It was no surprise that Ancillary Mercy, third book in the Imperial Radch series, got a Nebula nomination. I had very much enjoyed Ancillary Justice and thought Ancillary Sword was even better. So I was really looking forward to this one.
It didn't disappoint, but I'd say the series came down from its peak. In the first novel we had distributed consciousness. In the second, that consciousness is truncated and the protagonist is forced to go deeper within. The third sticks with that perspective, and the story plays out.
Fleet Captain Breq Mianaai was sent to Athoek station by one faction of Anaander Mianaai, the dictator of the Radch for 3000 years. She is now acting independently of all the factions, and is concerning herself mostly with saving the citizens of Athoek. They are a challenging group, but in the end are pretty ordinary human beings. The book spends a lot of time on them, to not as great an effect as might be hoped. The fleet captain is now living openly as an ancillary, formerly part of the ship Justice of Toren. Eventually she has to confront the splintered dictator, which she does very deftly. We learn a lot about the emotional states of all involved, even though the common soldiers are somewhat anonymized by their military names--decade and rank within (Bo two, Amaat one, etc). Thrown into the mix are the much more advanced and totally inscrutable Presger. The comic relief from the current Translator (the previous one was killed in a misunderstanding) is very welcome.
The book's continued strength is the description of powerful emotions, love, and even sex without gender being a factor. That got the last installment four stars.
In the end, I can only give this one three. The story is reasonably interesting but doesn't break much new ground. The ending is a logical one. I have noted throughout that the human crews are mostly depicted doing relatively menial tasks--cleaning, providing service, but mostly making tea. The Ship and Station do the heavy lifting. This makes the ending logically sensible.
In sum, we have a series that is highly enjoyable and very much worth reading, We have some fairly standard tropes--civilization has stayed remarkably stable and unchanging for several thousand years. At least we have a potential explanation, in that we have near-immortal dictators and AIs that would value stability. But the speculation on gender is very much worth reading, and yes, it's worthy of awards. A good read and a good contribution.