Saturday, August 1, 2020

Review: A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine

Picture of the cover for A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine
Title: A Memory Called Empire
Author: Arkady Martine
Pages: 461
ISBN: 9780529001594
Publisher: Tor
Published: 26 March 2019
Genre: Science Fiction
Source: Purchased

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Ambassador Mahit Dzmare arrives in the center of the multi-system Teixcalaanli Empire only to discover that her predecessor, the 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.

In A Memory Called Empire, the first book in the Teixcalaan series, Arkady Martine presents a truly engrossing story about a galactic empire in decline. From afar the Teixcalaanli Empire appears to be a wondrous, pristine bastion of civilisation subsuming barbaric worlds in order to bestow the gift of civilisation to them all. Through the eyes of newly minted ambassador, Mahit Dzmare, we soon discover that the seemingly pristine facade is splattered with blood, rot and decay. While trying to uncover what happened to her predecessor Mahit has to navigate the political landscape of a culture she is just barely equipped to handle.

"But there was a point in knowing how the last person to hold all the knowledge you held had died, if only so that you could correct the mistake and keep your line alive a little longer, a little better. To stretch the continuity of memory just a bit farther, out on the edges of human space where it feathered away into the black." (p 135)

A Memory Called Empire is a remarkable, beautifully written novel exploring a myriad of themes — identity, colonialism, the persistence of memory, the power of language, the duplicity of words and how it shapes and builds society. It also examines the power of an individual, and of individual identity, and how that power can reshape the world even when pitted against the might of an entire empire.

This is a slower, intricate read which demands that you take your time to enjoy it to its fullest. It rewards the attentive reader with beautiful prose, nuanced worldbuilding and fascinating concepts to unpack and ponder. Without a doubt this has been one of the best novels I’ve read this year. My review is woefully inadequate to even try to do it justice. Highly recommended!

Addendum: A Memory Called Empire has just won the Hugo award for best novel so I'm not the only one who thinks it's great.

The Rating: 8/10 (Great!)

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