Zan Romanoff | Longreads | February 2019 | 11 minutes (2,920 words)
“Stories can be risky for someone like me,” the narrator observes early in The Raven Tower, which marks highly decorated science fiction author Ann Leckie’s first novel-length foray into fantasy. The speaker is an ancient god named The Strength and Patience of the Hill, who goes on to explain a cardinal rule for gods in the world of The Raven Tower: “what I say must be true, and if it cannot safely be made true — if I don’t have the power, or if what I have said is an impossibility — then I will pay the price.” That price is the god’s own life.
It makes sense that four novels, two Locus Awards, one Hugo, one Nebula, and an Arthur C. Clarke Award in, Leckie is grappling with the power and potential of narrative and language; after all, one of the hallmarks of her writing has been the way she interrogates social and political power structures. Her first three books, which comprised the Imperial Radch trilogy, are narrated by an artificial intelligence system, Breq, designed to oversee a warship and the human bodies — called ancillaries — that have been retrofitted to serve it. Breq is therefore a single consciousness who has lived a multiplicitous existence; her native language has no words for gender, and she herself (Leckie chose to use “she” as a gender-neutral pronoun in the series) has no experience of it. The reader is thus immersed into a speculative critique of gendered language and storytelling; as is often the case with Leckie’s work, the trilogy is so thoroughly and thoughtfully original that it feels one step ahead of most of the rest of the genre (or the rest of the world).
The Raven Tower’s narrator also falls somewhere complicated on the continuum between single and multiple consciousness: The Strength and Patience of the Hill is a god, whose experience of self is markedly different than the humans its second-person narration is addressed towards. This set of unusual choices around perspective and point-of-view give the narrative a kaleidoscopic, sometimes almost hallucinatory quality that is uniquely and addictively immersive. Read more…