The novel “Ancillary Mercy” by Ann Leckie was published for the first time in 2015. It’s the third book in the Imperial Radch series and follows “Ancillary Sword“. It won the Locus Award as the best novel of the year.
The situation seems stable at Athoek Station but Breq knows that things can change quickly. The first unexpected event comes from inside the station with the discovery of what appears to be the ancillary of a starship that hid far beyond the borders of the Radch three millennia earlier. The arrival of Translator Zeiat, a new Presger emissary, brings new risks of instability.
For Breq, the real moment of crisis comes with the part of Anaander Mianaai, the Lord of the Radch, the enemy of the part that sent Breq to the Athoek system. The enemy forces have far superior firepower but Breq doesn’t intend to leave the system’s inhabitants in danger and is forced to improvise a plan to face the Lord of the Radch.
“Ancillary Mercy” continues the story told in “Ancillary Sword”, to the point that the two books practically form one great novel which in turn is based on the events of the first book. The consequence is that you need to have read the first two novels of the Imperial Radch trilogy to understand the third novel’s characters and the plot.
Like the previous novel, “Ancillary Mercy” is heavily character-based, as Ann Leckie uses the characters to develop some themes of the trilogy. Their choices offer food for thought about those themes, and Breq’s choices in particular are strongly influenced by everything that happened to her.
The arrival of a new emissary of the Presger, an alien power that has a peace treaty with the Radch, offers another way to address the issue of identity. The Presger remain distant and seemingly unknowable, and Translator Zeiat was created specifically to interact with humans. Despite that, communications between him and humans are complicated.
“Ancillary Mercy” has more or less the merits of “Ancillary Sword” and different flaws. The development of the important themes introduced in the previous novel continues but the original elements of the fictional universe created by Ann Leckie have run out.
The crisis determined by the arrival of a part of Anaander Mianaai makes the story in some ways more intense. Breq is forced to act without the ability to plan her actions. Compared to the previous novel, drinking tea on many occasions seems to become a ritual that helps her to anchor herself in some way to an element of order.
The biggest disappointment in “Ancillary Mercy” is for me the part of the Lord of the Radch who comes to the Athoek’s system to invade it. Honestly, I was expecting a character capable of being a memorable villain but his presence seems to only serve to provoke certain reactions in Breq.
Another problem concerns the parts of the novel about Seivarden and Tisarwat, which I found boring because I didn’t care about their problems. I would have preferred Ann Leckie to devote less room to Seivarden and Tisarwat to build a better ending since the twists in the last part of the novel seemed a bit dull considering all the build-up seen in the trilogy.
As the Imperial Radch series finale, “Ancillary Mercy” seems to me only partially successful. It leaves the door open for more stories but I hope Ann Leckie will continue this series only if she has strong ideas. If you liked the previous novel, you will probably like this one too.