Ann Leckie’s latest book, Provenance (Orbit Books, 448 pages) is every bit as enjoyable as her Imperial Radch Trilogy. It’s quite different in its themes, story and characters, but Leckie’s style holds steady at unpretentious, clear and engaging.
Its protagonist is Ingray Aughskold, a young Hwae woman, one of the foster children of high-ranking public representative Netano Aughskold. Netano has yet to name her heir and now, it’s really either between Ingray and older Danach, whom Ingray believes is Netano’s favourite.
In an attempt to win her mother’s approval, Ingray arranges for the release of a Hwae prisoner, Pahlad Budrakim, believing that Netano will be impressed by the plan’s reckless brilliance. In fact, Ingray’s idea is shockingly, laughably bad and stresses just how desperate she is to be noticed by ‘Mama’.
The thing is, Ingray isn’t quite the hopeless case she seems. Really, she’s just young and inexperienced, and incredibly stressed thanks to the way she’s been treated by her mother. Yes, they really fuck you up, your mum and dad. And, it transpires that Pahlad Budrakim and another key character, Tic Uisine, have also, in various ways and degrees, been screwed over by their parents. You could say, the results of all these different kinds of bad parenting are what drive the plot of Provenance.
When I got to the end of this book I wanted to start from the beginning again, and that was how I felt about all three of the Imperial Radch titles. There is just a lot to unpack and think about given that Leckie is all about creating worlds, cultures and technology that you never anticipate.
In the Trilogy, there was the exclusive use of the feminine pronouns within the Radch Empire. In Provenance, the Hwae have three genders (using the pronouns she, he and e) and choose one, along with their adult name, usually in their late teens, although one character doesn’t make up her mind til she’s twenty-five. Another character, the ambassador from the planet Geck, is a ‘she’, but has been another gender previously.
This ambassador, by the way, may be my favourite character in this book. The Geck are, actually, a fascinating species, whom I hope Leckie will write more about. I would love to see their way of life and their thinking at the centre of a future novel.
For now, read the Trilogy if you haven’t already; and read Provenance. They’re all thought-provoking and exciting stories with protagonists that I, at any rate, got really attached to and protective of. It’s just a plus when you care so much about fictional characters that you start imagining their lives outside the books. That doesn’t happen too often to me.