On the one hand, Ancillary Sword is a nicely constructed small-scale SF novel focusing on injustices on a single space station and the associated planet. On the other hand, the small scale is a let-down after the sweeping scope of the first volume in this series. While characters in Ancillary Sword spend plenty of time alluding to the wider struggle established in Ancillary Justice, it seems distant and almost as if the events of this book won’t have a bearing on eventual outcomes.
The dominant Radchaai culture minimizes gender differentiation and defaults to female pronouns. In Ancillary Justice, perhaps because the book starts outside the Radch, the main character Breq spends a lot of time trying to decipher and assign gender. Consequently, I spent much of Ancillary Justice, searching for clues such as broad shoulders or voice timbre that indicated the gender of the characters. I found many fewer clues to the gender of the characters in Ancillary Sword, perhaps because the events occur within the Radch and many more of the characters are speaking Radchaai. But I also found myself not worrying as much that I might have been mistakenly picturing people wrong.
When my husband read this series, he ended up re-starting each volume immediately after he finished his first read. I’ve also found that I need to read each book twice before even attempting to review it, though I took a short break between the 1st gulp and the reread.
I'm being torn about a star rating, I think Ancillary Justice, which I initially rated 4 stars, is about half a star better than Ancillary Sword, but at the same time 3.5 stars feels low. I’m looking forward to the last book in the trilogy, though I’m already feeling the tension between just diving right in and the pull of Halloween Bingo.