Hugo Award Nominee for Best Novel, 2016
Nebula Award Nominee for Best Novel, 2016

During a search of Athoek Station’s slums, Fleet Captain Breq finds someone who shouldn’t exist – another ancillary from a ship that hasn’t been seen by the Radch empire in three thousand years. Then two unexpected visitors arrive. One is a messenger from the alien Presger empire, the other Breq’s sworn enemy, the Anaander Mianaai clone at war with itself over the Radch empire. With Anaander heavily armed and ready for a confrontation, Breq must decide whether to flee or stay, fight, and put the people of Athoek Station in danger.

The entire Imperial Radch series is a very different kind of scifi. It’s smart, subtle, and delicate. This is a story I needed to reflect upon for proper enjoyment. It brings the outsiders into the in-group, one at a time, commentating the entire way on the absurdity of accepted cultural norms. It’s about AI. It’s about the (un-gendered) individuals that make up a galactic empire, the day-to-day, the domestic and the politic. It’s about drinking high tea out of a chipped enamel tea set.

I’m bringing down my star rating for the conclusion of this trilogy because of expectations. I thought the story would be about the revolution of a terrible dictatorship at war with itself from being ruled by seemingly all-knowing corrupted clones, an engaging revenge story, in addition to Breq’s journey of self-awareness as an AI in a human world. And it is. Sort of. But each of those arcs end in events that I find less than satisfying. Let me say that Leckie executes the finale exactly how she means to, which is poetically small in scope, intimate, and sentimental, and I appreciate it and like it. But I don’t love it as I expected.

“In the end, it’s only ever been one step, and then the next.”