Ann Leckie, Translation State, Orbit, 2023.
Translation State is a very enjoyable stand-alone coming-of-age scifi novel, set in the same universe as Leckie's previous scifi novels.
Enae has spent hir life taking care of hir grandmother until she dies and leaves hir nothing but the right to remain in the house with the now rightful owner. But said now rightful owner has a proposal for Enae: that sie becomes a diplomat and goes to search for a missing Presger Translator. Enae accepts, after all it's a routine mission and no-one expects hir to succeed. Just an occasion to travel around. Except that Enae likes to do things well.
CW: attack on a character that could metaphorically be read as rape.
Translation State follows three points of view: Enae, Reet, a man in his thirties who was adopted, and Qven, of whom we know little until later in the novel but who grows up in a violent place. All three are missing something: a purpose for Enae, the sense of belonging for Reet, a sense of self and the certainty e won't die as a result of becoming an adult for Qven.
One thing I regretted was how, by the middle of the novel, Enae is pretty much sidelined in favour of Reet and Qven. The two are very endearing characters and although the novel was very recently published they've already captured the imagination of many readers as can be seen from allusions on social media, and (apparently) fanfic and memes, proving their popularity. And it's justified: Reet is a perfect counterpart to Qven who is still suffering from the trauma of an attack and both support each other in strange circumstances. Qven sometimes odd behaviour can also offer some light-hearted moments. Enae remains my favourite though: hir sense of doing what's right and of doing the tasks that no-one wants to do really struck a chord with me.
The novel is also populated with a gallery of secondary characters who are often well defined. They aren't only plot devices to push the plot further, like Reet's "friends", they also ground the characters, like Reet's family, or hint at the larger universe.
Translation State is a novel about consent. There's of course the assault on Qven. But there's also the question of what you want to become. Leckie writes a coming-of-age novel for all three characters: it's a tale of choosing your own path, even when you don't have much choice because of your status or biology.
Because it's set in the Radch universe, we have plenty in terms of aliens, AIs, political machinations and secrets, conspiracies and treaties--and of course, the usual extremely refreshing take on gender. Leckie doesn't simply rely on an existing universe but add to it, through political alliances, hints about the wider universe, or media Qven and Reet enjoy (the Pirate Exiles of the Death Moons!).
I didn't re-read Leckie's Rach trilogy or Provenance before getting into this one and, although I felt I was missing a reference here and there, I actually didn't need to. It makes Translation State a good entry point for anyone who would like to discover Leckie's work without committing to a trilogy.
The novel reads quickly and keeps a sustained pace throughout. I particularly enjoyed the spiral corridor with its hidden doors, an inventive way of putting our characters in a tense situation that renewed the pocket universe trope.
The prose conveys effectively the mystery, the sense of urgency or the characters' emotions.
Translation State is a very entertaining story that isn't as mind-blowing as reading Ancillary Justice for the first time can be, but that will bring you to interesting characters and a solid plot in a wide universe.
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All reviews are spoiler free unless explicitly stated otherwise.
I only review stories I have liked even if my opinion may be nuanced. It doesn't apply for the "Novels published before 1978" series of blog posts.
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