Review: Translation State, by Ann Leckie

Russ Allbery eagle at
Tue Jun 27 21:08:37 PDT 2023

Translation State
by Ann Leckie

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

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 ships 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

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


Russ Allbery (eagle at             <>

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