Ann Leckie’s fourth sci-fi novel ‘Provenance’ is a crime thriller set in the same universe as her hugely successful Imperial Radch trilogy.
Few authors achieve in a lifetime the same level of success as Ann Leckie did with her debut novel ‘Ancillary Justice’. Published in 2013 – the first in a subsequent trilogy – ‘Ancillary Justice’ is the only novel ever to win the Hugo, Nebula and Arthur C. Clarke awards in a clean sweep.
Leckie went on to publish sequels, ‘Ancillary Sword’ and ‘Ancillary Mercy’, in 2014 and 2015 respectively. The three books form the Imperial Radch trilogy. Science fiction with revolution, civil war, space battles, action and adventure all through the eyes of the titular ancillary, Breq.
Where ‘Ancillary Justice’ offered the reader a storyline that spanned a vast expanse of planets and space, the two sequels focussed less on world building and more on the politics and battles of revolution and civil war in a regionalised setting.
Two years on and Leckie returns to the same universe, but with a new protagonist for her fourth novel, ‘Provenance’. Leaving behind the story of Breq, we pick up with Ingray.
Adopted into an aristocratic household, the young and somewhat uncertain heroine sets out on a bold plan to free a convicted criminal from ‘Compassionate Removal’ – the name society has bequeathed to a prison planet – with the intention of using the prisoners’ inside knowledge to recover long lost vestiges of great worth.
Her plan soon begins to unravel when it becomes evident that the criminal, Pahlad Budrakim, is not only innocent, but hell bent on exposing his father who is responsible for framing him so as to further his own political standing.
What prevails is a many layered crime thriller where each of the cleverly planned character agendas begin to overlap. Succumbing to the realisation that she will never win the graces of her high-powered adoptive mother, Ingray manages, with the help of her new found allies, to fight through her own self doubt to discover a true resolve.
Fans of Leckies previous novels will already be familiar with her style of writing, specifically with regards to how gender is approached. The author has carefully crafted a universe where, much of the time, each gender is referred to as ‘she’. Many cultures and races are simply oblivious to the concept of male and female. With ‘Provenance’ Leckie moves further towards a gender-neutral universe with the introduction of ‘e’, ’em’ and ‘eir’ replacing ‘he/she’, ‘them’ and ‘their’ for many, though not all characters. It’s surprisingly easy to pick up.
On the flip side, Leckie does little to ease new readers into her existing universe and its shifting structure since Breq‘s work in ‘Ancillary Mercy’. As such, newcomers may find it difficult to get their bearings or fully understand the political landscape in a now post-Radch era.
The good news is that any newcomers will have the incredibly pleasing option of going to the beginning and working their way through the Imperial Radch trilogy. I can think of a million worse prospects.
In ‘Provenance’ Ann Leckie has managed to expand on her existing universe in a way that feels familiar to fans of her previous books, but with a fresh approach and a subtle change in genre. Likeable characters, ultimate vindication and a heroic coming of age tale result in a compelling read. Leckie’s approach to science fiction writing is simply magnificent.