In a lot of ways Sword
is very different from Justice
, and they end up being extremely striking contrasts to each other. Whereas in Justice
we are inundated with plot that shunts us from one scene to another in high acceleration, Sword
takes a very different approach, and more or less lacks an overall plot structure period. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, and as a trilogy middle it's handled better than most, though I say this only because I didn't feel like I was constantly bored in it.
Even if nothing necessarily HAPPENS IN IT
in a huge, bombastic way with PLOT
(it is present, but they're more like bookends with hints littered throughout), we learn so much more about the characters. Definitely without the endless commentary of "My name is Justice of Toren, you killed my captain, prepare to die," we are able to delve into Breq as a character in a way we've not been able to before because she was so wholly obsessed and consumed with her revenge and love of Awn in the first book, and get to observe her not as someone with a single-minded goal but also in her interaction with others and how she deals with what she feels are injustices. Plus, the working of her crew, the machinations of Seivarden and Tisarwat; there was a LOOOT of character development in this book and I loooooved it.
Far be it for me to say that this book isn't heavy-handed with the colonialism and imperialism connotations and allegories, and it definitely stands out, what with it being a bulk of the book's themes, but I can't say that I minded. At least this time there isn't an undercurrent of "overall they're better off though, right?" And there's nothing about it necessarily to say that Leckie was trying to be clever, clever, lookatme
by making it an allegory, which I feel like is present in a lot of other scifi/fantasy books, opposed to coming right out and saying that the mindset of colonial societies are a load of bull. As far as heavy-handedness goes, Breq's insistence on giving us an update every time someone implied that ships don't have feelings could have been toned down a bit. "Haha, ships, amirite?" I DIDN'T SAY ANYTHING ABOUT HOW I USED TO BE A SHIP BECAUSE I WAS AND I HAD ANCILLARIES AND I KNEW FIRST HAND THAT WE HAD FEELINGS BECAUSE I USED TO BE A SHIP. Great status update for people who haven't read the previous novel. Annoying after maybe the second time for anyone who did read the previous novel. Annoying to everyone after the seventh time.
However, I feel like my favorite theme of the book was the one that isn't necessarily explicitly mentioned. We are treated somewhat endlessly to Breq's knowledge that ships have feelings and emotions, but I appreciated that these things are not a human-only aspect. I remember reading another review that discussed Breq's disinterest in "being human," which is fine and great and cool because how many times is there some race that's supposed to be emotionless but their half-humanity gives them WEIRD FEELINGS THAT FEEL, but I loved the implication under it that with sapience comes a person
hood and NOT a human
ness. Actually, after several trip-ups of this concept in other scifi shows and novels, it's great to see it actually realized here with no caveats, no one race that "probably doesn't" because "I don't know, they're different?"
Just overall, I am so in love with this series and this book in a same-but-different way than the first one. It's the scifi space opera I've been waiting for ever since my brain noticed that space operas are filled with the self-empowerment fantasies of a thousand cishet white dudes. It's wonderfully unapologetic, and though not perfect (nothing is) it's a great example of not only what scifi has the potential to be, but what scifi is supposed to be.