The novel “Provenance” by Ann Leckie was published for the first time in 2017.
Ingray Aughskold spent all of her money to get Pahlad Budrakim out of the prison planet where he was exiled from Hwae and for the journey on Captain Tic Uisine’s spaceship to bring them home with a fake ID for Pahlad. Her plan is to find the precious vestiges whose replacement with fakes doomed Pahlad.
When Ingray Aughskold awakens Pahlad Budrakim from the cryogenic sleep he was put into after his breakout, she gets a nasty surprise when the person she was handed over claims to be someone else. Ingray has no choice but to heavily rethink her plans because failure would mean losing any hope of succeeding her adoptive mother in her political office. When they arrive on Hwae, however, things just start getting complicated.
Ann Leckie became famous with the Imperial Radch trilogy and a couple of years later she published another novel set in the same fictional universe. “Provenance” contains some references to events from that trilogy but it’s not essential to have read it because this new novel is set in an area of space outside the Radch. This leads to greater complexity at the gender level because it can be masculine, feminine, or neman.
The characters in this novel are almost all human with the exception of a Geck ambassador who is currently female. It’s an important presence also because in the background there are diplomatic meetings linked to a treaty among different species. However, at the center of the plot is Hwae’s politics, where some positions belong to important families and are inherited by the son or daughter that the parent deems most deserving.
Netano Aughskold has no biological children but adopted some children and Danach is considered the favorite to the succession. For this reason, Ingray is forced to implement a risky plan based on the collaboration of the person condemned to what is essentially a life-long exile for having stolen some very important vestiges, objects of enormous historical value, and not only for the family.
The importance of vestiges on Hwae is one of the novel’s themes. They remind citizens who they are and where they come from, the reason why the sentence for their theft is so severe. Foreign researchers arrive looking for evidence that Hwae’s official story isn’t the real one, and even then things quickly get complicated.
In all of this, Ingray Aughskold finds herself in the midst of all the possible complications, sometimes because her plans don’t develop as expected but in some cases because she was in the wrong place at the wrong time. She sometimes seems a little bit of a whiner thinking that she grew up in an important family with an adoptive mother who pushed her to excel by stimulating competition between her children. She’s supposed to be used to facing difficulties but ends up in a situation where she has to face one crisis after another.
Character development doesn’t go particularly in-depth but some characters hide various secrets, so it’s possible to know them only in part. Thinking about the centrality of the family in the plot, I would still have expected more developments in particular of Netano and Danach Aughskold.
Various intertwining of the different elements of the story make it quite convoluted. Despite this and a protagonist I found not very interesting, “Provenance” seemed to me overall funny for some light-hearted parts and above all for the comedy of manners connected to the obsession existing on Hwae for its vestiges. If you already read the Imperial Radch trilogy, it also offers a bigger picture of that fictional universe. I recommend it to readers who appreciate complex plots that mix elements of various genres and think they can at least tolerate the protagonist.