Ancillary Mercy (2015) is the third installment of this space opera trilogy, preceded by Ancillary Justice (2013) and Ancillary Sword (2014). All books are published by Orbit.

This novel picks up where the last one left off. Breq and members of her crew are on Athoek Station where a recent attempt on Breq’s life has resulted in massive damage to the dome above the gardens that help supply air for the station. The floor of the gardens has failed, allowing lake water to flood the Undergarden where a large number of homeless people have been living. Cleanup and reconstruction would seem to be simple, but Ifian, priest of Aamat, has refused to sanction the repairs to the Undergarden. The priests have gone on strike, and the homeless have staged a peaceful protest, forming a long line for services. The governor and administrator of the station are at an impasse.

In the midst of this, administration has located someone who turns out to be an ancillary of a ship lost for 3000 years. Breq has been publicly identified as an ancillary fragment of the Justice of Toren, and the AIs from the ships and station are pushing for recognition as independent intelligences. An emissary arrives from the Presger, a powerful, non-human race, apparently to investigate the death of the previous emissary who was killed by Station Security. Then one of the clones of Anaander Mianaai, the Lord of the Radch, arrives with four warships to take over the station, and Breq deploys a desperate plan to stop her.

This trilogy is an adventure tale, meant to be entertaining. The conclusion was a fairly smooth read. There was minimal background, but this time I had done my homework, so didn’t have to wonder who was who and what they were up to. What made the previous two books stand out was the sharp edge and the social/political commentary woven in. The series is well known for the Radchaai’s exclusive use of female pronouns, which has lost its novelty here. There are still moments of genius. Although the Presger are terrifying, Translator Zeiat is an ingénue. Still, I was disappointed to find the text has lost its edge. This installment slid into the warm, fuzzy over-protection mode that I’ve identified as a current trend.

Breq as a character has radically changed over the course of the trilogy. In Ancillary Justice, she’s cold and hard-edged enough to just shoot humans that stand in her way. In Ancillary Sword, given the responsibility to protect Athoek System, she develops a social conscience. She makes decisions on what she means to support with her new-found resources and works to provide social justice for the exploited. In this book, she is humanized, less an action figure and more a symbol that has won everyone over with her virtue and social conscience. She is warmly supported by everyone and only has to set her plan in motion to have others work it successfully to a close. There is no recognition that she is any kind of aberration. Also, I’m put off by what looks like bullying of one of the officers by others on the ship because of perceived privilege. The buildup is good, but tension falters at what should be the climax. It’s a good story, but this one has a sexist feel. Three stars.