Book Review: PROVENANCE, a science fiction mystery

leckie, ann - provenance (2) (1)Provenance
Ann Leckie

Netano Aughskold has always encouraged her foster-children to be brilliant, not just intelligent, but cunning and clever. Left unspoken is that the foster-child who impresses her most will be named her heir. Ingray has never felt like she measured up to her foster-brother Danach, so in a desperate bid to amaze Netano, she uses all her money, plus money borrowed against her inheritance, to steal Pahlad Budrakim from Compassionate Removal, the Hwae people’s alternative to prison.

Pahlad Budrakim was sent to Compassionate Removal for stealing the Budrakim vestiges, important family artifacts connecting the Budrakims to an extinct race. Vestiges in general on Hwae are revered; they are like souvenirs with a sacred aura, and ancient vestiges can be extremely expensive on the secondary–or black–market. Planners of public and private events always include vestiges to distribute or sell in kiosks, and most people on the planet proudly display their collection. The most important cultural vestiges are collected on the Hwae Station. One is the document that attested that the Hwae paid their debt to the Tyr and became an independent people; another is a ceramic bowl that opens the First Assembly’s meetings.

Igray believes that Pahald can provide her the location of the Budrakim vestiges, which she will then give to Netano. In turn, Netano will gain power over her political rival and Pahald’s foster-father, Ethiat Budrakim. Ingray’s plan, of course, is derailed immediately when the man brought to her claims not to be Pahald Budrakim. Still, he travels with her and Captain Tic Uisine from Tyr to Hwae, but Captain Uisine caught the attention of the Geck Ambassador, the Geck usually being a reclusive people rarely leaving their home planet. Complicating things even further, Zat, an Omkem staying with Netano and interested in an archeology dig on Hwae, is murdered. Ingray’s personal plan hits against larger political forces, and how far she will go to gain her foster-mother’s approval will test the limits of her intellect, strength, and desire.

Provenance is a book that to me was more interesting after the fact than when I was reading it. I did like Captain Uisine and the sassy Geck Ambassador as well as how representations of gender and sexuality in this society shine a light on the fallacies of gender roles and sexuality in our own. Additionally, the obsession with vestiges is at times funny but also thought-provoking. At one point, Ingray believes the ceramic bowl will be stolen and she wonders if the thief will then be in charge of the First Assembly since the ceramic bowl brings the First Assembly to order. That it was a representation (likely not original in the first place) that could be replaced didn’t cross her mind.

While reading the book though, I thought Ingray was irritating. She was reckless, impulsive, nervous, weepy, and made decisions, or rather fell into actions, that endangered herself and those around her. That things worked out often had more to do with her associates than her, though she was given much credit. Also, although this book was deliberately focused on a small cadre of characters, many of whom, like Ingray, actively ignore the larger political forces of the universe, I did wish that Leckie spent a bit more time on those larger forces since they are so interesting.

Leckie fans, I think, will definitely love Provenance, and the book has a lot to offer, though it also has its flaws. It’s best when given thought and reflection, so after you read it plan to let it percolate.