As I write this review, my copy of Ancillary Mercy (the final book in the trilogy) was delivered about 10 minutes ago, so I am keen to finish this and get on with reading that. Though I had to confess I flicked to the back of the new book to make sure that my favourite character survived, which is something I very rarely do. I would be very surprised if I haven't finished it over the weekend, so expect a review soon!
Anyway, Ancillary Sword is the middle book of Ann Leckie's Imperial Radch trilogy, which started with Ancillary Justice, where we first meet Breq, who used to be one of the ancillaries (human soldiers who were linked to and shared the consciousness of ship-AI) of the ship 'Justice of Toren'. In the first book, we are also introduced to Anaander Mianaai, who is the absolute ruler of the Radch and whose consciousness is shared between many cloned bodies across that system. Which would be interesting enough on its own, if it were not for the fact that Mianaai is fighting against herself, split into factions who either support further exploration and 'annexation' of worlds outside the Radch or who think enough is enough.
Ancillary Sword picks up literally where Ancillary Justice left off, with Breq being given command of a ship ('Mercy of Kalr') and taking Seivarden, who she rescued in the first book, with her as her first lieutenant. Breq is still coming to terms with who and what she is and is clearly not done when it comes to Mianaai, but accepts she can't do much more at the moment and takes the mission she is given, to a planet called Athoek and its space station. Athoek is the source of much of the Radch's tea, and on arriving at the station, Breq is immediately approached by one of the growers, who tries to ingratiate themselves with her.
All is not well on the station or, as we later discover, on the planet itself. The station has a significant underclass who are living in less than ideal circumstances - because Breq is who she is, she immediately inserts herself into this situation and starts to question why things have been allowed to get to this point. We also briefly (too briefly, in my opinion!) meet an ambassador from the Presger, the alien race that even the all-powerful Mianaai is afraid of, and when she is killed Breq begins formal mourning for her in the hopes this will go some way to mitigating the anger the Presger are likely to feel, taking the opportunity provided by the tea grower she'd met earlier to get herself an invitation down to the planet. Alongside starting to pull at some threads about missing transportees and the ideas around citizenship held by both her fellow officers and the people of Athoek, Breq again finds herself in the middle of a situation where people are being treated unfairly and intervenes.
In some ways, because Ancillary Sword takes place over a shorter period of time than the previous book, it feels like there's a lot to take in and I think I've definitely picked up on more going on beneath the surface on this re-read than I did first time around. That, to me, is a sign of good writing, that it's not quite the same book next time you pick it up - after all, we're never the same person as we were, as new experiences and knowledge affects us, so why should our reading of a book be any different? My only disappointment was the brief time that Dlique was present, as I wanted to know more about her, but other than that I enjoyed re-reading Ancillary Sword. As with any series I enjoy, I have mixed feelings about picking up Ancillary Mercy - I hope it's going to be as good as the other two books but am also sad that the trilogy is ending.