Provenance is a standalone sci-fi novel set in the same universe as the Imperial Radch trilogy, but completely unrelated to it.
I love how unique Ann Leckie’s books are. I may have not read that much adult sci-fi, but she is the only author I know that manages to write relatively small-scale stories without being terribly boring. With “small-scale”, I mean that you won’t find that much space travel and space battles, but you will get to know a lot about the political scene of the planet, its customs and society. As I love worldbuilding, I loved getting to know the details about this world and the relationships it has with neighboring societies and alien ones (the Geck were the most interesting part of the book). All of this makes for flawless political intrigue.
I also loved how this was set in a society in which gender is a trinary and many people use e/em/eir pronouns.
Another thing I love about Ann Leckie’s books is the humor.I’ve seen Provenance being described as a “comedy of manners”, and I see why now. I think the humor is what makes her books so readable even if they’re not necessarily fast-paced.
I loved the themes in this book. Maybe the Imperial Radch trilogy talked about privilege more in-depth and with more nuance, but that’s a trilogy and this one is a standalone; anyway, I really liked what this book did with that aspect. My favorite part, however, was the way this book talked about how things have the value we give them, and this includes family and truth. The part about truth being irrelevant to people in power was actually more relevant that I wanted it to be.
Provenance‘s main weakness, however, were the characters. I loved Ingray, she’s not someone whose PoV I’m used to follow – she’s far from incompetent but she’s also anxious and cries a lot – but the side characters were unremarkable overall. Not that they were badly-written, it’s just that there were far too many of them, with far too many names I needed to remember, and they felt static. The most disappointing aspect of this was the romance: there are two romances in this book, the main one is f/f and the side one is man/neman, and I didn’t expect this book to do an instalove and tell-instead-of-show combination for them, but it did.
I love books that do not focus on the romance, and I love books with f/f romances, but if your concept of romance is telling me that the main character likes this one minor character and at some point they kiss but they never have any chemistry or interesting conversations, I really can do without it.
Ingray’s relationship with her mother and brother was far more interesting and well-written; it may have been very toxic, but at least it had nuance and complexity.
The writing didn’t work that well for me either, and this was surprising, as I loved it in her previous trilogy. I already talked about the “too many names” phenomenon, which both applied to people and places, but the thing that bothered me the most was the fact that there were paragraph-long sentences far too often, sometimes with more than a pair of em-dashes in them, like [sentence #1] – [sentence #2] – [sentence #3] – back to [sentence #2] – back to [sentence #1]. I hope to never see em-dashes nestled inside other em-dashes again.
My rating: ★★★¾