Review of Provenance by

Book cover for Provenance

Every so often I run into an author who is good but who doesn’t click for me personally. Sometimes I enjoy specific works of theirs but don’t enjoy others. Sometimes I like their style in general, but their books start feeling very similar and less exciting. In the case of Ann Leckie, it seems like I’m just not all that interested in the stories she has to tell. I appreciated the skill evident in Ancillary Justice and its sequels. But Provenance, a standalone set in the same universe, has reminded me of why my enjoyment of Leckie’s work declined with each book.

Ingray Aughskold is not good at politics and the machinations they require of a Hwae political scion. Offworld and alone, she hopes to spring a felon from prison in a complicated gambit to prove herself to her mother. This backfires spectacularly, and the resulting events nearly cause an interspecies incident. There’s also a murder mystery happening, and later, a hostage crisis!

What some might see as delightful chaos to this plot I unfortunately interpreted as lack of focus. Do you want to be a murder mystery, a political thriller, an archaeological thriller, or what? I’m not saying books need to be simple and single-minded; I am all for layers. Alas, Provenance never tires of pivoting just as I’m settling into a mode. While Ingray is a perfectly likable protagonist, all the more so for her incompetence at politicking, she never solidified in my mind as the leader or hero I wanted her to be.

The unfocused plot makes it difficult for me to know what to say, honestly. I found the cultural idiosyncrasies less endearing than annoyingly obfuscated. The Geck and their tautological repetitions would be fascinating, in a xeno-anthropological sense, if Leckie had built toward anything more meaningful. But this was a common refrain throughout the novel: a breadth that betokened extensive worldbuilding nevertheless resulted in a frustrating lack of depth. I’ve always appreciated the scope that Leckie breathed into the Radch, but I want to go deeper into these characters and their cultures.

Points for a cute romance, and I liked the ending. I liked Ingray’s choices there. She truly establishes her own agency and comes into herself, and that was a great way to wrap up the book. Moreover, the whole last act was the best part, for me at least, because it was a masterclass of tension and action. If that had been the whole book, I probably would have loved it.

Unfortunately, Provenance offers little to me in terms of a unified, coherent novel. Leckie once again demonstrates that she is a great storyteller. I think she deserves the praise she has received. But she just isn’t telling the stories I want to read, at least not right now.

Engagement

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