I gave this one four stars on first read, and now that it's a day later I'm already wondering if it deserves more. Probably four and a half at least. It was so good, and so different, so unique, that I can't stop thinking about it now. I definitely need to pick up the next one soon.
Ancillary Justice is a sci fi book whose central character is an AI, formerly of a ship, but now confined to a single, body-bound existence. The narrative skips back and forth between the present and the past, narrating the events that saw the AI banished to its one-body existence while also detailing how that one body is moving towards its goals. The world-building is great, and I'm enamoured with the details of the civilization and how it works. It's a little confusing, especially early on as you try to work out the narratives and what's going on, but it comes together so well and the payoff is really, really worth it.
I don't think it's possible to write about this book without writing about the awesome gender commentary enclosed within, and it's totally worth examining. The AI, and the civilization that spawned it, obviously put little importance on gender, and gets flustered when trying to communicate with other species/in other languages that require gender-specific pronouns. The AI refers to all people in the narration with feminine pronouns, even when they've been specifically gendered by another character with (presumed) knowledge or understanding of that person's gender identity - and it's completely brilliant. Of course a ship doesn't care what gender humans identify as! What importance does that have to an AI? As to the defaulting to feminine, aren't ships traditionally referred to using feminine pronouns? Makes sense that they would consider feminine the default when speaking of other entities. It's brilliant, and I loved it as an effect and as a story beat.
Really, this book was super good. I need to get the second one from the library as soon as possible!