Read June 2021
★ ★ ★
There’s at least two ways to read this series, and your enjoyment will depend on which you choose (choose your own adventure!) Do you:
- Read quickly, surface-details only, not pausing to question characters and plotting.
- Read deeply, discussing the details and character motivations.
- Surprise! You can also do both and discover that it falls apart with scrutiny.
When I read quickly, it’s usually because plotting pulls me along. An unpredictable plot is catnip, and spurs me to invest in the story and pay attention. Interest strengthens if plotting passes a sniff test and there’s emotional drama. So when I first read through Mercy, I thought it a decent finale to the trilogy, particularly after the tea plantation drama of book #2. There’s just as much tea but far more action, and number of interesting plot developments. But that speed and interest comes with a cost: ignoring the sustained focus on the crew’s various emotional dramas and Breq’s similarly human emotional landscape.
The first chapter does a decent job of reviewing the events of the prior book, as well as explaining a few ambiguities that had erupted. (If only Leckie had decided to share them in book two!). Nonetheless, I’m sure it’ll be helpful to readers who took time between books. While intrigue is non-stop, endless cups of tea will appear, although only as a indication that Important Conversations Will Follow. It’s too bad, really, that Leckie fixated on the ritual of tea as her indicator for ‘civilization,’ because there was the potential to add more cultural world-building. (Oh, correction–this time we also talk about tea-cakes).
But Leckie’s characterization remains overall weak, with Seivarden and Ekalu’s emotional drama about a microaggression-laden compliment distracting from both planetary and interstellar-level events. I honestly couldn’t think of why it was included, unless it was for Leckie to use it as an awkward and overt ‘teaching point’ for readers who don’t understand the insidiousness.
Breq herself remains a black box, unable to share details on her strategy until post-event. It’s an annoying authorial tick that relies on nothing more than slight-of-hand super-power skills. And don’t get me started on why Breq’s continues her focus on racial politics of the planet and station when she has a galactic empire gunning for her. We do remember, right, that this is the embodiment of an A.I. that participated in numerous racially-motivated wars? There’s not enough character depth to explain how she’s decided that different races of people should have equal rights. Then there’s her own shaky double-standard of certain missing people who are still in ancillary storage. It all adds up to a character that isn’t interesting as much as inscrutable, which leads me to conclude shaky characterization.
All my prior objections of the series remain: missed potential for world-building and shaky underpinnings (spoiler: when did Breq decide to switch to Freedom Fighter?) but intricate plotting with a lot of forward movement. Don’t scrutinize too closely and it’ll be an okay ride.