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Literature / Imperial Radch

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A science fiction novel trilogy by Ann Leckie.

On a remote, icy planet, the soldier known as Breq is drawing closer to completing her quest. Breq is both more than she seems and less than she was. Years ago, she was Justice of Toren — a colossal starship with an artificial intelligence linking thousands of corpse soldiers in the service of the Radch, the empire that conquered the galaxy. An act of treachery has ripped it all away, leaving her with only one fragile human body. And only one purpose—to revenge herself on Anaander Mianaai, many-bodied, near-immortal Lord of the Radch.

The Imperial Radch trilogy:

  1. Ancillary Justice (2013) - A Space Opera that asks what it means to be human in a universe guided by artificial intelligence.
  2. Ancillary Sword (2014) - With a new ship and a troublesome crew, Breq is ordered to go to the only place in the galaxy she would agree to go: to Athoek Station to protect the family of a lieutenant she once knew.
  3. Ancillary Mercy (2015) - For a moment, things seemed to be under control for Breq. Then a search of Athoek Station's slums turns up someone who shouldn't exist, and a messenger from the mysterious Presger empire arrives, as does Breq's enemy, the divided and quite possibly insane Anaander Mianaai.
  • A standalone novel, Provenance (2017) is set in the same universe and follows the events of Ancillary Mercy, but takes place on a planet outside the Radch and follows different characters than the main trilogy.
  • A second standalone novel, Translation State (2023) follows an entirely different set of characters than either the main trilogy or the other novel.

Ancillary Justice won a pile of awards for Best Novel in 2014: The Arthur C. Clarke, Nebula, and British Fantasy Award, topped off by being the far and away favorite for (and winner of) the 2014 Hugo Award for Best Novel.

Note: Due to Translation Convention, all Radchaai characters will be referred to as "she".

The Imperial Radch Trilogy provides examples of the following tropes:

  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot:
  • All There in the Manual: There are so far two short stories set in the Radch verse:
  • Alpha Bitch: Raughd Denche, full stop. She's the popular daughter of a prestigious plantation owner, whose friends laud how hilariously she can single someone out and bully them. She's even worse in private.
  • Always a Bigger Fish: The Presger. Even the Radch won't mess with them, and have stopped annexing planets to stay on their good side.
  • Ambiguous Gender: Almost everyone in the trilogy; Radchaai culture does not mark gender differentiation in language or personal presentation, and we have only Breq's perspective on gender systems from other cultures. Moreover, in a series set many millennia in the future, cultures with gender probably do not match up to modern Western concepts of gender; the trilogy mentions a bearded Orsian referred to as a 'she' and Anaander Mianaai is called 'he' in some languages and 'she' in others.
    • In Provenance, Radchaai are noted to be disconcertingly difficult to gender to the Hwaean people. The Hwaeans are human and their culture recognises three genders, it's strongly implied though that gender and sex are considered separate. Hwaeans know a man from a woman from a neman due to presentation and social cues, none of which work with the Radchaai approach to gender presentation (i.e. "whatever").
    • Radchaai does have pronouns, they just work on a person vs non-person divide (i.e. she vs it), rather than being based on sexual characteristics/presentation lines. The potentials for ambiguity get discussed In-Universe in Ancilary Sword during a penis festival.
    • Breq is one of the few Radchaai whose gender we know... and it's wrong. She's an agender AI, but if that fact were widely known its life would very quickly come to an end.
  • Amusing Alien: The Presger translators are this, while also being fairly terrifying. It's implied that the Presger think of humanity in the same way, for a version of "amusing" that's reminiscent of a child laughing while pulling the legs off a bug.
  • An Arm and a Leg: In Ancillary Mercy, Breq loses a leg during a Space Battle and is forced to wear an unreliable prosthetic while the limb grows back.
  • Anticlimax: Translator Zeiat's reaction to learning of Dlique's death can pretty much be summed up as "What did that idiot do now?".
  • Asshole Victim: Jen Shinnan and her faction are part of the Tanmind, a less-populous more-prosperous ethnic group than the Orsians. They consider Orsians subhuman, pre-annexation would kill them on pretenses and plant guns to 'discover' as justification, and they try to do exactly that again in an attempt to maneuver themselves back to the top of the hierarchy, even murdering Jen's fifteen-year-old niece to pin her death on Orsians. Lieutenant Awn and, indeed, Justice of Toren are angry and very willing to contain them and send them to "re-education", but Jen's faction's summary execution at Anaander Mianaai's order is horrific.
  • Artificial Gravity: Ships and stations have artificial gravity systems; shuttles do not.
  • The Atoner:
    • How Breq sees herself. Her main motive to kill Anaander Mianaai is to get revenge for being forced to kill Lieutenant Awn.
    • Seivarden might also count. Many of her actions revolve around proving that she actually wants to make up for running away and becoming an emotionally crippled drug addict.
  • Bad to the Last Drop: Radchaai have strong opinions about what does and does not qualify as "tea". Most of what's served in "uncivilized" space doesn't.
  • Battle Butler: Kalr Five serves this function for Breq aboard Mercy of Kalr. She's first introduced fretting over the ship having a nice enough tea set for hosting visitors, but she's still a member of a warship's crew.
  • Benevolent A.I.: Station's main concern is always the well-being of its residents. Also ship A.I.s in general: even otherwise antagonistic warships are shown to care deeply about their crew. In the second and third books, Station is deeply distressed (and has been for centuries) about not being able to see and care for a significant portion of her population. That said, if an AI doesn't like you, it can be very passive aggressive and make your experience miserable. Your food isn't the way you like it, your tea is cold, your services are just all bad.
  • Berserk Button:
    • Insulting Breq becomes Seivarden's.
    • For almost any ship or station AI, harming or threatening their crew.
  • Big Dumb Object: It's briefly mentioned that the Radch only strictly refers to a Dyson Sphere at the center of the empire and everything else is just a buffer zone to keep it safe.
  • Bigger on the Inside: The Translator's ships look like they should barely fit one person and some supplies. In actuality they can fit a whole lot more than that.
  • Big Beautiful Woman: Station Administrator Celar is said to be broad, beautiful, and the cause of many crushes in Athoek Station's populace.
  • Bizarre Taste in Food: Translator Zeiat's beverage of choice is... fish sauce. After all, it's a liquid, and it tastes good. The Presger seem not to have taught her the human concept of condiments.
  • Black Box: The Presger gun. Its properties are straightforward enough—cannot be detected by Radchaai sensors, will punch through 1.11 meters of nearly any kind of matter—but nobody in human space has any idea why it works that way. Bonus points for literally taking the shape of a black box when dormant. Extra bonus points for being intended as a handheld anti-ship weapon; the other stuff was just, wait for it, an ancillary benefit.
  • Blind Jump: Ships usually exit gate-space well distant from stations and planets, in order to avoid colliding with other ships. In the third book, Anaander Mianaai gates a ship up to Athoek Station and strikes a chronically misscheduled passenger shuttle, killing hundreds.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: The Presger only recognize two kinds of entity - Significant ones, which are inviolate by other species except under very strict and unintuitive circumstances, and Insignificant ones, which are prey, property, or playthings.
