A Desolation Called Peace (Teixcalaan, 2)

By Arkady Martine

Rating: 4 stars

The empire of Teixcalaan is at war with an alien species. Lsel ambassador to Teixcalaan, Mahit Dzmare, has returned home to her station not quite in disgrace, but still finds herself under threat. When Fleet Captain Nine Hibiscus sends back home for someone to try to communicate with the enemy, former attaché Three Seagrass jumps at the opportunity, and she brings Mahit with her, jumping from one frying pan to another as she swaps the politics of her home for that of the fleet.

I didn’t enjoy this book quite as much as I did its predecessor, but there was still a lot to like here. While not musing so much on the siren call of a dominant culture, it looks more at communication, mirroring the way that Mahit and Three Seagrass communicate (or fail to) with the attempts to communicate with the aliens. As well as these two main protagonists, we also have the PoV of Eight Antidote, the heir to the Empire, as he learns about war and politics, back on the homeworld, and what it means to be the future emperor. He’s also an eleven year old child, but he has to grow up a lot and very quickly if he’s going to prevent the war from expanding to fill all the space it can.

The big themes in this book involve not being able to go back home (although more because Mahit wants to avoid having her skull carved up, than for any metaphorical reasons). I think the idea that she has changed enough that she’s rejected by her home would have been a strong strand on its own, without needing the element of physical threat, but maybe that’s just me.

I think maybe the different plots were wrapped up a little too neatly, and too easily by the end of the book, but that’s not something that bothered me as much as it might have done. There’s a solid ending, but also lots of space left open to tell more stories, both about Mahit and Three Seagrass, and also in the wider universe that Martine has created. I’d read them.

Book details

ISBN: 9781529001648

A Memory Called Empire (Teixcalaan, #1)

By Arkady Martine

Rating: 4 stars

It took me an embarrassingly long time to really get into this book, but that’s my fault, not the book’s. I was reading it at the same time as Ted Chiang’s truly astonishing Exhalation and I couldn’t stop thinking about that. And the new Becky Chambers novel had just turned up as well, and I was itching to read that too. But I eventually put those out of my mind and focussed on this, and I’m really glad that I gave it the attention that it deserved.

Mahit Dzmare is the new ambassador from a small, independent system to the mighty Teizcalaan empire. The problem is that nobody will admit that her predecessor was murdered and that she might be next. All this while keeping her own secrets and trying to protect her home from the ravenous jaws of the empire.

By the end, I really enjoyed this book. It’s not the story I was expecting, and it’s not one that I hear discussed very often. A major theme is the draw of the foreign, the empire next door. Teizcalaan is a cultural giant and all the young people from her station absorb its media and culture. Mahit especially so – it’s what makes her a good ambassador. This cultural imperialism and the seduction of the oh-so-civilised Teizcalaanli draw her like a moth to a flame.

This aspect of empire – the cultural imperialism that extends beyond the territorial borders – is a great thread, in amongst the intrigue and politics of palace life. There’s also a larger looming threat beyond the borders that threatens everyone, Teizcalaan and Lsel alike. That one is mostly kept to the background here, but I assume will come to the fore in the next book.

I really like Mahit as a character here. She’s a fish out of water, trying desperately to fit in while knowing that she can’t, but she’s not naive and when she’s given a chance to stop and think, which isn’t nearly as often as she’d like, she’s sharp as a tack. Her Teizcalaanli cultural liaison, Three Seagrass (the names within the empire are all like this, with a number and a random noun. I found it quite disconcerting to start with, but it just serves to be another reminder that the Teizcalaanli are alien) is also great. She’s clever, with a dry wit and is genuinely trying to help Mahit.

I’m struggling to place the influences on the Teizcalaan empire. The imperial bureaucracy and obsession with poetry and literature suggest a Chinese influence, but some of the names (“Teizcalaan”, for a start) suggest Aztec, as do some of the ceremonies, but that’s not a culture I know very much about.

Either way, there’s a compelling story here, that was a great read. A worthy Hugo-winner.

Book details

ISBN: 9781529001594
Publisher: Pan Macmillan Paperbacks
Year of publication: 2019

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