Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie

Generally excellent. Where the first book was broad, with multiple locations and times, the second one goes deep, diving into the political minutiae of a single system. And it works, drawing us further into the world of the Radch.

Three things I learned about writing:

  • Be careful of “I knew that she suspected I thought I knew about this lie that she told me three days ago” plots. Unless your narrator is very explicit about their thoughts, you can lose the reader in too many significant looks that aren’t explained.
  • If a cool gimmick from the first book isn’t available (lost because of story), instead of bringing it back (and reaching for a retcon), try to find a different way to achieve the same thing. Here, the data relayed to the narrator by Ship gives us the ability to view scenes we wouldn’t otherwise, preserving the narrative trick of the first book by a different means.
  • For a sequel, you might be tempted to go broader than the first book (especially if the story of the first book was epic in scope already). But you don’t have to. A smaller scope can work just as well to let you show who your characters are, and deepen their relationships.

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

Easily worthy of the awards it won. Fantastic ideas, presented through conflicts with interesting characters, and writing that describes just enough and no more.

And I almost stopped halfway through.

There’s a point where the protagonist does something so amazingly dumb, that I wanted to put the book down in frustration. But I kept going, and I’m glad I did. Because it only got better from there.

Three things I learned about writing:

  • Beware delaying explanations for too long. A character that says “I don’t know why I did X” too often, before their inability to explain is outlined to the reader, can lead to frustration.
  • Don’t have to wait for the character to say “and then I told them my story” to tell that story to the reader. Can layer it in, piece by piece, via flashback chapters.
  • Small touches, like bare hands being considered vulgar, when followed-through, can do a lot of work to make a culture feel real.