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Ancillary Mercy
by Ann Leckie
Orbit, Trade Paperback, $15.99, 368 pp
Published: October 2015

          “No real endings, no final perfect happiness, no irredeemable despair.”

It’s been a helluva ride though, following Breq, the last surviving ancillary of the Imperial Raadch warship Justice of Toren. But anyone expecting a badass showdown between Breq and Minaai, the multiple-bodied ruler of the Raadch may be surprised, but certainly not disappointed. Of course, they shouldn’t be too surprised, since Leckie has been confounding readers throughout the series.

Ancillary Justice played with perspective, introducing a first person narrator that was near omniscient, switching between locations and times as Justice of Toren’s multiple ancillaries narrated the story through Breq. The novel, which won nearly every major sci-fi award in 2014, recounted the events that led to the execution of her favorite Lieutenant Awn Elming, the ship’s destruction at the whim of Minaai, and Breq/Justice’s subsequent quest for revenge as the sole surviving ancillary.

Leckie also played with language, choosing to depict the Raadchi Empire’s lack of gendered pronouns by referring to every character with the feminine “she”, something that enraged a certain barking subset of sci-fi readers.

Last year’s Ancillary Sword switched location to the remote, tea-producing planet of Athoek as Breq, now in command of her own ship and reluctantly working for Minaai, whose different bodies have developed their own consciousness and are at war with each other. It also injected a certain humanity into Breq as she struggled to live up to the idealized vision of a ship’s captain that she carried from her beloved Awn.  The book ended with Breq recuperating after an insurrection involving the other Minaai, and a mysterious ship arriving from the Presger empire, a powerful alien race in a tenuous treaty with the Raadchi humans.

A lot to digest there — just read the first two books, they are magnificent examples of space opera that earned every accolade they’ve received. But the stage is set for the finale — alien ships, warring personalities and Breq at the center, biding her time to exact revenge on Minaai.

I admit I had no clue how Leckie was going to wrap the series up — there was so much ground to cover and she seemed to be moving farther away from the central point of Breq’s revenge. And that’s where Mercy’s genius lies. Because Leckie doesn’t sprint to the expected finish, but veers the book off in a completely different direction, examining the sentience of the various AIs throughout the Raadch, the ships and stations trusted to care for their crews and residents.

And that is a far more satisfying conclusion than the simple revenge plot she introduced in Justice, or the political intrigues of Sword. Leckie stuck the landing, big time.

But the most satisfying character in Ancillary Mercy is the Presger Translator Zeiat. Sent to replace the slain Translator Dlique, who had an all-too-small role in Ancillary Sword, Zeiat is a hilarious fish-out-of-water, with the curiosity of a three-year-old who can’t keep from putting everything in her mouth. My favorite parts of the novel involved Zeiat’s attempts to learn about Raadchi culture.

“But, Translator, it’s not for drinking. It’s a condiment. Here.” She pushed the noodles closer to the translator. “Fish sauce is very good on this.”

“But it’s a liquid,” replied Translator Zeiat, reasonably enough, “and it tastes good.” The tea shop attendant turned and walked hastily away. The idea of drinking a bowlful of oily, salty fish sauce was too much for her, apparently.

Zeiat’s culinary adventures are just asides, however. And Breq does get her revenge, but not in the way she, or the reader expects. That’s not really the point either. Ultimately Ancillary Mercy shows that love, and how it is expressed through china sets and singing songs, is the root of the trilogy. Be it the love of a ship’s AI for her crew, a drug-addicted captain’s love of his savior.  Or even an alien’s love of fish sauce. ~~ Michael Senft

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