I really had intended to shave some books of off the more ancient layers of the To Be Read pile, but after a couple of weeks of picking up and putting down without much progress I decided to start Ann Leckie‘s Provenance instead.
It proved to be a good choice. The backbone tale is quite formulaic and centres around a young woman and her efforts to win the favours of her adoptive mum: a classic mother-daughter tale, and a classic theme in mainstream novels. Around this basic premise Leckie manages to weave a tale that makes the impression of being anything but formulaic repetition.
Through the experiences of Ingray – the daughter – and her interactions with those around her Leckie explores power structures and power balances, both on a personal scale and a societal one. As we first makes Ingray’s acquaintance she is in the middle of a transaction central to her plan to unsettle her main competitor – her brother – and to bring disgrace to their mother’s main political enemy.
The society Ingray is born into is one were personal prestige and personal image is central for those who aim to be part of the political power. When “election season” is coming up it gets important for the contenders to look good. As in all such cases looking good doesn’t inherently mean being good, and Ingray has learned from a young age to behave in a way that will further her mother Netano’s political career. She herself feel that her only value is in furthering her mother’s career.
Through the individuals that we encounter during the run of the story we get to see the impact of power and power structures: Ingray and Garal/Pahlad and their struggles with family, birthright, inheritance and privilege; military chain of command and futility, through Commander Hatqueban and Excellency Chenns and others. Or the Radch Ambassador to the Geck – Tibanvori, a victim of political infighting.
Sometimes we just get small glimpses, though enough to make the world believable, but most of all the characters themselves feel true: they are real within their respective contexts, and act in consistence with how they are brought up to see the world.
And as always that world is not so different from our own, even as we don’t share clothing styles or pronouns: because it is not what we wear that makes us human, but who we are.
Not as profound as the Imperial Radch trilogy but still a rewarding read. And I have now added Leckie to the list of authors that I keep track of.
While this is a standalone story reading the Imperial Radch books, starting with Ancillary Justice, first adds depth to this tale.