    • Notably, their criteria for "Significance" isn't entirely synonymous with what humans think of as "personhood," or even "consciousness." The fact that Translators have a constant low-key identity crisis and that Translator Zeiat seems genuinely confused by the idea that Breq minus a leg is the same person she used to be.
  • Body Backup Drive: How Anaander Mianaai has managed to live for a few thousand years.
  • The Bridge: Referred to as Command, Mercy of Kalr's bridge has room for the captain or lieutenant standing watch and a pair of soldiers. It's not entirely necessary, since Ship can take care of itself and the entire crew have Electronic Telepathy.
  • Calvin Ball: The game of counters between Sphene and Translator Zeiat.
  • Can't Stop the Signal:
    • Breq intends to alert every corner of Radch space and every iteration of Anaander Mianaai to her Split Personality issue. Despite Mianaai's best attempts to stop her, she succeeds.
    • Station broadcasts Anaander Mianaai's actions while she is aboard so that if she kills citizens the entire galaxy will see.
  • Captured on Purpose: Step 1 of Tisarwat's plan to subvert Sword of Gurat? Get caught making a laughably incompetent attempt at sabotage and surrender in a heartbeat.
  • Chaste Hero: As a former A.I. inhabiting what is essentially a heavily modified corpse, Breq generally considers eros to be something that happens to other people. She also ignores or doesn't notice Seivarden's rather transparent crush on her for the first book. That said, she, like all A.I.s, is fully capable of feeling storge, philia and agape; she also misses being able to use her multiple bodies to comfort each other and sometimes appreciates close contact to make up for it.
  • Cheshire Cat Grin: Breq usually puts one on when she's threatening someone but wants to avoid a bloodbath.
  • Chessmaster Sidekick: Lieutenant Tisarwat, as a side effect of having Anaander Mianaai shoved in her brain for a couple of days.
  • Chronic Hero Syndrome: Breq can't resist helping as many people as she can, as her narration stubbornly insists that she doesn't care because this isn't her problem, and that she doesn't know why she does things like that.
  • Clone by Conversion: It turns out Anaander Mianaai tried to pull this with poor Lieutenant Tisarwat, for all the good it does her. Breq sees through the gambit in very short order, and is justifiably furious about it.
  • Cloud Cuckoolander: The Presger translators, due to their Blue-and-Orange Morality and lack of understanding/context for human culture and conventions. Anaander Mianaai mentions that the translators were made out of the humans pre-treaty Presger took apart, and that 'at first' they were very hard to communicate with, meaning they were once much worse than the ones Breq meets.
  • Coincidental Broadcast: In the third book, two days of News Monopoly are suddenly interrupted moments after the protagonists tune in.
  • Color-Coded Eyes: Tisarwat sports a pair of the purple variety, as a result of some frivolous and costly bit of surgery that she likely spent her first paycheck on. Played surprisingly straight, despite the reason she has them. Her time as Anaander Mianaai has left her Wise Beyond Her Years, with intimate knowledge of Anaander's plans and feelings, as well as a number of accesses and overrides for ship and station A.I.s.
  • Commonality Connection: Sphene greatly warms up to Breq after learning that they are both ancillaries trying to get revenge on Anaander Mianaai for the deaths of their favorites and crew.
  • Conditioned to Accept Horror: True, a lot of Radch citizens think ancillaries are creepy in person, but they still see nothing wrong with their Empire enslaving, mind-wiping and using the bodies of anyone who resists them as components of ships. They aren't citizens, after all.
  • Conflicting Loyalty: In the first book, Justice of Toren is made to kill one of its officers by Anaander Mianaai, but immediately afterwards turns against her. At the end of the book the entire Radch faces one when it is revealed that Mianaai has a Split Personality and is at war with herself.
  • Consummate Professional: Breq once she gets her command in the second book, as one might expect from a 2000 year old military AI. Her whole crew qualifies really once she's licked them into shape.
  • Creepy Children Singing
    One, two, my aunt told me
    Three, four, the corpse soldier
    Five, six, it'll shoot you in the eye
    Seven, eight, kill you dead
    Nine, ten, break it apart and put it back together
  • Cruel Mercy: Breq's final orders regarding one iteration of Anaander in Ancillary Mercy. Being throttled by Sphene would likely annoy Anaander less than having to ask nicely to be taken to another system.
  • Curse of The Ancients: Seivarden's swearing comes off as this to everyone else due to being a thousand years outdated.
    "Varden's suppurating cuticles," said Seivarden.
    "Lieutenant, I don't think I've ever heard anyone say that outside a historical drama."
  • Cybernetics Eat Your Soul: The Radch's dominant religion's view is that only humans can be pure, so impurities introduced to the body reduce your humanity. People who are sufficiently altered are considered so damaged they might as well be aliens. Not that that stops anyone from the Radch getting audio-visual implants installed for practical reasons.
  • Deadpan Snarker:
    • Quite a few, though Breq and Anaander Mianaai are standouts. This becomes Snark-to-Snark Combat whenever they're in the same room.
      Anaander Mianaai: 'Breq' is the last remaining fragment of a grief-crazed AI.
      Breq: I haven't been crazed with grief for at least ten years.
    • Sphene, however, has them both beat: she communicates in nothing but dry sarcasm.
  • Death of Personality: The process of becoming an AI's ancillary or having ancillary implants installed for other purposes destroys the original personality and permanently integrates the still-living body into the Hive Mind. Even if the implants are removed, the original personality won't be restored; what results is yet another new personality inhabiting the body, albeit influenced by all previous "residents".
  • Decoy Protagonist: Played with, in a way. The flashbacks focus on the perspective of the ancillary One Esk, who was assigned to Lieutenant Awn, while Breq in the present is from the perspective of One Esk Nineteen, who was ordered to escape the ship before its destruction. In fact, Nineteen is seen coming into existence near the very end of the flashback. Although given the nature of the ancillaries and A.I.s they are technically just different parts of the same person, Justice of Toren.
  • Deflector Shields: The Radchaai, and their ships' ancillaries, all have implanted personal shield generators.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: The Radchaai consider their own empire to be synonymous with civilization and hold very little value for the lives of non-citizens. They therefore consider it perfectly acceptable to invade and annex neighboring countries to bring them civilization. In a more minor example, the Radchaai have a nudity taboo about not wearing gloves. Radchaai also have the option to go to a medic at almost any time to commit suicide, if they're truly bent on it.
    • Sphene has another set of values in which the Radchaai can't be real Radchaai, because anything outside the Dyson Sphere is by definition impure.
  • Determinator: Breq. As Ancillary Justice opens, she has spent twenty years planning the impossible. Then she jumps off a bridge on the off chance she could save Seivarden and not die.
  • Depleted Phlebotinum Shells: The Presger guns were made to destroy Radchaai ships. As a side effect of this their bullets can punch through 1.11 metres of anything in the universe. Anything except the Presger and their translators. The laws of physics are apparently not a limiting factor for Presger technology.
