Book Review – A Memory Called Empire

I had been meaning to get to this book for some time since it won the 2020 Hugo Award for Best Novel. For some reason I had it in my head that this was a fantasy novel, but A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine is actually a science fiction tale of politics and intrigue.

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Here is the blurb:

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.

This book was a wonderful and fast read for me. I had some trouble keeping the people straight at first, as the citizens of the Empire were named after first a number and then an inanimate object (ex. Three Seagrass).

The protagonist, Mahit, has studied the language and the culture of the Teixcalaanli Empire for her whole life and carries the memories and some of the personality of the previous ambassador in an implant next to her brain. When this implant malfunctions, she is at the mercy of her local liason and newly formed political connections that might be trying to kill her, making her a sympathetic outsider and a fun character to read about.

The world-building was intricate, and even though we only see a small portion of the Empire, it all felt very real. The characters were plausible and well-drawn, and the ending was a shock that made sense in hindsight.

While a second book was just released, the story in A Memory Called Empire does reach a satisfying conclusion, so you could read this as a stand-alone if you wish. I’m planning to read the next book, A Desolation Called Peace very soon though!

Have you read this book? Let me know in the comments above.

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