Review: Provenance by Ann Leckie

Written by Natalie Luhrs

I'm a lifelong geek with a passion for books and social justice. And I give absolutely no fucks.

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December 19, 2017

This book. I’d been waiting for Provenance to come out and then when it did, I was so slammed by work that I didn’t get a chance to read it until Thanksgiving and that ain’t right. But read it I did and then I was very sad when it was over.

I do not want to be out of the world, it is terrible to be out of the world.[modern_footnote]p. 294[/modern_footnote]

Ingray is one of three foster children raised by Netano Aughskold and she’s in fierce competition with her brother Danach to be named heir. Ingray is from a public creche—an orphan, essentially—while Danach was born to one of the other prominent families on Hwae.

Ingray knows that she doesn’t have much chance of being named her mother’s heir, but she has to make one final try.

Her plan’s quite simple. She’s going to smuggle a notorious thief named Pahlad Budrakim out of ”Compassionate Removal” (it’s not), and convince em to show her where e hid the irreplaceable Garseddai artifacts that e stole from eir foster father.

Of course, this requires all of Ingray’s money and if she’s unsuccessful, she’ll be destitute. But she also doesn’t feel as if she has any other choice, either.

To understand why the Garseddai artifacts are so important, you have to understand Hwae. They call artifact vestiges and as such, they have tremendous cultural and political significance. If Ingray is able to return the Garseddai vestiges to Prolocutor Ethiat Budrakim, she will have defeated her brother and be named her mother’s heir and have no worries about her place in the world.

Naturally nothing goes according to Ingray’s plan. When Budrakim is awakened from stasis, e claims to not be Pahlad Budrakim at all and isn’t sure if e wants to go back to Hwae. Once e agrees—and takes on the identity of Garal Ket—their ship is held in port due to the Geck claimant it as theirs and not the captain’s. Tic Uisine—the captain—has all the proper paperwork and after a delay, they are able to leave Tyr for Hwae.

When Ingray and Garal arrive at Hwae, they find themselves in the middle of a number of exceedingly delicate situations.

There’s an archaeological dig headed up by an Omkem woman, Zat, and her assistant Hevom. They’re investigating deposits of ruin glass in a nearby nature preserve, in the hopes of discovering evidence that the Omkem have a claim on Hwae, which would then allow them some control over the interstellar gates in the system.

And from there, things just start…accreting until the book is basically a katamari of plot-things, but all interrelated and crucial to the story.

Ingray is a wonderful protagonist. She’s persistent but she also struggles with knowing her own worth; having grown up in such a cut throat environment means that she’s not a good judge of her own strengths and she consistently underestimates herself. Her growth is so well done–she doesn’t suddenly become awesome at everything, but she is so much more confident and sure of herself at the end than she is at the beginning of the book.

The concept of the vestiges is a brilliant way to examine culture and how that informs each individual identity. The question of what makes the vestiges important keeps coming up—is the importance the objects themselves or the meaning that the Hwaeans invest in them?

And how will the Hwaeans’ sense of themselves shift if their most important vestiges are lost to them or if the foundation of their entire form of government is shown to be false through Zat’s excavations of ruin glass?

Then there’s the Geck, who have their own ways of defining belonging and not-belonging.

The Geck are an extremely mysterious species who don’t like to leave their home system; based on the appearance of the Geck ambassador to the Presger (en route to a conclave to decide if the Radchaai AIs are people and if they are, if they should be admitted to the treaty), I’d say they live in an aquatic environment.

It turns out that Tic Uisine is one of the humans who lives with the Geck, but is not truly Geck because his gills didn’t come in. He was exiled to a space station where he then managed to get away and eventually become a citizen of Tyr. His relationship with the Geck is complicated and heartbreaking and the passage where the ambassador is telling Ingray about it is one of my favorites in the entire book.

This book is all about identity and how we define ourselves—and how others define us. From Taucris, Ingray’s childhood friend who didn’t choose her gender or adult name until she was past the usual age, to Tic Uisine, Garal Ket, and Ingray herself—everyone is in a state of becoming who they are or leaving who they were behind them.

But mostly because fuck them, that’s why.[modern_footnote]p. 71[/modern_footnote]

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