An alien armada lurks on the edges of Teixcalaanli space. No one can communicate with it, no one can destroy it, and Fleet Captain Nine Hibiscus is running out of options.
In a desperate attempt at diplomacy with the mysterious invaders, the fleet captain has sent for a diplomatic envoy. Now Mahit Dzmare and Three Seagrass—still reeling from the recent upheaval in the Empire—face the impossible task of trying to communicate with a hostile entity.
Whether they succeed or fail could change the fate of Teixcalaan forever.
I received a copy of this book from NetGalley. All thoughts are my own.
Warning: This review will contain spoilers for A Memory Called Empire
A Memory Called Empire was one of my favorite books for 2019 and I have been anxiously awaiting its sequel every since I read the first ARC. For fans of book one, A Desolation Called Peace contains everything good about book one (the cultural deep dives, Mahit and Yskander’s snarky conversations, Mahit and Three Seagrass!!), and fixed many of the complaints I had from book one.
If A Memory Called Empire were a love letter to those who fall in love with another people’s culture, A Desolation Called Peace pulls back that gilded curtain to explore Teixcalaan’s dirty secrets. While Teixcalaan’s status as a colonizing state is alluded to in Memory, in Devasation, Mahit is forced to truly confront that reality, and how such a paradigm pertains to her relationships and home station. These conflicts are portrayed in two parts, one through an added layer of depth to her budding relationship with formal cultural aide Three Seagrass, and another through the inner politics between Mahit and her home Lsel Station. In each, Mahit is forced to sift through an understanding of her own self, between the part that feels more at home with Texixcalaani culture than that of her homeworld, and the part that knows that she will always be regarded as a stranger, as a barbarian, no matter how she attempts to ‘integrate’ herself.
For most readers even marginally familiar with Sci-Fi tropes, I think the big ‘secret’ behind the alien encounter Mahit and Three Seagrass confront will be very predictable. That being said, Martine adds her unique linguistic-philosophical bent in creating and exploring these aliens that gives a freshness to their depiction. From just the first chapter, with the line “sing we of language”, I knew I was about to read something new and fascinating and I was absolutely not disappointed.
Unexpectedly, A Desolation Called Peace has my new favorite child character in Eight Antidote. Generally, I loath child characters. Often, it seems they exist purely to a) add an unnecessary burden to the protagonist’s actions, b) force the protagonist to reflect on some flaw or fear they once held (or still hold!) in a heart to heart with said child character or c) ask stupid questions as a vehicle for worldbuilding. Throw this on top of my general dislike for children and my extreme dislike of stupid characters, and most child characters in adult books will completely ruin that book for me. That being said, I’m delighted to say that I loved Eight Antidote’s character arc. Martine does an excellent job mixing a strong intelligence as expected a 90% clone of the previous emperor with the naivety and inexperience of an 11-year old Eight Antidote’s growth throughout.
My one letdown with this book is that it’s far too short! Yes it’s a 150K space opera chonker but that’s not enough! The ending felt rather abrupt for its buildup and I honestly believe another 5-10% added on at the very end to wrap up some loose ends and fully conclude relationships would have really helped offer closure. I am absolutely praying that this is just a case of 2nd book syndrome but I’m not even sure if this series is a trilogy or a duology. All my digging points towards duology and I desperately need more content in this universe.
Overall, I rate this book a 5/5. This held everything I loved about A Memory Called Empire, then gave me even more to love. A tight multi-POV cast that never left me bored, a highly nuanced exploration of what it means to exist within a colonizing culture as one being colonized, a rapid pacing that leaves the reader wanting more, and a refreshingly unique take on an age old sci-fi trope. I’m absolutely praying we’ll get to revisit this world one day.
r/Fantasy Bingo Squares:
- Big Dumb Object
- Novel with Chapter Epigraphs (hard mode)
- Romantic Fantasy
- Novel Featuring Politics