Ancillary Justice was a tour de force, a book that shifted your perceptions and blew the genre/gender cobwebs from your mind. It had multiple points of view (that were all, ultimately, the same point of view) and it had multiple time-lines. And its narrator/s called everybody she, even if they were male, causing you to picture every character as a woman, even the men.
The first sequel, Ancillary Sword was a continuation of the story, but in a different way that disappointed some readers. Gone was the widescreen, galaxy-spanning, time-shifting space opera narrative in favour of a small, contained (confined, even) story of local government and politics in a single, temporarily isolated system with one planet and one space station. Another tour de force, in a way, like an unexpected reboot. Many of the same characters were involved, but this was a completely different sub-genre within the genre of contemporary SF. Throw in an alien ‘translator’ who appeared to be human but was anything but, and you have the makings of a slow-motion diplomatic train crash that will have repercussions for all and leave you impatiently anticipating the conclusion.
Which brings us to Ancillary Mercy, the final novel in the sequence, which is best understood as a little bit from box A and a little bit from box B. Here, both the local politics and the galactic empire civil war come to a head, with a fish sauce guzzling alien wild card. The narrator still calls everybody she, and you, the reader, still read every character as a woman. Ann Leckie doesn’t remind you who is actually male. If you want to read the first novel over again and be reminded, here and there, of which character presents as anatomically male, you can. But I didn’t, because who cares. I still think the female pronoun thing is a stroke of genius, something that makes me want to trumpet this trilogy from the rooftops for all to read. The simple power of the overlooked pronoun is a shotgun blast to the face of people who think that language choice doesn’t matter.
The story comes to a somewhat satisfying conclusion. You can see how the future is going to go. What I particularly love/hate about this trilogy is that each volume isn’t 1000 pages. The trilogy itself doesn’t even add up to 1000 pages. Instead of the weight and heft of A Song of Ice and Fire or any number of other genre series, the Ancillary trilogy comes in light. Comes in light but shines very bright: it has more ideas and more food for thought than just about anything I’ve read in recent times. If Sword felt like something lesser after the triumph of Justice, Mercy takes you back to the feeling you got reading the first. Being on the short side (or of average length, in other genres), the trilogy is more accessible for the casual reader. But when you get to the end, when you read the final 75 pages or so in one sitting, with your late night self screwing the next day for your morning self, when you do that, you immediately regret it. The following day you feel a deep sense of loss because you no longer have Ancillary Mercy to read.
(Annoyingly, my copies of the first two in the series are digital, dating from before my decision to abandon screen reading and go back to books, so if I want to read this again I have to suffer the indignity of reading off my iPhone screen. Like an animal.)