Saturday, 9 December 2017

Provenance by Ann Leckie

Provenance by Ann Leckie is set in the same universe as the Imperial Radch trilogy (which starts with the Hugo Award-winning Ancillary Justice), but stands alone. It's set after the events in the Imperial Radch trilogy but can be read completely independently of that series. It's set on a planet outside of the Radchaai Empire and there are only a few mentions of an event that happened right at the end of the Imperial Radch trilogy (and which is sort of a spoiler but not in any important ways).

Following her record-breaking debut trilogy, Ann Leckie, winner of the Hugo, Nebula, Arthur C. Clarke and Locus Awards, returns with an enthralling new novel of power, theft, privilege and birthright.

A power-driven young woman has just one chance to secure the status she craves and regain priceless lost artifacts prized by her people. She must free their thief from a prison planet from which no one has ever returned.

Ingray and her charge will return to her home world to find their planet in political turmoil, at the heart of an escalating interstellar conflict. Together, they must make a new plan to salvage Ingray's future, her family, and her world, before they are lost to her for good.

I have to admit, I was a reasonable way into this book before I worked out what it was about. I didn't mind, though, because I found the the main character, Ingray, interesting to follow. We start off not knowing very much about her or her motives and learn piecemeal as we watch her actions and choices (and as various backstory is filled in as necessary). We know even less about the other characters, with the narrative holding a tight third person perspective, and learning more about them certainly held my interest.

By the time I was sure about what kind of book this was, I decided the best way to describe it was as a "comedy of diplomacy". Like a comedy of errors, but with more people from different planets inadvertently getting in each other's way. And a main character who didn't set out to get in the middle of it all, but did, to quite a significant extent. It was very entertaining.

This is a standalone novel, and the story is very much tied up by the end of the book. However, it's very much whet my appetite for more (possibly standalone) stories set in the same universe. We learn about one alien species in Provenance that were only mentioned in the Imperial Radch books (the Geck) and I am keen to learn more about some of the other aliens. I feel there are some key questions left unanswered in general.

But Provenance isn't a story about aliens. It's a story of a comparatively small civilisation, it's cultural quirks and its neighbours (with their own cultural quirks). They bear little similarity to the Radch (and in fact, seeing the Radch from their point of view was fascinating) and exist far outside of the Radchaai sphere of influence. Unlike the Imperial Radch books, this is not a story about colonialism, but rather about cultural history and the significance this takes in society. It's also a much more light-hearted story than that of a sentient warship. Just saying.

I highly recommend Provenance to fans of science fiction who are looking for a relatively light-hearted read. It's full of amusing or perplexing social and diplomatic situations and, while I wouldn't classify it as an outright comedy per se, I laughed out loud many times while I was reading. I hope Leckie writes more books — standalone or series — set in this universe.

5 / 5 stars

First published: September 2017, Orbit
Series: No, but set in the same world as the Imperial Radch trilogy, after the events of those books
Format read: ePub
Source: Purchased from Kobo shop

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