Praise Amaat, Ann Leckie's New Book Is Out

2015 was an innocent time, if you can remember that far back. That was what, eighty years ago? Yet I remember it like it was yesterday; the world seemed sane, and Ann Leckie’s Imperial Radch trilogy concluded with Ancillary Mercy. It was a bittersweet read, as I just wasn’t ready to say goodbye to Breq and friends. Leckie said she was likely to return to the universe, and lo, she has delivered. Provenance is a new stand alone novel in the same setting, where the conclusion of The Imperial Radch has set the wheels of change throughout the whole galaxy.

Ingray has a hard time impressing her adoptive mother. In Hwae society, the head of the household passes their name onto a selected heir, and Ingray’s brother is shaping up to be first choice. Ingray concocts a scheme that will see her broke, but will not fail to get attention: bust the disgraced Pahlad out of a prison that no one has ever escaped from and find out where e hid the priceless artifacts e had stolen. But that was the easy part; the hard part is a murder conspiracy that gets in the way!

After the events of Ancillary Mercy, at first this book seems like a step backward. The Hwae are far from the Radch, and the civil war there is only a matter of gossip and speculation. The situation that Ingray has found herself in, however, becomes increasingly large-scale as the story progresses. What might have been an inter-family struggle slowly boils up to a simmering threat of war.

And it is a slow boil. Much of the book is discussion between characters about what other characters might possibly be thinking or doing, but it’s okay because Provenance is primarily a mystery wrapped up in science fiction. Ingray is no Poirot, but through conversation she works her way through what the hell is going on and how to move from one crazy plan to another, not unlike how Agatha Christie’s detectives arrived at the truth. Unlike many cozy mysteries, Leckie avoids sticking to any type of formula. The plot seems to be going one way before a amphibious alien piloting a mech drops in on the scene to complicate things even further for poor Ingray, and that’s just one example of the kinds of roadblocks that pop up unexpectedly.

I’ll admit, I really miss Breq and the Radchaai, and practically cheered when a Radchaai side character showed up (then I turned on the kettle because I always think, “You know what would be rad? Chai.”). That said, I’m glad we got to have a look outside the empire, and I’m very glad that Leckie is still playing with gender. The Hwae have three gender classifications, which the Radch evidently still have trouble with. Once a person comes of age, they can announce their preferred gender pronouns. Like in the Imperial Radch trilogy, the primary focus is not on gender at all, but it does play it’s part in the general themes of identity and belonging. Like Breq, Ingray and Pahlad (or is it Garal?) do not know exactly where they belong. While it is acceptable on Hwae to declare gender identity and have it respected, changing names, changing allegiances, and challenging tradition while still honoring the past are central themes of this book. Why, yes, there’s alien politics and mysteries to solve, but as in Imperial Radch, there is more to the story than just fun sci-fi adventures.

The only criticism I have for the book is that Ingray’s motivation for her original harebrained scheme does not align with the unsure, meek girl we spend most of our time with. The synopsis in the book cover describes her as “ambitious”, but for the most part she is coasting on what is expected of her rather than acting out of a desire to win a title. I understand that her mother expects her to take risks, but she puts herself in a huge amount of debt and risks her very position in the family in the first few pages. Ingray is much smarter and collected than she gives herself credit for, but her reasoning for busting Pahlad/Garal out of Compassionate Removal just never seemed in character, especially reflecting back after the ending.

I didn’t love Provenance as much as I did Ancillary Justice, but I loved Ancillary Justice enough to stay up until four am reading. Provenance didn’t keep me up late at night, but I still happily zipped through it in just three days and it is a worthy addition to the universe Leckie has created.

Provenance was published by Orbit and released on September 26, 2017, and is available wherever fine books are sold.  

Megan “Spooky” Crittenden is a secluded writer who occasionally ventures from her home to give aid to traveling adventurers.