Translation State

by Ann Leckie

Cover image

Publisher: Orbit
Copyright: June 2023
ISBN: 0-316-29024-6
Format: Kindle
Pages: 354

Buy at Powell's Books

Translation State is a science fiction novel set in the same universe as the Imperial Radch series and Provenance. It is not truly a sequel of any of those books, but as with Provenance, it has significant spoilers for the conclusion of Ancillary Mercy. Provenance takes place earlier, but it's plot is unrelated as far as I can recall.

Enea has spent much of hir adult life living with hir difficult and somewhat abusive grandmanan and, in recent years, running her household. Now, Grandmanan is dead, and the relatives who have been waiting to inherit Grandmanan's wealth are descending like a flock of vultures and treating hir like a servant. Enea can barely stand to be around them.

It is therefore somewhat satisfying to watch their reactions when they discover that there is no estate. Grandmanan had been in debt and sold her family title to support herself for the rest of her life. Enea will receive an allowance and an arranged job that expects a minimum of effort. Everyone else gets nothing. It's still a wrenching dislocation from everything Enea has known, but at least sie can relax, travel, and not worry about money.

Enea's new job for the Office of Diplomacy is to track down a fugitive who disappeared two hundred years earlier. The request came from the Radchaai Translators Office, the agency responsible for the treaty with the alien Presger, and was resurrected due to the upcoming conclave to renegotiate the treaty. No one truly expects Enea to find this person or any trace of them. It's a perfect quiet job to reward hir with travel and a stipend for putting up with Grandmanan all these years.

This plan lasts until Enea's boredom and sense of duty get the better of hir.

Enea is one of three viewpoint characters. Reet lives a quiet life in which he only rarely thinks about murdering people. He has a menial job in Rurusk Station, at least until he falls in with an ethnic club that may be a cover for more political intentions. Qven... well, Qven is something else entirely.

Provenance started with some references to the Imperial Radch trilogy but then diverged into its own story. Translation State does the opposite. It starts as a cozy pseudo-detective story following Enea and a slice-of-life story following Reet, interspersed with baffling chapters from Qven, but by the end of the book the characters are hip-deep in the trilogy aftermath. It's not the direct continuation of the political question of the trilogy that I'm still partly hoping for, but it's adjacent.

As you might suspect from the title, this story is about Presger Translators. Exactly how is not entirely obvious at the start, but it doesn't take long for the reader to figure it out. Leckie fills in a few gaps in the world-building and complicates (but mostly retains) the delightfully askew perspective Presger Translators have on the world. For me, though, the best part of the book was the political maneuvering once the setup is complete and all the characters are in the same place. The ending, unfortunately, dragged a little bit; the destination of the story was obvious but delayed by characters not talking to each other. I tend to find this irritating, but I know tastes differ.

I was happily enjoying Translation State but thinking that it didn't suck me in as much as the original trilogy, and even started wondering if I'd elevated the Imperial Radch trilogy too high in my memory. Then an AI ship showed up and my brain immediately got fully invested in the story. I'm very happy to get whatever other stories in this universe Leckie is willing to write, but I would have been even happier if a ship appeared as more than a supporting character. To the surprise of no one who reads my reviews, I clearly have strong preferences in protagonists.

This wasn't one of my favorites, but it was a solidly good book, and I will continue to read everything Ann Leckie writes. If you liked Provenance, I think you'll like this one as well. We once again get a bit more information about the aliens in this universe, and this time around we get more Radchaai politics, but the overall tone is closer to Provenance. Great powers are in play, but the focus is mostly on the smaller scale.

Recommended, but of course read the Imperial Radch trilogy first.

Note that Translation State uses a couple of sets of neopronouns to represent different gender systems. My brain still struggles with parsing them grammatically, but this book was good practice. It was worth the effort to watch people get annoyed at the Radchaai unwillingness to acknowledge more than one gender.

Content warning: Cannibalism (Presger Translators are very strange), sexual assault.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Reviewed: 2023-06-27

Last modified and spun 2023-07-03