct something that didn’t exist before, completely from your imagination,” I said.

“But that’s what all art is,” he responded. “Making something out of nothing.”

“Well, I guess,” I said. “But it can also be taking one thing and turning it into something else, right?”


I asked Juliette the other day if she thought I was observant. She cocked her head and thought a moment. “You can be,” she said finally. “Sometimes you can be kind of oblivious, but you notice a lot of things that I don’t. And I think you’re really good at articulating things in a way that other people don’t think of, but that make you say, ‘Oh yeah, that is what I think.’”


This little bit of narcissistic despair, it’s not quite right. That is, I do write things like this. Some of these short paragraphs feel so familiar, intimate. Like a line from a poem that I haven’t quite thought of yet, but was maybe just around the bend. The difference is that everything I write, every picture I make, they come from life. If I have any talent or skill, it’s in awareness and analysis, not imagination. I can notice a detail and pluck it out and show it to you, and on a good day, maybe I can do that in such a way that you’ll see something new. But making something that wasn’t there before, that’s something that has always eluded me. It does not elude Jenny Offill.

How could somebody imagine this? I could write lines like these, but I could never invent them. There is too much detail, too much truth in the detail. How could you know a life, the little bits of a life, the emotions and nonsense and asides. The little in-between moments where we all really live. How could you know something fictional so specifically? I can’t understand it.


I have this theory that you can break down most writers and photographers into two groups, based on how they work: builders and explorers. (Why just writers and photographers? Well, that’s all I know how to do. Maybe it works for painters and sculptors and musicians, too. I don’t know. Or maybe photography and writing have a particular something in common that other art forms don’t. I don’t know that either.)

Builders are the ones who construct new worlds. The studio photographer. The novelist. The compositor. The poet (sometimes). They start with an idea, see it in their heads, and then bring the elements together until the desired result has been realized.

Explorers often don’t set out to make something specific. They go out into the world to see what’s there, whether it’s to a far-off land or just down the hall. The landscape photographer. The street photographer. The essayist. The raconteur. What goes into the work is what was there, perhaps with some embellishment, some creative editing, but it all starts from a lived experience.

And, of course, most people will fall somewhere between. Ideas often come from life, and life often needs some scaffolding before it becomes art. It’s probably not even a spectrum, but rather a volume, a space with axes going off in all directions. (What’s the origin point, I wonder? The basis? Where is that? What does it even mean? Probably nothing; let’s not extend the metaphor further than it can go.)

I’m an explorer. Is Jenny Offill a builder? I don’t know what her process is, but Dept. of Speculation is presented as a novel, as fiction. So, let’s call her a builder. And if we call her that, maybe we’re going to have to call her a genius, too. A motherfucking savant.


Why have I spent so much time talking about my silly little taxonomy? I don’t know. Perhaps it is just that impressive art is all the more impressive to me when it’s something I can’t do.


There are, of course, explorations that have moved me, changed me, found a back room in my mind and stayed there, popping out to say hello to my conscious brain from time to time. Judith Fox’s I Still Do. Bits of Michael Chabon’s Manhood for Amateurs. It’s not just the builders who have a claim to my admiration.


Dept. of Speculation is the story of a marriage, from the breathless, youthful sweetness of its beginnings through a jagged crisis and beyond. But in some ways it’s hardly even a narrative—certainly it’s not a conventional one. Rather, it reads like an extended prose poem, a series of vignettes and asides and emotions. Offill doesn’t come right out and say what happened, like a novelist “should.” She relates the plot by showing you the way each thing affects her narrator, her responses to the events, the things before and after. Things get slippery; the perspective shifts from “I” to “she,” and tenses slide around from now to then. Bits of famous authors’ poetry and historical factoids pepper the pages, and it’s up to you to infer their relevance.

It’s not straightforward, but neither is it a slog. It never feels like work. It took me perhaps four hours to read through the slim volume, and I never wanted to put it down or take a break. How do you do that? Make a book that’s both obscure and accessible? I don’t know, but apparently Jenny Offill does.


Have I gushed enough? Weighed this “review” down enough with my tangents and navel-gazing? Just go read this book. It’s really something.

