RogerBW's Blog

Provenance, Ann Leckie 06 July 2018

2017 SF, set in the same universe as the Imperial Radch series but not in Radchaai space. Ingray Aughskold is a low-ranking political daughter, trying for a major coup to get herself some status. But her plans are going to go comprehensively wrong.

I realised quite quickly while reading this that it's a caper story. Everyone is conning everyone else, and everyone knows it. There are plenty of "aha, but you did not realise my cunning plan" moments.

Alongside that, there are considerations of family and inheritance, of being the "lesser" sibling, of manners and culture and the importance one attaches to things. The culture of Hwae, where most of the action takes place, ascribes importance to vestiges, objects that were actually present at events (ranging from the major historical ones down to one's own attendance at a party); but that veneration is a thing they have lived with and internalised and which is merely a small part of their life of the mind (and if something turns out to be a fake, well, it's still a fake that people have cared about for centuries), while a neighbouring power takes it entirely literally and seriously.

There's a great deal going on here: negotiation and possible conflict with that neighbouring power, the machinations of a third power, obscure aliens visiting for unknown reasons, and above all the Treaty whereby powers musn't interfere with each other. Oh, and a murder, which serves as the seed crystal to kick everything into a higher gear.

This is the sort of SF which doesn't explain things much (though there are a few infodumpy monologues); rather, it gives you the clues and lets you have fun putting the puzzle together yourself. Some readers will find this frustrating, particularly when everyone has names like Ingray and Pahlad and Taucris and Tic, and personal pronouns aren't restricted to "he" and "she"; I rather enjoyed it. The cast isn't huge, which makes life easier, and more importantly everyone has a distinct personality.

Ingray is… fascinating, a protagonist who's very bad at what she regards as the important skills of life; her journey in this book is mostly in discovering what she's good at. She doesn't drive the plot, but neither does the plot drive her; it's more of a partnership.

There's perhaps less intensity than in the Imperial Radch series – it reminded me of the comedy-of-manners parts of Ancillary Sword, or of Bujold's later Vorkosigan stories – and it's more of a romp than a thriller, with small personal stakes rather than the fate of empires. It shows off a welcome flexibility in Leckie's writing which makes me think she'll go on to even greater things.

While one could certainly read this without having read Imperial Radch, it refers to events in Ancillary Mercy, so if you're planning to read more you should probably start with the original trilogy.

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