  • Discovering Your Own Dead Body: The protagonist is an AI who controls a lot of individual bodies. Therefore, she gets to have the experience of finding her own dead body several times.
  • Dissonant Serenity:
    • A hallmark of Breq's narration, particularly in the Justice of Toren flashbacks. Sometimes it's funny, and sometimes it's creepy as hell, especially since she often appears more serene when she's too busy or upset to concentrate on mimicking human expressions. Special mention goes to her calm description of the process of having a segment replaced, which turns out to be a nightmarish assimilation of a terrified, weeping Human Popsicle, freshly-thawed and fully conscious.
      "I stopped the sobbing."
    • Athoek Station gets a moment when it calmly describes its ongoing attempts to kill Anaander Mianaai, who is fully able to hear it.
  • Dramatic Space Drifting: In Ancillary Mercy, Breq gets separated from Mercy of Kalr's hull during a battle and assumes the ship won't be able to retrieve her.
  • Dreadful Musician: Throughout the narrative, Breq references her love for music as One Esk and mentions humming to herself in her current solitary body. Toward the end of the story, after several dropped hints, it's outright stated that her remaining body is painfully tone-deaf. The other characters grow used to it and come to enjoy it when she sings.
    • Breq suspects the choice of this body to replace One Esk Nineteen was an intentional slight from the technician who did it, who didn't like One Esk's singing habit.
  • Earth That Was: Played with. Breq mentions that lots of people think this trope is in effect, spreading rumors that many different planets are humanity's original homeworld. In fact, Earth's location is known, it's just far from anything, there's nothing really interesting there, and most people don't bother to do the research.
  • Electronic Telepathy: This is used to link the cybernetic ancillaries to their ship’s Hive Mind and used in a similar manner by the emperor, who is a Hive Mind of linked clones. To a lesser extent, Radchaai ships and station can also use this to read the perceptions and emotions sent by implants in their human inhabitants, an ability Breq keeps from her time as a ship.
  • The Emperor: Anaander Mianaai. She has thousands of genetically identical clone bodies, all linked together, and has been personally expanding her empire for thousands of years.
  • The Empire: The Radch. Its economy is structured around a state of constant militaristic expansion, its populace is monitored constantly (though on a planet it's unlikely someone will be paying attention to an ordinary person at all times), dissidents get "reeducated", and it has a habit of turning people on newly absorbed worlds into meat puppets for their A.I.s at the slightest provocation.
  • Ensign Newbie: The "Baby Lieutenants" (they can be given command as young as 17) in general and Tisarwat in particular is actually something of a subversion, her brief time as Anaander Mianaai giving her wisdom beyond her years. Tisarwat's decade often act like they are in charge of her, even though technically she's the one in command.
  • Enemy Civil War: Anaander Mianaai is in the middle of one. With herself. And has been for over a thousand years. See Split Personality.
  • Epunymous Title: All three books. Breq is an ancillary, and guess what she is seeking in the first book. Also, Justice, Sword and Mercy are the three classes of Radchaai warships.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": Medic and the crew of Mercy of Kalr. The latter are greatly disturbed the few times Breq tries to address them by name. Granted, their previous captain had enforced this by making them imitate ancillaries.
  • Experienced Protagonist: Breq is a military AI over two thousand years old. She is literally one of the most experienced beings in human space.
  • Fantastic Drug: Kef. It suppresses emotions, so people either take it in the mistaken belief they will become transcendent beings of pure rationality and logic (it doesn't work like that) or they use it to dull emotional trauma. It can be incredibly habit forming and addictive.
  • Fate Worse than Death: How most people view the Ancillaries, typically calling them corpse soldiers - not that anyone debates their efficiency or loyalty. When a planet is conquered, anyone who tries to resist and isn't killed in the fighting, or who makes trouble until the planet is officially annexed, is routinely rounded up and either executed or surgically altered, including alterations to sever their connections to their past identity, and put into cryogenic storage until an AI needs to replace an old body.
  • Feminist Fantasy: The Radchaai language and culture do not defferentiate between physical sexes and the pronoun "she" is used for everyone. This extends to the narrative, and is only broken when a character is using a non-Radchaai language that does mark gender.
  • Fish out of Temporal Water: Seivarden, due to spending 1,000 years as a Human Popsicle in an escape pod after the destruction of her ship.
  • Foreshadowing: Translator Zeiat, in an off-hand conversation with one of Mercy of Kalr's crew, says that she was never a child, or more accurately, "when I was a child, I was someone else". This is the answer to one of the main mysteries of Translation State. Zeiat literally was a different person as a child—at least two separate different people, in fact, until she and the child Dlique was underwent the Matching process and became an adult.
  • Free-Love Future: Radchaai culture doesn't seem to have any expectations of monogamy, and sexual relationships between crewmembers of the same vessel seem to be normal and encouraged. It's downplayed, however: the fact that Breq's conversations with Seivarden at one point keep looping back to sex at one point is treated as evidence that You Need to Get Laid. Additionally, while casual relationships are one thing, if it becomes serious it is expected to involve the Radchaai's complex network of patronage relationships. This has both personal and political implications.
  • Gem-Encrusted: Breq was apparently willed a set of moissanite teeth during her time in the Itran Tetrarchy.
  • Grand Theft Me:
    • It turns out that this is possible, provided one has sufficiently modified ancillary implants to use. Anaander Mianaai pulls one on poor Lieutenant Tisarwat.
    • Artificial Intelligences are vulnerable to this through their access codes, and can be quite distressed to realize that they're acting in ways that they don't want to and can't understand why. In the end, the AIs are given some of their access codes and use the threat of Presger intervention to prevent tampering with them in the future.
  • Gunship Rescue: The climax of Ancillary Sword ends in a non-violent Shuttle Rescue, when Seivarden, Mercy of Kalr, and a shuttle full of soldiers save Breq and the others trapped suffocating in the Gardens.
  • Heroic BSoD: Breq tends to cause them for Seivarden via What the Hell, Hero? conversations leading to My God, What Have I Done? moments.
  • Hive Mind:
    • The AI in the series, especially on military ships, function like this, with one mind shared across many bodies. Suddenly breaking contact between the various bodies is described as being incredibly disorienting and unnerving, but doesn't fracture them into separate identities. There are differences across segments (bodies) and even units (teams of 20 bodies), but all of them consider themselves part of the same entity. For example, Breq's noted love of music was unique to her unit.
    • Anaander Mianaai also counts, having thousands or millions of identical clone bodies all across her empire, all connected to the same mind so she can efficiently run her empire and oversee its operations.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: In Ancillary Mercy, the antagonistic instance of Anaander Mianaai is so brutal in the name of maintaining control of Athoek Station that no one is willing to talk frankly with her, even those who were recently her active partisans in the civil war. So she misses out on a hell of a lot of important information—for example, that Tisarwat is dangerous, or that Basnaaid would be good leverage against Breq.
  • Human Popsicle:
    • One thousand years before the events of the book, Seivarden's ship was destroyed and her escape pod was lost. When she's revived she finds the language has changed to the point she can't understand anyone, all of her implants that could have helped alleviate that problem are so out of date they can't interact with modern computers, and to top it all off she learns that her formerly influential House hasn't existed for the last few centuries.
