CBR 13 Bingo: New Series – This is the sequel to A Memory Called Empire which was published in 2019 and completes my second bingo.
I loved A Memory Called Empire , in my review said it was deserving its spot on the Hugo nominee list and I was delighted when it won! The follow up, A Desolation Called Peace, is similarly incredible. In preparation for reading this, I found an excellent recap that goes over individuals and factions, and their motivations. I highly recommend it.
The story resumes a few months after the events of A Memory Called Empire. Mahit is back on Lsel Station and feeling a little lost. Even though she was only in the heart of Teixcalaan for a couple months, it seems to have irrevocably changed her. Three Seagrass has resumed her normal duties at the Information Ministry but is restless. When she sees an opportunity out of her mundane life she grabs it and runs. We gain the point of view of Eight Antidote, the eleven year old 90 percent clone of the previous Emperor. He is wise beyond his years but also approaches the looming war with the aliens with a child’s perspective and the lack of weight of being jaded from a lifetime of bureaucracy. To give us an eye on the front lines, we see the perspective of fleet commander Nine Hibiscus, who is under immense pressure politically as well as the stress of being responsible for the potential war. Let me take a moment to say that Martine’s naming convention for Teixcalaanlitzm, number followed by noun, is quite unique and fun.
Like great sci fi that came before, Martine uses a space opera format to examine the human condition. The relationship between the conquerors and the conquered is a complex tangle between Teixcalaan and the society on Lsel Station, directly represented in Mahit and Three Seagrass’s fraught relationship. With the aliens, they all must confront the concept of what makes people? How does one recognize the ‘peopleness’ in beings so vastly different from one’s self? Martine brings into question, how do you preserve a society? How do you continue to exist as self when constantly being encroached upon by an overwhelming majority? She also sets forth interesting science fiction conundrums, such as how can a society exist in an extremely small, closed system like Lsel Station? Side note: my neighborhood has around 80,000 residents. The idea of an entire civilization consisting of only 30,000 people is mind boggling.
A large part of why I enjoy these books, besides being excellently written and gripping to read, is Martine’s creative descriptions. How do you say someone has a ‘raspy’ voice without using that word?
A long time ago Tarats’s voice might have been silky, but all the weft had worn away , and the warp of the sound was harsh.
How do you describe the look on someone’s face as if they had sucked a lemon, in a culture that doesn’t have lemons?
… her eyebrows raised and her mouth pursed like she’s tasted a citrus-flavoring powder straight from the packet.
A Memory Called Empire put Arkady Martine on my ‘keep an eye out for’ list. A Desolation Called Peace is going to have me actively looking for all future books by her.