In many ways this book was easier to get into than the first one. Now the fact that Breq used to be a ship is no longer a mystery, and I know what ancillaries are, and I’m a little more familiar with how the Imperial Radch conduct their affairs. The first book had been terribly confusing trying to figure out how all the different characters related to one another, and who they were, and who was part of the same person. While they still had multiple rapid-fire scene changes as Breq’s attention went from person to person to person, it was more managable. I still don’t quite get how the ship’s crew are organized, except that they are groups of ten (?) under a lieutenant, and the group is named after a god (?) or something, but I managed to understand enough to get the story.
In some ways Breq is a less-interesting character in this. She has financial and political power, which she didn’t have in the first book, so her challenges are not as immediate and life-threatening. We see the “justice” part of her “Justice of Toren” designation, as she tries to repair some of the political imbalances on the world she’s visiting. Leckie is cynical/realistic enough to depict major inequalities present in nearly all of her alien cultures. The downtrodden tea-picking peoples and those ekeing out a living in the Undergarden on the station could be Chinese immigrants, or African slaves, or Irish immigrants, or West Virginia coal miners. Because the people are rarely described racially, and because even their genders are in doubt, it makes their struggles that much more universal.
The main plot/mystery “what’s behind the ghost gate” didn’t intrigue me as much as the other plots involving the governor’s daughter and the Undergarden. In the end, I either didn’t know or didn’t care about what’s beyond the ghost gate, except to reflect that I imagine the third book will have something to do with the Presger.
Still, I highly recommend this series. The SF is fascinating, the moral questions it poses thought-provoking, and the characters sympathetic despite their flaws.