Publisher: Tor Books
Summary: Ambassador Mahit Dzmare arrives in the center of the multi-system Teixcalaanli Empire only to discover that her predecessor, an previous ambassador from their small but fiercely independent mining Station, has died. But no one will admit that his death wasn’t an accident–or that Mahit might be next to die, during a time of political instability in the highest echelons of the imperial court.
Now, Mahit must discover who is behind the murder, rescue herself, and save her Station from Teixcalaan’s unceasing expansion–all while navigating an alien culture that is all too seductive, engaging in intrigues of her own, and hiding a deadly technological secret–one that might spell the end of her Station and her way of life–or rescue it from annihilation.
I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Although it is New Years Eve 2018 as I write this review, I think I can confidently claim that A Memory Called Empire will be my favorite debut novel published in 2019. This book not only checked every box for me: unique and interesting worldbuilding, likable and complex characters, a plot that kept me on my toes, and a sapphic main couple, it also added a new box: dissing your political opponents through passive aggressive layered poetry.
My favorite part of this book was the worldbuilding. The Teixcalaanli Empire is this massive space hegemony with a culture inspired by a mix of Byzantine and South American cultures. The central focus of this book is in the language of the Teixcalaanli Empire, and, through language, poetry. The main character, Mahit, is the newly appointed ambassador to Teixcalaan from her small space station, and through her eyes, we get to explore the amazing depths of this culture that Martine has put together. By her side is her cultural liaison, Three Seagrass, who helps Mahit traverse the capital of Teixcalaan as they attempt to discover the fate of her predecessor.
One thing I love about Mahit is that though she starts as the equivalent of a Teixcalaan weaboo, completely obsessed with its culture, her mindset changes as she slowly learns how ridiculously ostentatious Teixcalaanli culture is. Teixcalaan, in a way, reminds me of how stereotypical elves or fae are portrayed: arrogant intellectuals, constantly talking purple prose, looking down on outsiders, and willingly behaving in tropes. The mark of an ideal Teixcalaanli citizen, apparently, is their ability to bust out impromptu poetry about literally anything, as demonstrated by Three Seagrass at one point about sewers. While Mahit still clearly loves the culture, she’s also completely willing to call out Three Seagrass and others on their ridiculousness later on.
A large portion of this book is the political intrigue, both within Teixcalaan and internal matters from Mahit’s home station. As such, there’s very little in the way of the space battles and inter-galactic travel that usually make up the space-opera genre. Nevertheless, I found the pacing very quick and exciting. There was never really a dull moment in this book. There was always some mystery that led to a new clue, or a new character with hidden motives introduced.
Overall, I rate this book a 5/5. I think I can easily say it’ll be one of my favorite reads of 2018 and my favorite debut novel published in 2019. Between the political intrigue, worldbuilding, characters, and poetry slams, A Memory Called Empire has much to love.
/r/Fantasy Bingo 2018 Squares:
- Novel featuring a Non-Western Setting
- Subgenre: Space Opera
- Novel from the /r/Fantasy LGBTQ+ Database