Good Lord, I got all excited over the bingo thing, and wouldn’t you know it, I get hammered by work commitments! So it looks like this year I’ll be posting bingo-reviews late, and my reviews for the Hugo Best Novel noms after I voted
Oh well, oh well.
A Desolation Called Peace was one of those books up for the Hugo Award for Best Novel this year. And just like A Memory Called Empire before it, I think it’ll take home the top gong. Which is interesting in a way, because while I think it is of similar quality to its predecessor, I don’t think it is quite as groundbreaking as Martine’s previous book. But not only does it has a set of strengths of its own that I think should be appreciated, it actually makes it’s predecessor stronger by chasing down the one background thread that was lying in wait throughout Memory and building a fascinating story about it.
A Desolation Called Peace starts off a few months after the messy business of A Memory Called Empire. Mahit Dzamare is back on Lsel Station and feeling less than comfortable. She may have secured the Station’s independence, but the alien threat that was always boiling in the background of the last book still stands. She also has two copies of Yskander’s—the previous diplomat’s——imageno in her head, which has upset some local politicians enough to put a target on her back.
Back at the capital, her friend and romantic interest, Three Seagrass, is faring slightly better. While she doesn’t have anyone trying to knock her off, she is stuck pencil pushing at the Information Ministry and is feeling very trapped. So when she receives a message from the new Yaotlek (fleet commander) Nine Hibiscus about needing a diplomatic expert, she reaches out and reconnects with Mahit. Meanwhile, the young heir to the empire, Eight Antidote, is determined to not let himself be sidelined.
This is where we get to the greatest differences between Desolation and Memory. The change I appreciated more was the split into multiple perspectives. We are not just following the lost ambassador anymore—and the world is much broader for it. Nine Hibiscus is trying to juggle the looming military-political dramas in avoiding a potential alien invasion, while Eight Antidote tries to engage with his own —while making sure he still has an empire to inherit. And as for Mahit and Three Seagrass? Both are trying to disentangle themselves from local problems to serve a greater good, while also testing the waters for the future of their relationship.
(The drama about the jacket is perhaps one of the most realistic lover’s spats I have come across in a long time, and an excellent demonstration of cross cultural drama.)
The other big change is the type of story being told. Memory was very, very well done story about finding your own place when you are torn between cultures and places, framed with political intrigue and a maybe-murder mystery. Desolation is a first contact story. It’s a rather well done one that builds on the language and culture-based groundwork set in Memory, but first contact stories are much more common than the kind of story Memory was telling, which makes it so much harder to distinguish yourself. I won’t lie: Arkady Martine has acquitted herself very well here, but there have been so many other authors before her. Which makes it very hard!
So I don’t think Desolation is as stand-out as Memory, but otherwise it still an excellent sequel that complements the first book nicely while being a real Hugo front-runner. And it also well and truely cements Arkady Martine on my rising stars list.
Oooh, for Bingo, I reckon this is Minds — at a Level 2. As of the previous book, Mahit has at least two copies of someones mind living rent free in her head. It also works in conjunction with another plot point, but I would be ruining things if I go into that further.