I don't think this book was for me. Which is surprising because the synopsis would argue otherwise. The main character is an AI, a two thousand year old star ship trapped for the past two decades in a single human body, on a quest for answers and revenge. That's gold right there. But this book consistently felt like work, and while I like my reading to be challenging, I'm not too proud to recognize when something is just a little bit out of my league.
What gets talked about the most about this book is the setting and the language, specifically that everyone is referred to a gender-neutral “she.” Which is disorienting and kind of exciting. You can essentially imagine any character as any gender you feel like, or keep them all genderless if that's your fancy. The only characters with specified genders is Breq, our hero, formerly the Justice of Toren, who has a woman's body, and Sevairden, a man she rescues from a drug habit for no other reason that he was a former officer of hers. Breq and Sevairden's relationship is a fascinating one. He (he is referred to as she in the book, obviously, but I'm going to try to be a little less confusing here) was not one of her favorite officers, as she consistently states, and she feels no real attachment to him. Over the course of the book, the feeling is clearly not mutual. Whether its because Sevairden subconsciously recognizes his former ship or because he fell in love with a person who selflessly cared for him when they didn't have to is hard to say- like many things, Leckie leaves this intentionally ambiguous.
In Ancillary Justice, you have to consistently think about what you're reading. You have to think about what it means for an AI to have “favorites” and overturn an entire empire out of grief for a lieutenant she was forced to murder, you have to question your assumption that all figures of authority are male even when they're referred to as “she” (I learned some shit about myself in this, for real), you have to keep track of what the fuck is going on when an omniscient all-powerful AI splits into multiple parts and starts acting against itself. When the climax hit, it was exciting and intense, but a big part of me was just like “I have no idea what they fuck is happening.”
There's also a lot of talking. There's exploration of cultures that consistently feel alien, discussion of morality and philosophy between an ancient AI and humans who don't understand its value. Everything feels at an arm's length, and the use of pronouns has a bit to do with that. When you're constantly questioning how you've interpreted character, its hard to just be in the moment and get absorbed into the story. There are great emotional elements to this - the fact that Breq is so stoic makes when she does get emotionally invested so much more valuable, and the story of Lieutenant Awn is gripping and sad to say the least - but mostly I felt very detached.
I'm really torn about whether I want to read the next book. I really like Breq, or Justice of Toren. I want to see her interact with other AI (the interactions with Station and a Mercy were really interesting but brief), and I want to see where her relationship with Sevairden goes. But I think I might read something a little more straight forward next.