April Review Round-up

The Autumn Republic, by Brian McClellan: In the round-up I wrote on my 2014 reading list, I said about Brian McClellan’s then-unfinished Powder Mage Trilogy, “I tore through the first book, picked up the second the day it was released, and am now impatiently waiting for the finale …” As it happened, I ended up buying the last chapter just as promptly as I did the middle, and read through it as voraciously as I did the first. The Autumn Republic delivers in every way I would have wanted: action, intrigue, epic scale, old gods, and new regimes. A very satisfying ending to a highly entertaining series. (Amazon, B&N, Goodreads)

Birdman: In her Oscars round-up post back in February, NPR’s Linda Holmes had this comment about Birdman:

Birdman is an offbeat film in many ways and has real visual inventiveness, but it also has hugely familiar themes: the lone struggling genius misunderstood by the world, yelling at his daughter about social media and defending the importance of real art. (IMDb)

The thing is, I’m not sure Birdman is that movie. I mean, it might be. Certainly the main character, Riggan Thomson—played by Michael Keaton—would describe himself as a lone struggling genius, and his story as one of defending art. But then, the film also goes to great lengths to show Riggan’s insecurity and ego, and ultimately his patheticness. When his daughter (Emma Stone) verbally takes him apart, shouting that he is irrelevant, so get used to it, she’s completely right.

So, which is it? Does Birdman praise the independent artist or skewer a self-important blowhard? It swings back and forth between the two, and the famously strange ending doesn’t really help resolve the question. I think, in the end, it’s going to be whatever you want it to be, and so while I found it interesting, I can’t say I really loved it.

The History of Love, by Nicole Krauss: Long-time readers may have picked up on the fact that I have a lot of anxiety about my eventual death. So the fact that the opening chapter of this book describes the daily routine of an old, lonely man who is basically waiting around to die very nearly put me into a panic attack. I had to put the book down for a few days and come back once I’d calmed down. I’m glad I did come back, though.

The History of Love is the name of a book that the old man, Leo Gursky, wrote when he was young. It is also the name of a book written by a Polish emigrant to Argentina named Zvi Litvinoff. It is also the name of a book, the main character of which provides the namesake of a girl named Alma. Throughout The History of Love, we follow these three viewpoints—Leo, Litvinoff, and Alma—as their stories unfold and eventually converge.

The Litvinoff sections read like something out of Borges or Kundera. The Alma sections reminded me a bit of Aimee Bender’s The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake—in feel if not in the details—or perhaps some of John Irving’s teenage longing. It is, as the title suggests, about love. But it’s about more than that. It’s about the human desire for connection, the ways that we try so hard to know the people near us, and the ways that they nevertheless remain a mystery to us. It’s a beautifully written, very affecting novel, and although it was at times difficult for me to read, I highly recommend it. (Amazon, B&N, Goodreads)

Old Man’s War, by John Scalzi: I’ve been reading military SF since middle school, and though my tastes have broadened a lot since then, I still find myself coming back to the genre. It’s just so much fun. This one, John Scalzi’s first novel (published back in 2005), is energetic and entertaining, just like I’d want from a space war story. It does hew a bit close to Starship Troopers structurally, but trades the semi-Randian political philosophy for a sardonic sense of humor and a lot more sex. It’s a quick read—I finished the whole thing in a day—and after finishing The History of Love it was exactly what I needed. (Amazon, B&N, Goodreads)

The Dagger and the Coin, by Daniel Abraham: One of the things that Daniel Abraham does really well is write characters who are flawed—sometimes deeply so—but still somehow relatable. The central characters of this series are a young woman who is a brilliant banker with scrappy, underdog beginnings and also a certain lack of empathy or self-awareness and a tendency to drink too much; a mercenary captain who is highly skilled but tends only to thrive when he’s at his worst; and a bookish young nobleman who turns out to be a self-deluding monster. Each of them—as well as a few others—get time as the viewpoint characters, and because we see things from their perspective, there’s a natural tendency for each to become sympathetic. Especially in the latter case, that winds up being seductive but misleading; the guy really is a terrible person.

