BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The long anticipated conclusion to the Hugo Award winning Imperial Radch series.
PROS: Unique and original action scenes; brisk narrative drags you through the pages; satisfying conclusion to the trilogy.
CONS: Overpowered super-secret weapon wins the day; certain character relationships are left unresolved.
BOTTOM LINE: Ancillary Mercy delivered a compelling story full of action and emotional complexity that I consumed in a single sitting.
In the spirit of full-disclosure, I liked, but did not love, the first book in the Imperial Radch series, Ancillary Justice. I thought it a deserving candidate (and eventual winner) of the Hugo Award, however, as it did a number of things (including, though not limited to, peculiar pronoun shenaniganry) that set it apart from the rest of the field.
Then came along Ancillary Sword, a book which—as the second in the series—carries the burden of telling both a compelling ‘self-contained’ story, while also setting up the narrative threads which are to coalesce in the climax of the third book. Surprisingly, in a Hugo year fraught with turmoil, Ancillary Sword managed to sneak onto the ballot. This was strange to me, however, because Ancillary Sword (in my eyes at least) suffered by comparison to its predecessor. The story itself was slow and inconsequential in terms of the galactic battle occurring between the supreme ruler Anaander Mianaai’s multiple selves.
Whereas Ancillary Justice told an intensely engaging story of revenge through the eyes of a truly unique protagonist on a galactic scale, Ancillary Sword floundered in its myopic focus on the rural political machinations of a backwater station that really did not serve to progress the global story overly much.
So, with that said, I went into the third and final book of the Imperial Radch series, Ancillary Mercy, with a fair amount of enthusiasm tempered by equal parts trepidation. Could Leckie rediscover the magic and compelling narrative of Ancillary Justice? Or would the story fizzle out and climax with a lackluster sputter?
Well, despite some hiccups along the way, Ancillary Mercy actually delivered quite well on the promises made in Ancillary Justice. Leckie returns her attention to the civil war between Anaander’s rivaling selves, the galactic consequences of that war, while also tying in all the little plot threads from Ancillary Sword to tell a very compelling story.
Interestingly, though I would not choose to re-read Ancillary Sword, the character development and world-building done there does a brilliant job setting the stage for Ancillary Mercy to come in and clean up with a rollicking good yarn. I would compare this, perhaps, to eating your vegetables (Ancillary Sword) so that you might fully enjoy the dessert (Ancillary Mercy).
Alright, so enough bagging on Sword, let’s talk about what makes Mercy so darn good.
First, the global story finally has consequences for our heroes. Anaander Mianaai has come to town and things get heated right quick. More so than either of its predecessors, Ancillary Mercy has a sense of immediacy about it. The time for waiting, plotting, and scheming has ended; now it’s time to act.
Second, the action is good. Leckie doesn’t wow with her descriptive battle sequences, but she earns points for novelty and originality. What follows is a fairly unique space battle marred only by the fact that the Presger gun used by our intrepid hero is sort of a cop-out. Regardless, if you put that out of your mind, what you’re left with is actual awesome-sauce.
Third, the majority of mysteries from the first two books are unpacked and resolved in a somewhat fulfilling way. Not every question has been answered by the end, but that’s okay. A few loose strands only serve to tantalize (and not disappoint) as the reader must employ their imagination to consider what might have happened next.
My favorite part of the book was actually a secondary character who appears rather late in the narrative timeline: the Presger Translator. This alien character is so delightfully weird that she steals every scene she’s in. I could (and eagerly would) read an entire stand-alone tale just with this one character. More, please.
Lease favorite part of the book? As I mentioned earlier, the special Presger gun our protagonists has been trucking around throughout the series feels cheap and overpowered in the end. But hey, that’s sort of the point, so maybe that’s a silly thing to be upset about.
Ultimately, Ann Leckie ends the Imperial Radch series with the same sort of excitement and narrative mastery that propelled Ancillary Justice to the top of the charts. She regains her stride, after (in my opinion at least) a slight stumble in Ancillary Sword, to finish strong. Ancillary Mercy delivered a compelling story full of action and emotional complexity that I consumed in a single sitting.