Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie
Spoiler warnings for the first book, if you have not read it.
Having failed to kill Anaander Mianaai, the Lord of the Radch Empire, Breq has been adopted into the Mianaai family and made a fleet captain, outranking any other captains she is likely to meet, in order to help Anaander Mianaai in her battle with her worst enemy, Anaander Mianaai.
That would probably make more sense if you’d read the first book in the series, but we’re moving on. Breq has fallen into the civil war between Anaander Mianaai and Anaander Mianaai (I just love typing the name Anaander Mianaai!), on the side of the more progressive Anaander Mianaai. This doesn’t make Breq happy, as she doesn’t like the Lord of the Radch, no matter which side of the conflict, but at least she can deal. She has been offered the ship Mercy of Kalr, a smaller ship than Breq was, with an all-human crew (no actual ancillaries), whose Captain backed the wrong Anaander Mianaai. Also along is Lt. Seivarden, as one of her Lieutenants, and a new officer, Lt. Tisarwat, only 17 and possibly a problem.
They are going to the nearby system of Athoek, which Breq will be defending, if she can. The departing other Lord of the Radch collapsed a lot of the star gates that interstellar travel depends on, but that won’t stop everything because some ships (such as the Mercy of Kalr) can generate their own gates. Athoek is important because in addition to its space station base, it has a planet that grows the one crop that the Radch hate being without: tea! Athoek is important to Breq personally, too, because someone working there is the sister to Lt. Awn, the Lieutenant that Breq held in high esteem and for whose death Breq blames herself. She wished to apologize to the sister and make it up to her, somehow. This, of course, will not be easy.
And of course, there will be other problems. Breq is no diplomat; in fact, she is rather the opposite. There may be corruption at Athoek. There may be worse problems. Add to it that everyone is frightened by the collapse of the gates and the lack of news from the Palace, and people stranded by the same gate closures and Breq and her small crew are stepping into a powderkeg waiting for a spark.
Leckie continues the good work in this one. Breq is still a great character and we start to get a clearer glance at some of the politics of the Radch empire — not to mention the family politics within the Empire (by which I mean, the parents and children of the Empire. No metaphor here). The female-pronoun thing becomes almost invisible, though it does foster a tendency to see all the characters as women unless specifically stated otherwise. And what’s wrong with that? There isn’t a lot of action, but there is plenty of suspense and tension.