by Ann Leckie
Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Provenance is set within the same fictional universe as Leckie's award-winning Imperial Radch trilogy, but it is only peripherally a continuation of that story. Lord of the Radch Anaander Mianaai gets a brief mention, but unless I'm mistaken, there is only one other officer of the Radch that makes an appearance, an ambassador to another alien group. At the end of the trilogy, AIs and the ancillaries who had aligned with Breq declared themselves sentient and autonomous entities, worthy of equal recognition as Radch citizens. Another event was a treaty with the alien Presgr. A conclave has been scheduled for discussion of these and other issues between the Radch, the Presgr and other alien races, and human governments outside Radch territories. That conclave is not part of this narrative, since it is stated that it might take several years for all parties to arrive at the conference site, and perhaps many more years for the discussions themselves. Quite a few subplots within this framework, but I'm not sure the most important ones got the exposition needed.
Most developed planets have an orbiting station, connected by either shuttle craft or a space elevator. The action begins on Tyr Siilas Station, introducing the main character Ingray Aughskold, who had come from her home planet Hwae with the intention of bribing officials to release another Hwae citizen from Compassionate Removal. That's a euphemistic way of describing a lifetime sentence with no chance of parole, with the accused considered legally dead. What Ingray does not know is that similar attempts had been made for others in the past, with no bribe being large enough to affect an extraction. Why does her effort succeed with a significantly lower amount? Who made the decision, and for what reason? Ingray's mother is a Hwaean politician, hopeful of becoming Prolocutor of the Third Assembly at the next election. Her rival is the current Prolocutor, Ethiat Budrakim, whose son Pahlad is the one Ingray wants to return to Hwae, since she thinks they have information that will be damaging to Ethiat.
The book's title has a double meaning. Pahlad's alleged crime was for stealing sacred Hwae vestiges, official documents of historical significance, remembrances of diplomatic meetings, the signings of treaties, and the like. It would be equivalent to someone stealing the Declaration of Independence. What the sentencing authorities didn't know, or what they ignored, is Pahlad's accusation that several of those vestiges were forgeries, which would be damaging to his father's reputation. Were the vestiges real or fake? If fake, were they recreations of actual documents lost to time, or fabricated to give a false perspective on history? The other plot element in which provenance is an issue involves the planet Omkem, which claims to be the original inhabitants of Hwae, and they have sent emissaries to excavate Eswae Parkland for proof of their contention. Is it coincidence the parkland is where Pahlad has hinted he buried the stolen vestiges? Or are we to believe another of his statements, that nothing was stolen, that his father falsely accused him to throw suspicion away from his forgeries?
There are other plot elements I don't want to spoil, so will just skim them briefly. Ingray is a foster child to Netano Aughskold, with Netano not being her given name but rather a title. Ingray is in a rivalry with her foster brother Danach to become heir and receive the title Netano. Another brother had already left the family because he either didn't care to inherit the position, or resented the way their mother pitted them against each other. Even though Ingray is convinced Danach will be the heir, she hoped to impress her mother by bringing Pahlad back to Hwae. Another sub-plot features the alien Geck, whom normally have an aversion to leaving their planet, but nonetheless have sent a representative to the conclave, with stop-overs at both Tyr Siilas and Hwae in search of someone accused of stealing one of their ships and several mechs. I have to assume, since the Geck don't like to leave their planet, their ships were all piloted remotely by the mechs. A lot of hints dropped about various alliances and rivalries, political machinations, underground criminal activities, even assassinations and military invasions. Lots of hints, but not a lot of resolution, nor adequate explanation of motives. While I haven't seen news of it, I have to assume Leckie will continue this in another book. Will I read it? Based on my reaction to this one I'd say maybe. If I can get an ARC, or if it gets rave reviews or award nominations, or if I can find it on sale. Provenance is not as good as either of the three previous novels, although there is potential, with several characters I'd like to see more fully developed. This is a finalist for the Hugo, although it would not have been one of my nominations if I had read it before that deadline.
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