Provenance is Ann Leckie’s first novel since finishing her wildly successful and acclaimed trilogy, which managed to sweep every major science fiction award. It is often tough to follow up on such success; Ancillary Justice was both challenging and brilliant, but the world definitely deserved more exploration.
For Provenance, Leckie has chosen to explore the outer fringes of the universe she developed in the Ancillary series. Hwae is something of a backwater, with some of Leckie’s characteristic touches. It takes the reader a while to work out how gender functions, since people are able to go without any specific designation or select one for themselves in a formal ceremony. Hwae’s culture of vestiges and the importance of material culture to recognise significant events is delightful, and put to beautiful use in the plot.
Ingray Aughskold, the adopted daughter of a high-ranking and ambitious politician, has chosen to go to extreme lengths in an attempt to gain her mother’s favour. She makes for an unlikely hero, since she is prone to bursting into tears and tumbles through the plot, tripping into significant events as she is led by her nose by her own fumbling conscience. It is clear from the start that despite her desperation, she feels rather ambivalent about her intended goal. Having plunged herself into a chaotic political mess on an interplanetary scale, her fundamental innocence is never tarnished.
This is an opportunity for fans of Leckie to explore the outer reaches of her universe, although it is probably not the best starting point for new readers. Since the first trilogy hinted at the existence of intriguing alien races (the Presger, the RRRRR), we have a first glimpse in this novel of the deeper creativity of which Leckie is capable. Although we had some hints of worlds beyond the human in the first trilogy, Provenance takes time to explore what might be out there, starting with the Geck.
All in all, this is a compelling novel and a great follow-up to the original trilogy. Hopefully, we have a lot more of this to look forward to in the future.