Provenance by Ann Leckie
This book has a much lighter feel than the Ancillary Justice books. It starts out with Ingray, a young foster-daughter of an important politician trying to do something daring and risky in order to win her mother’s favor. Pretty soon there’s mistaken identity, a murder mystery, stolen artifacts, secret romances, sibling rivalry, interplanetary politics and a little bit of coming-of-age drama.
There were things I liked about this book. I liked that the Hwae were so obsessed with vestiges and all the other peoples thought of them as ridiculous. It kind of highlights the whole idea of people being obsessed with “things” and authenticating the provenance of the things and whether it matters or not. I also liked the mechs, the idea that learning to pilot mechs was a crucial skill that may or may not have bearing on a murder mystery. I also liked the interpersonal conflict set up by the demanding mother who plays her children off on one another.
Some of the other relationships felt a little off. Captain Uisine seemed to place a lot more faith in Ingray’s ability to come up with a brilliant plan than I did, which seemed out of character since Uisine was set up as a very clever person. Garal Ket/Palad Budhrakain could have been the most interesting character in the book, but Leckie didn’t focus on him as much as she did on Ingray. The relationship between Zat and the other archaeologist didn’t much make sense to me at all. I get that it was set up as “they’re alien; don’t try to understand them” but they weren’t really alien, they were humans, and I did want to understand.
The murder mystery is eventually explained, and the interplanetary politics were eventually explained, but by the time we got around to it, I didn’t really care that much. Ingray does something drastic and brave at the end, and she goes on about how frightened she was, but by that point I had disconnected. Her actions felt out of character (she sacrificed herself for children, but she hadn’t seemed that altruistic in her other actions) and her “plan” also didn’t seem like a valid plan. I didn’t know why she did things, didn’t know why they worked. Everything seemed orchestrated by Tic, the one truly competent person in the book. He didn’t seem to have much motivation to help them, and his deus ex machina machinations made me disengage further with Ingray’s plot.
So, it’s kind of amusing in that it’s hard science fiction that also has mystery and romance in it, and isn’t a space opera, but I didn’t feel head-deep in alien worlds, learning to see things through alien eyes. I felt more like I was looking at a shallow diorama of “alien world,” being told how strange things were without really feeling them. It was okay as a young adult romance/mystery, but it didn’t hit my “wow, amazing worldbuilding!” buttons. And it also didn’t have characters I really wanted to learn more about. It was “just okay.” I’m not going to advise against reading it, but I’m also not going to recommend it, not when her other books are so much better.