I was so intimidated by this book before I picked it up! There’s a certain attitude that often comes along with intelligent sci-fi with lots of made up names (so many vowels!), and which plays around in the political intrigue sphere. Like, let’s just confuse the shit out of you before we settle into this! Throw everything at the wall and see what sticks! No hand holding! I will show you I’m smart by making everything so hard to understand! (coughyoonhaleecough) Aren’t I smart!
This, just FYI, is not that type of sci-fi. I was instantly surprised by how accessible I found it, and very pleased that Arkady Martine did not have to sacrifice intelligent plotting or characterization or exploration of themes in order to make it that way. This is a very good book.
Our main character is Mahit Dzmare of Lsel Station. She has been sent to be the Ambassador for Lsel at the court of the Teixcalaan empire after they summon for a new one. When she arrives, she finds that the old ambassador has died, and she is quickly pulled into a complicated political situation that her predecessor seemed pretty involved in. Complicating matters further is that Lsel has a secret technology that is foreign to the empire, a way to preserve memory and skill when a person dies, and it seems to be playing a role somehow in the intrigue at court. Mahit, new to court and with her imago (the memory copy of the previous ambassador that was given to her) malfunctioning, Mahit has to rely on her instincts in who to trust and what to do, and how to navigate a place she barely understands, but has been dreaming of her entire life.
At the center of this book is the question of empire. The book is dedicated to “anyone who has ever fallen in love with a culture that was devouring their own.” So that’s a big clue as to the grey areas it’s working with, re: tricksy subjects like colonialism, cultural diversity, imperialism, etc. But this book isn’t a treatise on empires, or whatever. First it’s about the characters, second it’s about the intrigue and the suspense of being so involved in the intrigue. It’s just so well done, I don’t even know how to explain it. Ordering book two ASAP.