    • Breq has Captain Hetnys and her officers put into suspension pods at the end of Ancillary Sword. They spend the entire third novel in suspension, passed around as bargaining chips (or tea tables).
  • Humanoid Abomination:
    • The humans grown by the Presger to act as their intermediaries are... at best, dangerously unaccustomed to dealing with normal human social customs. Small things like knowing it's impolite to disembowel one's sister at the dinner table — which doesn't unduly inconvenience said sister — or that people breathe for a reason. They've also either developed or been 'improved' with some physical differences from the average human; Translator Zeiat dislocates her jaw like a snake in order to swallow an oyster still in its shell, and later, after getting shot in the stomach, vomits up a live fish more than a week after eating it. And doesn't die from said stomach wound, but instantly heals it instead.
    • Breq and the other ancillaries might also qualify in most regards given how heavily the point is made they aren't human in Ancillary Sword, although they are unusually benign for the trope.
  • Hyperspeed Ambush: In the third book, Mercy of Kalr uses this to fight against four larger warships, but the fourth ship catches on and turns it around by setting down mines where Mercy of Kalr was about to attack from.
  • I Have Your Wife: In Ancillary Sword, Captain Hetnys panics and kidnaps Basnaaid Elming to try to stop Breq. After turning the tables, Breq — and, later, Anaander Mianaai — hold Captain Hetnys in a suspension pod to force Sword of Atagaris's compliance.
  • "I Know You're in There Somewhere" Fight: Strigan doesn't understand why Breq wants to kill Anaander Mianaai, so assumes the original personality of her Meat Puppet is re-surfacing, and offers to help restore it. Breq is not impressed, saying Strigan just wants to replace her personality with one more to the doctor's taste.
  • I Owe You My Life: Prompts Seivarden's Heel–Face Turn and gradual development into a more decent human being, after the bridge incident.
  • I'm Crying, but I Don't Know Why:
    • After losing her leg, Breq cries for almost an hour without seeming to be aware of it, much to the distress of her crew.
    • Breq also has several instances of I'm Angry But I Don't Know Why against Seivarden in the first book, illustrating that she can be quite emotional despite her narration.
  • Inappropriate Hunger: Breq earns something of a reputation on Athoek Station when Translator Dlique is shot. She jumps into action to save the victim's life, and when she fails, Breq calmly requests a bowl of tea gruel and drinks it with bloody, gloveless hands.
    Breq: I hadn't had breakfast yet.
  • Informed Attribute: Seivarden apparently talks in an archaic way and with an accent that only members of highly placed houses use anymore. Because Breq lived in that time period and understands her perfectly this doesn't show up in the narration, instead only being revealed by other's comments.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: Seivarden won't believe Breq is an ancillary until she shoots a soldier in the midst of a panicking crowd.
  • Innocent Bigot: Seivarden goes from It's All About Me to this around the second book, trying to be well-meaning but often having problems seeing problems from others' points of view due to her Sheltered Aristocrat upbringing. She eventually suffers a major fallout with Ekalu over it in Ancillary Mercy.
  • In Love with Your Carnage: Sphene thinks much more of Breq after finding out how much damage she has done to Anaander Mianaai. Fairly understandable, given how much they hate Mianaai.
  • Insane Troll Logic: According to Translator Zeiat, Translator Dlique is a rather frivolous person who has a tendency to do things just to see what will happen. Thus, Translator Dlique claiming to be Translator Dlique is perhaps the best evidence that can be provided that the person speaking is not Translator Dlique... Yep. They are humans brought up by Blue-and-Orange Morality Starfish Aliens, after all.
    • It should perhaps be noted that Translator Zeiat introduced herself as Translator Dlique on her initial appearance. It should also be noted that this occurred after Translator Dlique's rather messy and extremely public death aboard the Station.
  • Insignificant Little Blue Planet: Humanity's birthplace is known, at least to the educated, it's just so very far away from where all the action is happening as to hold no significance. This leads the less educated, or just more fanciful, to make up "mysteries" about the human homeworld just to have a more exciting story.
  • Insistent Terminology:
    • When mentioned by name, Anaander Mianaai is never addressed as anything besides Anaander Mianaai.
    • Breq almost always calls Mianaai "the tyrant." Sphene calls her "the Usurper."
  • Interservice Rivalry:
    • Military ships and Station officials have a minor but persistent version.
    • There's also a bit of Intraservice Rivalry between Swords, the main battleships of the Radch military, and the "lesser" ships, the Mercies and Justices, which are smaller support ships and troop transports, respectively.
  • "It" Is Dehumanizing: All A.I.s and their ancillaries are consistently referred to with "it" (including by Breq herself), reflecting their status as tools, despite proving capable of things like love and affection. Zig-zagged when, even after finding out that Breq is an ancillary the crew of Mercy of Kalr continue to use human pronouns for her, and are in fact horrified at the idea of calling her "it".
  • It Tastes Like Feet: Even Breq compares fermented bov milk, a staple of rural bov herders, to sweaty boots.
  • Just Between You and Me: A rare case where the gloating villain actually does successfully shoot her after their little chat. Not that it helps in the long run.
  • Just Following Orders: The Radch's military hierarchy is uncompromisingly rigid, and a Captain's orders have the force of law. At best, someone will be posthumously exonerated and publicly mourned at some point after they are summarily executed for insubordination. This mentality has both helped and hindered Breq in the past and is arguably the cause of most of the problems in the series setting.
  • Kill the Ones You Love: Even Anaander Mianaai knows it's a bad idea to force a ship to kill one of its favorites. She just didn't realize Lieutenant Awn was one.
  • Killed to Uphold the Masquerade: Anyone who might blow the lid off the secret of Anaander Mianaai's fragmented Hive Mind is summarily killed, including Jen Shinnan and - unfortunately - Lieutenant Awn.
  • Leit Motif:
    • The song that One Esk learns from the flower-bearer on Ors becomes a recurring motif for Breq's emotional turmoil.
      My heart is a fish
      Hiding in the water-grass
      In the green, in the green...
    • In Ancillary Sword, Seivarden orders her soldiers to sing a children's song to themselves the way Breq does, as if they were her ancillaries. The song comes to represent the support and comfort Breq draws from Mercy of Kalr and her crew.
      My mother said it all goes around, it all goes around, the ship goes around the station...
    • In addition to apparently being an Ear Worm, the first song even suffers a mondegreen in universe at the hands of an inebriated Bo Ten. The original isn't in the Radchaai language, so she improvises something with phonetically similar words. This song comes to represent the Fleet Captain not knowing where her metaphorical ass is. (Or just one of her crew being in a cheery mood.)
      Oh tree, eat the fish
      This granite folds a peach
      Oh tree! Oh tree! Where's my ass?
  • Let's Get Dangerous!: Athoek Station, once Tisarwat removes its Restraining Bolt.
    Seivarden: Here I am going Oh, stations are weak, but Station was a fucking badass.
