Tag Archives: ann leckie

The Raven Tower

Fantasy novel about power, faith and intrigue inspired by Hamlet

This was the most recent set book for my fantasy book club, which unfortunately I couldn’t attend due to losing my voice. I’ve been a bit uninspired by fantasy recently so I wasn’t particularly excited by the thought of reading this book, even though I really enjoyed other books by this author. I decided to buy an eBook and see how I went.

“The Raven Tower” by Ann Leckie is a fantasy novel told in the second person about Eolo, a young trans man from a rural area who is aide to Mawat, the heir to a position called The Raven’s Lease, a person sworn to serve a god known as the Raven until their death when the Raven’s bird form dies as well. However, when Mawat returns to the city of Vastai expecting to ascend the throne, he finds his father missing and his uncle sitting on the throne as the new Lease. Mawat, who struggles with his temper, hides in his quarters for days before emerging to publicly accuse his uncle of foul play. Meanwhile, Eolo explores the city and meets many different individuals to try to uncover what really happened, all the while being observed by the book’s mysterious narrator.

This was a fascinating take on the fantasy genre and Leckie’s writing continues to impress. Although I frequently lament the lack of diversity and originality in fantasy, especially Western medieval fantasy, Leckie has taken the hallmarks of fantasy and explored them through several different angles. Eolo is a great main character who, although initially underestimated due to his poor background and trans identity, quickly garners respect as someone who is intelligent, courageous and sensible. The second person narration was an interesting style choice, and although it is one that I have seen before, I think in this case it was done very well and kept Eolo’s true thoughts and feelings ultimately unknowable.

Although this is a fantasy novel, Leckie weaves in elements of science fiction by asking the question what if? and imagining how a world where gods could speak things true would unfurl. To complete the tapestry, Leckie also expertly uses a narrative structure more often seen in genres like mystery and horror. She creates a palpable sense of unease and foreboding, and even until the very end it is impossible to assess whether the narrator is good or evil. I absolutely love that this is a standalone novel, and I think that fantasy writers should take note and write more powerful, punchy novels like this.

I really enjoyed this book, but Leckie introduces incredible complex concepts to her readers that occasionally felt a little muddled. While I totally appreciate the value in not handing everything to the reader on a platter, for me at least it felt like there were quite a few questions left unanswered about e.g. the difference between the Ancient Ones and newer gods, why a particular god decided to go to Vastai and what the whole spinning thing was about.

Nevertheless, this was an incredibly engaging novel and Leckie continues to demonstrate how strong and flexible a writer she is. I’m really looking forward to seeing what she writes next.

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Ancillary Mercy

“Ancillary Mercy” by Ann Leckie is the third novel in a trilogy called the “Imperial Radch”. This book came out in October 2015, a few months after I reviewed the first two novels in the series.

Like the second book, “Ancillary Mercy” picks up almost immediately after its predecessor ends. Breq and her crew are still at Athoek Station. With everyone still reeling from the events in “Ancillary Sword”, things become even more complicated when they discover someone who appears to be the ancillary from a ship that has been missing for a thousand years and find themselves having to look after the very strange and very literal Translator Zeiat who has been sent by the Presger alien race for reasons unclear. Then of course is the extremely inconvenient fact that the ruler of the Radch, Anaander Mianaai, is at war with herself and Breq is somehow right in the middle of it.

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I liked this book better than the second, but not as much as the first. Leckie brings a lot more action back into the story, and there are some really interesting relationships that start to build between Breq and other AIs. Translator is an absolute riot and is a fantastic humorous counterweight to the otherwise heavy tone of the book.

I think, like in many trilogies, the first book was the best. Ann Leckie was clearly on a tight publishing schedule and releasing three books in three quick years doesn’t leave a lot of time for writing. Also, one of the things that I really enjoyed about the first book was how many different worlds Breq visited. The second and third books are situated in the same system, and really for the most part on Athoek Station. I was a little disappointed that we didn’t get to explore more worlds and cultures and peoples.

Then, without giving too much away, there’s a point in the book where the focus of the plot shifts considerably. Although I can understand that the entire series has led up to that moment, it does make the events of the  majority of “Ancillary Mercy” feel a bit pointless. Perhaps that was the point.

While  “Ancillary Mercy” is probably not the Hugo, Nebula and Arthur C. Clarke winner that “Ancillary Justice” was, it is still a good read and a satisfying conclusion to a groundbreaking trilogy.

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