Another thing that Abraham does well is find new ways to come at existing genres. In The Long Price Quartet that meant coming up with a very novel magic system and a setting that wasn’t a stand-in for medieval Europe. In The Expanse series, that means incorporating tropes from a different second genre into the overall science fictional arc with each new book. And in this series, it means taking all of the hallmarks of traditional epic fantasy and entwining it with a highly nonstandard motive force: money and banking. Abraham has said before that a big part of the origin of this series came from his research into Renaissance banking practices, and it makes for a pretty interesting take on a kind of story that’s been around for quite some time. The first four volumes of this series are well-paced, interesting, and populated with great characters, and I’m very much looking forward to seeing what happens in the fifth. (The Dragon’s Path: Amazon, B&N, Goodreads. The King’s Blood: Amazon, B&N, Goodreads. The Tyrant’s Law: Amazon, B&N, Goodreads. The Widow’s House: Amazon, B&N, Goodreads.)

City of Stairs, by Robert Jackson Bennett: Man, this was a good book. I’m not sure how to describe it in a way that makes sense, though. It’s a fantasy novel, but set in a world that’s roughly technologically equivalent to the 1920’s. This is a world where the gods were real, and their power allowed one nation to enslave the entire world. But it’s also a world where the gods were vulnerable, and were killed in a slave uprising that overthrew the existing order, and whose deaths caused a cataclysm that reshaped an entire continent. But all of this is backstory.

Yes, it is a fantasy novel. But in its plot, City of Stairs is really more of a cloak-and-dagger thriller. In the aftermath of the uprising and war I mentioned before, the former slaves have come to rule their former masters, burying the old oppressors’ attempts to rebuild their civilization under a mountain of bureaucracy. Eighty years later, a visiting professor who is investigating the history of the Divine and their old empire winds up dead under questionable circumstances, and a woman—an operative—named Shara arrives to investigate. But the more she uncovers, the more huge the conspiracies become.

City of Stairs features amazing world-building, wonderful characters, and not a little commentary on the nature of politics and nations and power, but all of that is done so skillfully and naturally that it never feels forced or heavy-handed. If you like contemporary fantasy, I can’t recommend this book any more highly. (Amazon, B&N, Goodreads)

Ancillary Sword

By Ann Leckie

One of the things that struck me the most about Ancillary Sword as I was reading it is that it is more overtly political than the first book, Ancillary Justice was. Of course, Ancillary Justice, itself, was quite a strong feminist statement, but, as I mentioned in my review of that book, its political function was mainly executed in the narrator’s voice and particularly her use of pronouns, rather than through the plot, and thus was more subversive than overt. That examination of gender politics is certainly still at work in this second installment of the trilogy, but author Ann Leckie also uses the main action of the story to look at class and economic power structures. Of course, with that kind of overtness comes the danger of being overly didactic, but I think that Leckie has done quite a skillful job of creating a book that both has a message and is also a good story.

In Ancillary Sword, Breq—the AI protagonist from the first book—is given command of a ship of her own and sent to a distant planet with orders to maintain peace there against the brewing civil war that began at the end of Ancillary Justice. As it turns out, the planet is a major source of tea, a staple agricultural product of the space empire in which the series takes place, and as so often is the case even in our real world, there is a huge disparity in wealth and power between the owners of the planet’s tea plantations and the people who actually work the land. Numerous intertwined plots and schemes arise, and Breq has to find a way to both maintain vigilance toward the larger events of the coming war, as well as work toward social justice for the downtrodden people of the planet and station where she’s been assigned.

The economic significance of tea in the universe of this series underlies much of the fundamental power structures in this book, and I was reminded at times of Arrakis and the spice in Frank Herbert’s Dune. However, where Dune is a story about revolution and war (among other things), Ancillary Sword sees its tensions play out in community activism and legal drama. Again, it would be easy for this sort of thing to drift into heavy-handedness, but Leckie really does bring it all together quite impressively, and the result is a tight, well-paced story that manages both to advance the overall series and still delivery a pretty sharp commentary about power and class in our own world.

Of course, this sort of commentary is not particluarly new in the world of science fiction—the genre has been used to examine contemporary issues since its inception. But that this is not a new phenomenon is by no means a criticism; rather, I’d say that Leckie carries on the tradition proudly.

Ancillary Sword is a very different feeling book from its predecessor, so readers looking for something to hit all the same notes may find some disappointment there. But taken on its own merits, I think it’s a damn effective book and I highly recommend it.

Started: 1/28/2015 | Finished: 2/9/2015

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