I'm not particularly sure what to say about this book.
Leckie is a fine writer and this series was rich in its world building and concepts, but man, were there pacing issues galore. The first book started off at a slow crawl, but when it picked up it was fun to read. The second book sort of slowed down with time and this third one had one of the slowest opening first acts that I've seen in a while.
I'm all for setting the tone of a book and an author taking his/her/their time to get things rolling, but in a third (and final) book in a series, the scene has already been set, the players and their plans are already in motion. To be frank, I wasn't enjoying the book very much early on, which is saying a lot for a third book in a series where I'm already hooked into the plot and the characters. I put this book aside for about two months before returning to it.
The first book set up the world and the struggle between the Lord[s] of the Radach and Breq. The second book scaled things back to just one planet and its accompanying space station, debates over tea sets, birthrights and a look at how Radach society was so broken. It sort of feels like somewhere along the way Leckie changed her mind as to the scope of this story and became enamored with this planet/station and its inhabitants.
So this giant, sprawling empire drama is scaled back to just having one system that matters and magically everything just kind of happens there and the main focus moves on to the morality of artificial intelligence and humanity. Breq is, of course, essentially an unshackled AI, so it wasn't exactly a jarring transition, but that focus led to a lot of loose strands in the story that were never resolved.
People either seem contented with the rather subdued ending or upset at how the scope was scaled back so much. I didn't mind it and thought that it was clever enough, but that it really sort of came out of nowhere. Breq is an amazingly all-seeing, all-knowing AI-ship-in-a-human-body yet the reader sees very little of what goes on inside of her mind at times. This means that for some of the plot the reader will have a clear idea of what Breq is trying to accomplish, while at other times it's obfuscated for what appears to be the reason of keeping the reader in suspend. The reader is just to understand that Breq is great at everything and will just kinda figure stuff out without much insight or foresight.
That could be why the ending felt so sudden and convenient. As a reader I wanted insight into what was being planned, for tension to be created by what was happening, instead I was left in the dark and – SURPRISE – most of it didn't really matter. Weird AI cores that seemed integral to the plot? Who cares who left them there, what they were programmed for, why they were hidden and what the Lord of Radach had in store for them? Sigh.
Once this book got going it was easy to keep reading it, but man, did it take forever to get to that point. Leckie's writing style is clean and accessible, with some of the awkwardness of the first book no longer there (although I did chuckle at the return of “gestured” near the end of this book), making it a fun read once the initial slog of tea sets and tea and tea and tea are over from the first act. Overall, this was an enjoyable read and any complaint that I have is simply because I was expecting more and truly do believe that we'll see better from Leckie in the future.