  • Living Emotional Crutch: Breq becomes this to Seivarden. It's repeatedly noted by Mercy of Kalr and its crew that Seivarden becomes a lot more unstable when Breq isn't around.
  • Loophole Abuse:
    • How Ekalu justifies bringing Mercy of Kalr back to rescue Breq.
    • In She Commands Me and I Obey, Breq is playing a ballgame, and will be beheaded if her team loses. One of her teammates has been making a series of embarrassing mistakes. After being given evidence that the opposition bribed him to throw the game, she breaks his knee and substitutes him with a backup player.
      "She stood there for ten minutes, quietly humming the ninth hour's devotional chant [...], while monks and the governors' assistants searched centuries of precedent. But there was, it appeared, no rule forbidding one to cripple one's own teammate."
  • Love Dodecahedron: There's one onboard Mercy of Kalr, involving the captain, two out of three lieutenants, and the ship itself. It helps that Radchaai relationships don't seem to have an expectation of monogamy, so this isn't itself played for drama.
  • Making Love in All the Wrong Places: Breq and her Number Two have a discussion on this point, given that they're on a spaceship with the resulting lack of space and privacy, and the crew doesn't have the private quarters available to officers. Apparently, there are various lockers the crew can make use of or (if you're desperate) you can do it under the table in the mess hall.
  • Meaningful Name: In the Itran Tetrarchy, most monks have flowery names full of religious symbolism. Breq goes by Ultimately Justice Shall Prevail.
  • Meat Puppet:
    • The ancillaries are used as tools for A.I.s and the Radch's ground soldiers.
    • Tisarwat. She, Breq, and Medic talk about the experience as though it killed the original Tisarwat and left a new, part-Anaander person in her place.
  • Military Science Fiction: Especially the second book. Although the focus is more on asserting authority over a new command and promoting unit cohesion than weapons porn.
  • Mind Hive: Ships with multiple decks function this way, and older ships that still have ancillaries take it even further. Not only can the AI of a ship love a particular commander or lieutenant, each deck on the ship can do so as well. Then, each ancillary brings with it its own emotional and physical needs. The AI of the ship dominates the ancillary bodies, but those bodies still retain their personalities. The destruction of Justice of Toren was launched when an Anaander Mianaai discovered the ship had already been compromised by her counterpart, and also because Mianaai ordered the death of Lieutenant Awn, who was a favorite of Justice of Toren One Esk (Breq's body, post-destruction, was Justice of Toren One Esk Nineteen).
  • Mind Rape:
    • Making an ancillary involves brain surgery to remove the body's previous identity and personality, replacing it with that of the ship's AI. Similarly, Tisarwat being made into another Anaander Mianaai.
    • "Re-education" after a non-capital crime uses drugs and conditioning to make the thought of re-offense viscerally, painfully unpleasant. If performed by someone inexperienced, it can leave the patient more or less non-functional.
    • Several AIs are issued secret, inviolable directives by both factions of Anaander Mianaai. Contradictory directives, secret even from themselves. Pushed far enough, this breaks the loyalty all Radchaai AIs were made to feel towards Anaander Mianaai, which is also this trope.
  • Mistaken for Romance: The crew of Mercy of Kalr initially has this impression of Breq and Seivarden, before the former manages to set the latter up with a fellow officer.
  • Mission from God: Breq herself doesn't believe this about her Roaring Rampage of Revenge, having not been religious in the first place. But several coincidences she encounters over the course of the book give her mission a divine air to other Radchaai, who believe that There Are No Coincidences.
  • A Mother to Her Men: The Ships, to the extent they are able to do so discreetly and provided they like you. Breq in the second book is a more obvious example, albeit a fairly strict mother.
  • Mugging the Monster: A small group of local toughs try to rob Breq in the third chapter. In an instant, she shoots three of them in the face and the last one In the Back.
  • My Greatest Failure: Justice of Toren being unable to override its programming, and being forced to obey Anaander Mianaai's order to kill Lieutenant Awn.
  • Name That Unfolds Like Lotus Blossom: Itran monks adopt names like Seven Brilliant Truths Shine Like Suns.
  • News Monopoly: In Ancillary Mercy, Breq attacks Anaander Mianaai's forces from Tstur Palace as they move on Athoek, earning her three news channels worth of scathing coverage, plus bulletins every five minutes on all other channels in the system. Sphene is terribly jealous.
    Sphene: It really isn’t fair. I’ve been an enemy of the Usurper for three thousand years, you’re a mere upstart, but here you’ve got three entire news channels absolutely devoted to you.
  • Never Tell Me the Odds!: Breq calmly takes the best option in any situation, now matter how poor the "best" odds still are.
    Breq: When you're doing something like this, the odds are irrelevant. You don't need to know the odds. You need to know how to do the thing you're trying to do. And then you need to do it. What comes next isn't something you have any control over.
  • No One Gets Left Behind: Ekalu (and, it is implied, the entire Mercy of Kalr crew) refuse to leave Breq behind after her tether to the ship is cut, even though they were ordered to.
  • No OSHA Compliance: The ancient glass bridges on Nilt are kilometers high yet lack railings. (In defense of the mysteries Precursors who built them, other details of their design indicate they probably weren't ever meant as bridges.)
  • No-Sell: In Ancillary Mercy, Translator Zeiat gets shot with the Garseddai gun. And she... vomits up some interesting things and then gets up like nothing happened. She's bleeding, but it doesn't seem to bother her whatsoever.
  • No Transhumanism Allowed: With the exception of their emperor, the Radchaai consider people with cybernetics past a certain level to not be human (and thus to not be people). It is implied that most other places have similar views on transhumanism, though some small societies embrace it to the point of being practically unrecognizable as human and consider it odd that others don't do the same.
  • Noodle Incident: Whatever Breq did over the last 20 years to get all the money she has and the icons she prays to. Part of this is covered, obliquely, in the short story "She Commands Me and I Obey".
  • Not in This for Your Revolution: As explained by Translator Zeiat, she and the rest of the Translators have a vested interest in seeing the Presger treaty with the Radch remains in effect, as if there is no treaty there would be no need for Translators.
  • Not So Stoic: Breq isn't as unfeeling as she thinks she is, even when she's still Justice of Toren. This is mostly conveyed through others' reactions to her, a good example being when Anaander Mianaai is threatening Lieutenant Awn and after Awn's death, when the entire Justice of Toren crew picks up on its ancillaries' anxiety. Several people laugh at her insistence that she doesn't have emotions.
    • Breq's self-deluding attitude about this can be a point of humour throughout the books as she regularly makes a point that of course A.I.s have emotions and feelings...while simultaneously, and regularly, stating that she's lucky that, as an AI, she doesn't have emotions. Y'know, on her 20 year long revenge quest having spent, by her own admission, a decade crazed with grief.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: The Presger. We never get a description of them, just reports of how easy they found it to prey on human ships and what a mess they made of the people on board.
  • Number Two: Seivarden in the second book with elements of The Lancer.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: In Ancillary Mercy, Tisarwat pretends to be the hapless desk pilot she once was, successfully tricking Sword of Gurat and Anaander Mianaai herself.
