Here's a longer review by someone who liked it more than me: http://louisedennis.livejournal.com/331044.html
Far future revenge space opera*, where the lead character used to be a starship and now isn't. Has won lots of awards, but as much internet reviewery has pointed out, that doesn't mean as much as it once did. Space opera doesn't often win awards nowadays, even science fiction ones**, which makes it all the more remarkable that this won lots of them.
As Louise mentioned, there are a couple of literary tricks / gimmicks in this book. The first actually worked well for me. It's a revenge tale and some of the chapters are present, telling the tale of the revenge, while other chapters are past, showing what happened to cause the lead character to seek revenge in the first place, and against whom. It could have been annoying, but it allowed the author to drip feed you with events from the past in a very coherent way.
But I had a big problem with the other gimmick, and it pretty much ruined the book for me. The main character comes from a culture where there are no distinctions between the sexes, and while he/she/it appreciates that there are
two sexes (and often struggles to identify which one a particular character belongs to), he/she/it defaults to referring to everyone as "she". And he/she/it continues to do this even after it is established that a particular character is male. It's massively confusing, and it's made far worse because the book is written in the first person. Where we discover a character's sex, they turn out to be male more often than not, so I can't help thinking that of the three possible pronouns, "she" was less sensible as a default than either "it" or "he". Better still would be to make up a word to represent in English what a genderless pronoun would be.
I'm a very visual reader - I want to picture what characters look like. If you introduce a character as "she" and then several chapters later mention some detail that makes it clear that the character is actually male, then you're just going to annoy me. And in fact that's what happened. I gave up careful reading and visualising and ended up skimming. So I read the book pretty quickly without really enjoying it.
Actually something else of note. Although I liked the fact that the book was relatively short*** compared to others in its genre, one of the reasons it's short is that there really isn't much description. So even without the pronoun stuff, it's not a fantastic book for visual readers anyway.
It's a shame really, because there is much to like. The villain(s) of the piece is(are) interesting, the setting is quite good (lacking in detail or hinting at greater complexity are perhaps two sides of the same coin), and the writing (except for the bloody pronouns thing) is very readable. So probably a two stars out of five book for me. But it would have been four without the pronouns thing. And even then, there are far better modern space operas out there. I can't quite see why the SF elite who give out awards rank this as so much better than more popular works by the authors listed below.
* Although not the sort of space opera involving people daringly flying space fighters a la Star Wars, which the cover illustration rather implies it is. I know some people get annoyed by cover art which gives a misleading impression of a book, and I would have to put Ancillary Justice in that category.
** Total number of Hugo awards for Best Novel won by Peter F. Hamilton, Alastair Reynolds, Iain M. Banks, David Weber, James S.A. Corey combined: Nil.
They don't even get nominated:
Total number of Hugo nominations
for Best Novel for Peter F. Hamilton, Alastair Reynolds, Iain M. Banks, David Weber, James S.A. Corey combined: Two.
*** It's probably only about one-fifth or even one-sixth the length of your typical Peter F. Hamilton brick.