That first book explored a lot of mind bending concepts. The first had been the main character, Breq, a woman, originally one of the “ancillaries”, a human body slaved to the group mind AI of a warship, but now the last surviving segment of that group mind.
This series humanizes AI, something I can often find annoying in fiction, but Leckie demonstrates a plausible reason for that humanization. The ship AI isn’t purely a machine intelligence, but has essentially been merged with her human ancillaries. The result is an AI that is far more human than most of the characters in the series are prepared for.
The second concept was another character who had turned themselves into a group mind, existing in numerous human bodies. The first book highlighted something that could go spectacularly wrong with such an arrangement, the consequences of which are still being played out in the second book.
But I think the concept that got everyone’s attention last year was the society of the Radch, a far future space faring and martial society where gender as a social construct doesn’t exist. It exists biologically (in sci-fi that can’t be assumed), but is completely downplayed by the culture, to the extent that Breq, when interacting with people in a different society, often struggles with the idea of gender specific pronouns. Normally, in Radch society, everyone is referred to as “she” or “her”, even if they happen to have a penis.
Every character being referred to in the female form took some getting used to in the first book. I had a strong impulse to try to figure out what the biological sex of each character was. But by the end of the first book, and the beginning of this one, that impulse had faded, and I accepted each character in the way they are presented, as essentially persons, which no doubt is where Leckie wanted to bring the reader.
The second book doesn’t introduce any new mind benders, but it does explore Radch society in a bit more depth. In this book, Breq has been made into a “Fleet Captain”, obviously a type of Admiral, and navigates Radch society in a system that she’s been assigned to protect and stabilize. We learn more about the universe initially developed in the first book.
There isn’t nearly as much action as in the first book, something I felt acutely at times. Still, I enjoyed it enough to continue recommending the series.