I read a lot of science fiction and this book had some interesting stuff in it that I haven’t seen much in other sci-fi. The way Leckie has dealt with artificial intelligence and how one system can see and interact through multiple vantage points is fascinating. When I first saw how this book was going to play out I thought jumping from one view point to another, yet staying with the same character in those different points of view, would be confusing (just writing that sentence was a bit confusing). What surprises me is how well Leckie pulls it off and how it doesn’t come off as confusing at all. That isn’t to say it feels natural to read those sections, something feels a bit off as you get into the mindset of an Artificial intelligence, but I think that was part of the point.
On that I also really enjoyed how she wrote a fully sentient and semi-emotional Artificial Intelligence. It did not feel like Leckie just took human characterization and tagged it as being an AI. The character of Breq felt very unique and well thought out. Breq’s personality felt similar enough that you could relate and sympathize yet different enough that I bought the character as an advanced AI. The other stand out character was Anaader Mianaai, the Lord of the Radch. I don’t want to give anything away, but the internal conflict within the antagonist being used as a plot point was interesting. I really wanted to learn more about what was happening with Mianaai, so much so that I was not pleased when the book shifted away from that point back to present day Breq’s journey.
The one down side I had with the book is something I have been seeing more and more, well two things actually. The first is the shifting time line, from present day to flashback. I don’t mean just having a flashback, but when a quarter to half the book is flashback and the story jumps from one to the other multiple times. It might be that I just prefer a more liner story but this does bother me some. The other, and I find it usually goes hand in hand with the shifting time line, is when the author doesn’t make it clear what the point of the story is for large portions of the book. It wasn’t until I was almost half way done reading the book that I knew what Breq was doing or what it’s goals were. Because of this I never really latched on to the “current time” Breq. I found myself connecting more with the flashback version of the character whose actions and intent were actually clear. To be fair after the half-way point in the book those two versions catch up to each other and merge, but I don’t like waiting half the book for that to happen. I know authors like to get clever with their structure so the book is “interesting” but this format has been done to death over the last few years and I would be happy if it went away.
This is a really great sci-fi read and if you can handle the switching viewpoints it really is very inventive and feels new.