Provenance by Ann Leckie
A power-driven young woman has just one chance to secure the status she craves and regain priceless lost artifacts prized by her people. She must free their thief from a prison planet from which no one has ever returned.
Ingray and her charge will return to her home world to find their planet in political turmoil, at the heart of an escalating interstellar conflict. Together, they must make a new plan to salvage Ingray’s future, her family, and her world, before they are lost to her for good.
Provenance was a mixed bag for me. The things I liked I really liked, but the things I didn’t I REALLY didn’t.
Overall this book is very confusing. Throughout the novel I felt that I had no idea what was going on, both in terms of world-building and plot. This was intentional, I believe. Leckie subscribes to the school of thought where nothing is explained, you are just thrown into the world and left to figure it out for yourself. I love this when it was done well, but in this case I was overwhelmed. For one thing, just keeping track of all the names of people and places is difficult to do. That being said, this is a companion to a well-known and award-winning series, so you are supposed to already know the names of places. But, in my opinion, companion novels should be written in such a way that they can be enjoyed without having read the original series. This one was not.
Another example. Vocabulary. She would just say “They took the elevator” with no explanation that it was a space elevator or what a space elevator is. This is something I happen to be familiar with from a different book, but imagine if this was your first SciFi novel. You would have no idea! Same with the word “Gate”, which appears to mean star-gate. I know what that is, maybe you do, but some readers DON’T. And there were other things that I wasn’t able to figure out. Like pronouns.
In the first chapter of the novel the pronouns e and eir are introduced, but not explained. Again, the reader is meant to figure out for themselves the purpose of these pronouns. I never did. I resorted to Googling it, at which point it was explained to me that the society of the main character have three genders: men, women, and nemen. My issue with this is that that should be clear in the context of the book. How am I supposed to figure out there are three genders if the word “nemen” isn’t even used until the last quarter of the novel? The gender identity values in this novel, that the culture allows people to choose their own gender, was effective and could have been pulled off more clearly with the two familiar genders. Or, if it was that important to Leckie for there to be three genders, it should have been explained. How are men, women and nemen different? Other than different pronouns, it is unclear what makes someone a woman, or how society views women, or what clothing women wear that is unique. This was a really cool idea, but it went so far over my head that I had to find an explanation from the author. Because nobody else understood either.
TLDR: The world building was confusing.
Characters were excellent! I loved reading this story from Ingray’s point-of-view, because there is truly nothing special about her. She is just a regular girl trying to figure it out. She’s not particularly smart, and she clearly has anxiety (which was written SO WELL, by the way!). She makes mistakes and only kind of learns from them. But she has a good heart, and is surprisingly brave. It was nice reading about how a regular person with no superpowers can make a difference.
Supporting characters were also wonderful, and I especially appreciated how differently Leckie wrote characters from different planets. Nobody really understands the eccentricities of the different planets, and they’re constantly complaining about how weird each other are. Not at all as accepting as one would expect of future societies! I loved all the characters in this book, and they were extremely well-written.
Plot was … I have mixed feelings. Like I said at the beginning, the overall plot was extremely confusing. Part of this is because the story is told from Ingray’s perspective, and Ingray has no idea what’s going on. As a reader I found this frustrating. Also, characters did things for no perceivable reason than to change the direction of the plot. I often found that I had no idea what anyone’s motivations were. At the end of the book things are more clear, but that doesn’t work for me.
However, I adored how the plot was laid out. There are two plot levels, Ingray’s personal journey, and international politics. The two run parallel to each other, with Ingray’s journey becoming increasingly difficult for her as inter-planetary tensions become increasingly strained. Eventually at the climax the two intersect. I’ve never read anything that was written quite this way before, and it was brilliant.
The writing was outstanding. It moves you along slowly but surely, with the pace picking up in tense moments. Descriptions were detailed and lovely, but not essay-like. There were certainly no info-dumps. (I would have appreciated some info-dumps, honestly.) The f/f romance was sweet and adorable.
Overall, Provenance had so much going for it that I SHOULD have loved it. But the reading experience was just not great, because I don’t like spending the entire novel saying “What is even going on?” Maybe it was a better for those who had already read the Imperial Radch series. I certainly feel that I would enjoy a sequel or re-read better. I guess I recommend for hardcore SciFi fans, but not to SciFi newbies. I also suggest reading Leckie’s other books first.