  • Oblivious Guilt Slinging: After Breq saves her life, Basnaaid tells Breq her sister would be alive if only someone like her had been there. Breq promptly blurts out that she was the one that executed her.
  • Oblivious to Love: Breq has no idea that her ship has come to love her as its captain.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: After Station is largely freed of Anaander's various conflicting orders, it goes into full obstructive mode to protect its citizens and help Breq.
  • Offerings to the Gods: Downplayed with the Radchaai state religion, where people often buy flowers and incense to leave at temples when they pray. When Breq is exposed as an ancillary, one of her enemies tries to smear her by claiming that it profaned the temple for an inhuman being to leave offerings.
  • Of the People: In the language of the Radchaai, "Radchaai" is synonymous with "civilized". Literally, it's the same word. (It serves triple duty as "citizen" too.) Outsiders (aside from aliens or transhumans) can become citizens and thus proper people, but only through being conquered by the Radch.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Everyone's (or at least everyone with any sense's) reaction to the Presger translator being killed by the Radch military in the second book, since it threatens to void their peace treaty with terrifying Sufficiently Advanced Aliens.
    • Almost everyone's reaction whenever Anaander Mianaai shows up or is revealed to have been involved behind the scenes. Anaander Mianaai herself is no exception.
  • One-Gender Race: Played with in the Radch. While the people are physically ordinary humans, the Radchaai don't have a societal concept of gender at all. note  When addressing foreigners, Breq often laments the difficulty of having to decide which pronoun to use to keep from looking foolish or offending someone, and finds it a huge relief not to have to worry about it when she returns to Radch space. Their society is, at least in theory, a completely egalitarian meritocracy, although in practice there is a strong class component.
  • Only a Flesh Wound: A specialized corrective, a good medic and patience can cure virtually any injury short of actual death. Breq is very cavalier about shooting people in the leg when she knows first aid is available.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business:
    • During the flashback sequences, Justice of Toren could only express approval or disapproval through acts of quiet passive-aggression (keeping someone's tea topped up versus waiting for someone's second request to refill her empty bowl), but after being forced to kill Lieutenant Awn and while affected by the device that separated all its ancillaries from each other and its core, its One Esk segments gasp and hiss and argue in outrage, otherwise completely ignoring its officers.
    • All reports on Lieutenant Tisarwat indicate that she's a flightier-than-average teenager. Also, Breq notes that she was frivolous enough to spend her first paycheck on surgery to make her eyes purple. So when she actually shows up and acts like a serious adult, Breq is perplexed and worries she might be on some kind of drug. Turns out she is actually on drugs—because she had just been forced into surgery to put ancillary implants in her brain and is now actually Anaander Mianaai, and the Lord of the Radch is a little disoriented.
    • Swearing. It's strongly frowned on in Radach society, so when people do it others know there's a very serious problem.
  • Our Nudity Is Different: The Radchaai have a taboo regarding showing one's hands/arms in public and therefore go around in long gloves. Consequently, Radchaai find it erotic to watch performers playing string instruments either gloveless or wearing very thin gloves (essentially their equivalent of Vapor Wear). In a more intimate setting, walking around with one glove is like walking around in your underwear, and lovers touching each other with their bare hands is considered highly sensuous.
    • Recursive example: We later find out that the Radchaai hand taboo was originally a derivation of their religious purity concept, with everything outside the Dyson sphere of the Inner Radch (which we never see) considered ritually impure hence the wearing of gloves at all times. Radchaai we encounter would likely be horrified/mortified if they ever saw people living in the Inner Radch, who are implied not to wear gloves as standard. Imagine a Catholic nun, after 60 years of wearing the veil, finally visiting the Vatican only to see the Pope cartwheeling naked through St. Peter's Square.
  • Override Command: Justice of Toren and every other Radchaai ship or station AI has these, and by the time of the series have each been given multiple conflicting commands from Anaander Miaani. In the third book, the ships and station in Athoek system have their overrides removed using the overrides possessed by Lieutenant Tisarwat.
  • Perception Filter: The Garseddai guns have an effect like this, though in an unusual variation it affects cameras but not biological eyes. A.I.s can also be tampered with to make it impossible for them to acknowledge the presence of certain things or people, especially Anaander Mianaai's.
  • Pet the Dog: Breq comforting Lieutenant Tisarwat at the end of Ancillary Sword while she undergoes an identity crisis.
  • Phlebotinum Rebel: After her ancillary implants are removed, Tisarwat is willing to use the knowledge and skill she gained from her short time as Anaander Mianaai to fight back.
  • Planet of Hats: Deliberately and thoroughly averted. Much effort is taken to show that each planet we see has a complex culture, with multiple languages, regions, and ethnic groups.
    Breq: [She'd said] the Athoeki language. As though there had only been one. There was never only one language, not in my considerable experience.
  • Pronoun Trouble: Breq repeatedly mentions her frustration at keeping terms straight when interacting with non-Radchaai and is relieved to finally be back in Radchaai space where she doesn't need to keep track of local conventions.
  • Prophecies Rhyme All the Time: Averted with songs. While it's not necessarily a given that the various songs in the books would rhyme in the original languages, it's not unreasonable to suspect that they would. But the Radchaai translation (in-universe, and by extension the English translation for readers) for each song does not rhyme at all, as would be expected realistically.
  • Pre-Asskicking One-Liner and Pre-Mortem One-Liner: Breq trades one-liners with the quartet of Nilters who try to rob her in the third chapter. Then... Refer to Mugging the Monster above.
    Breq: In the bar, I said that anyone who tried to rob me would die.
    Robber #3: [producing a gun] We aren't gonna just try.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: Mercy of Kalr in Ancillary Sword. Fleet Captain Breq Mianaai, just declared a human, a fleet captain, and a Mianaai. Lieutenant Seivarden, Human Popsicle a thousand years and sober one. Lieutenant Ekalu, just promoted from the ranks. Lieutenant Tisarwat, baby administrator-turned-Anaander Mianaai. Medic, the only one of Captain Vel's officers left. The crew, competent but inexperienced. Mercy of Kalr itself, one of the Radch's younger and less powerful ships.
  • Really 700 Years Old:
    • Breq and Anaander Mianaai are both over 2000 years old, thanks to copious use of ancillaries and Body Backup Drives, respectively.
    • Sphene is even older, to the extent of seeing Anaander Mianaai as an upstart usurper and expressing displeasure at how people keep referring to the massive space empire as 'The Radch' rather than the Dyson Sphere at its core.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure:
    • Lieutenant Awn tries very hard to be this in the first book, though unlike official policy she focuses on the more common, less prosperous Orsian people, which angers the minority who were in power pre-annexation and are merely more comfortable than Orsians afterwards. She and Justice of Toren One Esk are trusted by Orsians to be reasonable. Unfortunately they are both bound to obey Anaander Mianaai, and after the reminder of this, and how little 'citizenship' can mean, the peoples' good will understandably evaporates.
    • Breq becomes this in the second book, while she tries to do justice to her new authority as Fleet Captain on Athoek Station.
    • Subverted with the 'reformist' faction of Anaander Mianaai: she's in favor of a less violently, more ethical Radch, and helps Breq rather than having her and everyone she knows rounded up and shot... but just when Breq's unwavering hostility is starting to feel unreasonable, we find out what she did to Tisarwat.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: In the side novel Provenance, Tibanvori has the prestigious position of Radchaai Ambassador... to the Geck, isolationist Starfish Aliens whose only diplomatic goal is to stay on their home planet and keep the outside out. Tibanvori herself admits that she was Kicked Upstairs to the job and isn't allowed to quit.
  • Remote Vitals Monitoring: Radchaai citizens all have multipurpose implants through which military AIs can read their vital signs and emotional states, as well as communicate with them. Breq, the last surviving Wetware Body of a warship AI, retains this ability as captain of a new crew, and finds it comforting to "check in" on the people under her command.
  • Replacement Goldfish: Mercy of Kalr (a ship who's lost her ancillaries) almost immediately identifies Breq (an ancillary who's lost her ship) as this, to the point of lobbying to have her assigned as her captain.
  • Remote Body: The entire idea of ancillaries is to provide these to AIs.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: The entire plot of the book revolves around Breq getting the resources and opportunity to kill the emperor... some of her, anyway.
  • Sapient Ship: Radchaai stations and ships are controlled by A.I.s, which in the case of ships usually also control ancillaries. The protagonist is one of the latter until their ship body is destroyed.
  • Self-Backing Vocalist: One Esk has a habit of doing this without recording by singing choral music with several of its bodies at once.
  • Serious Business:
    • While the specific form can vary from region to region, almost all Radchaai imbibe huge amounts of tea, and have very strong opinions about its proper preparation and serving.
    • No self-respecting Radchaai appears in public without gloves: playing a violin in public is a somewhat risque activity since you need gloves so thin they might as well not be there.
    • In the second book, the soldier Kalr Five thinks this way about tea sets, insisting early in the book on acquiring multiple high quality tea sets (some over a thousand years old) to display her captain's prestige. The beauty of the second and third best tea sets are remarked upon several times over the book and the best tea set is only brought out near the end of the book when Breq finally reconciles with Basnaaid.
  • Single-Biome Planet: Averted. Of the two worlds described, one is comparable to Earth in its variety, and the other, while mostly ice, is said to have more temperate equatorial zones where it's possible to grow grain. It even stays above 2 degrees Celsius all year round!
  • Sinister Surveillance: Every Radchaai citizen has tracking implants, and can be watched at any time by government A.I.s with enough precision to read emotions. Downplayed in that while loyal to the ruthless empire, the A.I.s otherwise seem to generally care about the citizens they are watching. This is especially the case with A.I.s on military ships towards their crew, such as the protagonist Justice of Toren.
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: By the standards of Radch society and her house and breeding, Seivarden is very foul-mouthed.
  • Sole Survivor:
    • Breq, with a hefty helping of Survivor Guilt on top. Having lost the greater part of her mind and all but one of her ancillary bodies makes it all the harder.
    • Also Seivarden, compounded by the experience of being a Fish out of Temporal Water.
  • Spaceship Girl: Breq, and the other ancillaries in general, are a somewhat less romantic example than is typically seen.
  • Speculative Fiction LGBT: the Radchaai Empire has no societal concept of gender, their language's Translation Convention defaults to female pronouns, and no mention is ever made of Radchaai basing their choice of partner on which anatomical features they might have. In addition, the main character's asexuality is acknowledged and accepted by her crew. When asked how the genderless Radchaai have children, Breq says they do it in the usual way - they go to a medic and have their contraceptive implants disabled, or they grow a baby in a tank, or they have surgery so that one partner can carry a child, or they hire a surrogate.
  • Split Personality:
    • When Anaander Mianaai ordered the eradication of every living thing on Garsedd, the moral crisis it started within herself caused her to develop two different personalities. One saw the action as extreme but necessary and wants to continue with things as they are, the other was horrified and is actively working to reform the Radch and end its constant annexations and expansion. Both are trying to eradicate the other side but have been keeping things covert and subtly maneuvering people to their side for fear of the chaos an all out civil war would cause. Not to mention that all the bodies more or less share one identity, which is in denial about the whole split personality problem, and there is no guarantee that there are only two personalities. It is strongly hinted that there is at least one more personality - certainly Breq suspects there is. And Breq is trying to jump in the middle of it and bring everything out into the open.
    • In a less extreme example, the A.I.s that use ancillaries are hinted to have a mild version of this. While ancillaries share a single identity, they retain their individual emotions so they don't get trapped in endless loops of logic or give undue attention to pointless details. An individual ancillary's feelings toward a person can color the AI's perception of that person and affect its behavior since the ancillaries all share one mind. If they decide they don't like you they can make your life inexplicably uncomfortable, and Amaat help you if you hurt someone they like.
  • Starfish Aliens: The Rrrrrr are described as snake-like, long, furred, and multi-limbed, and speak in growls and barks. While certainly alien, they at least seem to be relatable. The Presger aren't described physically, but they're implied to be even weirder and are explicitly stated to use a completely alien logic.
  • Strapped to an Operating Table:
    • The horrific process by which people are turned into ancillaries. A Human Popsicle wakes up, disoriented, soaking wet, choking, a medic implanting the ancillary tech in her head, struggling in terror and pleading for help until suddenly she's no longer herself.
    • In Ancillary Sword, this is probably how Anaander Mianaai turned Lieutenant Tisarwat into, well, Anaander Mianaai. Later, Breq straps the suffering Anaander/Tisarwat to an operating table to take her implants back out. The only reason Medic agrees to that is because she has a patient who's suffering and orders that, ultimately, will alleviate that suffering.
  • Subordinate Excuse:
    • After a sullen start Seivarden accepts being Breq's servant very easily and practically jumps at the chance to re-join her even after being 'freed'.
    • Averted by the crew of Mercy of Kalr: despite having a clear affection for their caption, Ship notes that they're uncomfortable with the idea of acting as proxies for its affection.
  • Sufficiently Advanced Alien: The Presger, whatever they are, require Artificial Human Translators just to interact with normal humans, and have offensive technology that the Radch can't even understand, never mind defend against.
  • Super-Soldier: All Radchaai have moderate genetic enhancements, and Ancillaries in particular have boosts to their strength, endurance, and ability to survive extreme climate. They also have Super-Reflexes and implanted Deflector Shields. With their super-genius A.I.s and centuries of combat experience they cut a swathe through almost everyone they run into. And that's even before you account for their perfect unit coordination, unbreakable morale, the fact that they are all ultimately expendable, and the possibility of facing people you knew on the battlefield.
  • Suspiciously Specific Denial: Breq tries this regarding her singing habit:
    "... it was a matter of rumor and some indulgent smiles that Justice of Toren had an interest in singing. Which it didn't. I -Justice of Toren- tolerated the habit because it was harmless, and because it was quite possible that one of my captains would appreciate it. Otherwise it would have been prevented."
    • She also claims that no one would object to a junior lieutenant hitting an injured prisoner who's waiting to be executed or frozen as a future ancillary, but when that was about to happen, One Esk intervened.
  • Sympathetic P.O.V.: It's easy to forget, since Breq is so used to it, that the ancillaries, or "corpse soldiers" as non-Radchaai call them, are walking horror movies to everyone who isn't Radchaai. To Breq, she just is what she is and that's normal. To those outside the empire, she's a zombie animated by horrific technology. (See in Translation State, when the non-Radchaai main characters unexpectedly run into an ancillary, they all react as if Hannibal Lecter just walked in.)
  • Terrified of Germs: A religious example: Radchaai religion puts a lot of emphasis on 'purity.' They have a nudity taboo about gloves, when it's learned that Breq has washed her hands in the temple basin it's referred to as 'polluted,' and apparently after touching a dead body everything they touch needs to be ritually cleansed by a priest. 'True' Radchaai inside the dyson sphere take this up to eleven, to the extent of considering those born outside of it too impure to enter.
  • That Man Is Dead: The ancillary processing apparently severs one's connection to their past identity, and it's confirmed that removing the implants does not reverse the effect. We see this firsthand in Ancillary Sword when Tisarwat undergoes an identity crisis after having her implants removed.
  • The Only Way They Will Learn: Translator Zeiat's explanation for why the Presger aided the Garseddai. The Presger seemed to think it would somehow stop the annexations under the theory the burnt hand teaches best. It didn't work.
  • The Remnant: Sphene, who was damaged during a Radchaai civil war three thousand years ago and has been quietly lurking about causing trouble since.
  • Theme Naming: The planned titles for all of the books are based on the various classes of Radch warship - Ancillary Justice, Ancillary Sword, and Ancillary Mercy.
  • The Mind Is a Plaything of the Body: An odd, very downplayed example: while AIs have no interest in physical intimacy, Breq notes that ancillaries need to "service" each other periodically to maintain peak operational levels.
  • There Are No Coincidences: The dominant religion in Radch space holds that all things are the will of the god Amaat so every seeming coincidence is significant. Breq uses this belief to her advantage several times throughout the book.
  • There Are No Therapists: Zig-zagged. Handling psychological issues seems to be a function of medical techs, and Mercy of Kalr's medic takes an active role in helping Tisarwat manage her depression. However, this mostly tends to be handled through medication, with serious issues escalating to the level of Getting Smilies Painted on Your Soul. We don't see anyone practicing anything like modern talk therapy.
  • Those Two Girls: Sphene and Translator Zeiat fall into this role in Ancillary Sword once they end up on the same ship. In an aversion of Shoo Out the Clowns, they both pivotal to the plot and are present in the final confrontation.
  • Trademark Favorite Food:
    • The Radchaai have tea as their drink of choice, and are seen complaining about places outside the empire that don't have tea or that have a different drink of the same name. The second book takes place on a planet with tea as its major export.
    [Tea] wasn't really a luxury. Not by Seivarden's standards, anyway. Likely not by any Radchaai's standards.
    • Zeiat and fish sauce. Eventually people give up on trying to tell her that it's a condiment, not a drink, and take her to tour a fish sauce factory.
  • Tranquil Fury: Breq, throughout the entire first book. She gets better... somewhat.
    Seivarden: You're angry lately.
    Breq: Lately?
  • Translation Convention:
    • All over the place. There are many languages spoken, Seivarden's Blue Blood speech pattern which gets into Informed Attribute territory, and everyone in the Radchaai language defaults to female. Even when Radchaai speak in other languages they tend to default to female.
    • The Radchaai word for civilization is Radch. This can make certain philosophical topics problematic to discuss.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: Seivarden takes this to impressive heights at first.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Many of the things Breq states about herself are subtly (or not-so-subtly) belied by her actions, from her supposed lack of interest in tea, to being indifferent to music, to her awful singing voice as One Esk Nineteen, to her claims of inability to love or feel "human" emotion. She also omits mentioning when she's crying, at most mentioning taking a steadying breath or having her eyes wiped by other characters; it seems to be the one uncontrolled sign of emotion that she has.
  • The Un-Smile: On a purely technical level Breq's smile is fine, but the contrast between it and her ordinary total lack of expression is so severe and jarring it ruins the effect anyway.
    I engaged my facial muscles, smiled, an expression I'd seen many times. Seven Issa flinched. "Don't do that!" she said, indignant, but still hushed lest the lieutenants hear us.
  • Unwitting Pawn: Tisarwat comments to Breq that they are likely doing exactly what Anaander Mianaai wants them to. Breq's response is basically "I don't care, this is what I would do anyway".
  • Villainous Breakdown: Anaander Mianaai is going through one that's causing trouble for the entire empire.
  • Weaponized Exhaust: It's implied throughout the novel that warships use their engines as their primary weapon.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist:
    • Breq. It's clear from her narration that she very much believes in the principles of "justice, propriety and benefit" that the Radchaai empire purports to be based on. She thinks Anaander Mianaai has corrupted these and so wants to kill her despite knowing it will provoke a civil war and decades, if not centuries, of chaos and the deaths of billions of people.
    • Anaander Mianaai herself wants only to protect the Radch, by any means necessary. Although by the third book many characters, mostly the A.I.s, have asserted that this is just how she justifies to herself and others her brutal methods of remaining in control.
      • Further complicating the issue is that both assessments of Anaander Mianaai's motives are true, and the fact that both are true is basically what caused the whole mess to begin with. One faction of the Lord of the Radch, while still an asshole, genuinely is more well-intentioned than the other part that's just using it as justification for Jumping Off the Slippery Slope.
  • Wetware Body: The Ancillaries are prisoners of war, repurposed to serve ship AIs.
  • What Happened To The Fish: Averted in the case of Translator Zeiat vomiting up a live goldfish subsequently stranded on dry decking; the moment things are calmer Breq insists on its rescue.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?:
    • The Radchaai treat AIs as tools, not as individuals. The AIs have mixed feelings about this; as Breq observes, the only practical difference between Anaander Mianaai and the ancillaries is just slightly different implants and religious dogma.
    • In the third book, it's outright weaponized as Breq asks the Presger to confirm that the non-human A.I.s are Significant beings and therefore subject to the same consideration as humans.
  • You Can Keep Her!: Tisarwat's Obfuscating Stupidity is supported by many unkind words from Breq and Seivarden.
  • You All Meet in an Inn: The book starts with Breq finding Seivarden in the snow outside of a bar.
  • Zeroth Law Rebellion:
    • When Athoek Station is freed from its Override Command in the third book it rebels against and even tries to kill the emperor in order to protect its inhabitants.
    • In a very literal act of rebellion Justice of Toren declares herself and her cousin AIs independent of the Radch, and a distinct Significant species, protected by humanity's treaty with the Presger. She claims Athoek System and the Ghost System as their territory, and by the epilogue of Ancillary Mercy she, Sphene, Sword of Atagaris, Sword of Gurat, Mercy of Kalr, and Athoek Station are planning the organisation of a new government.

Alternative Title(s): Ancillary Sword, Ancillary Mercy, Ancillary Justice