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.
A fascinating space opera debut novel, Arkady Martine’s A Memory Called Empire is an interstellar mystery adventure.
It was going to hurt so much if she had to stop pretending Three Seagrass was possessed of no agenda but her own ambition and a mild affection for barbarians.
First and foremost, I loved this. However, this was published fanfiction for C. J. Cherryh’s Foreigner series. Which might be why I loved this so much. It is actually remarkable how similar to Foreigner this is down to really small elements, while also being its own story. The only thing missing is the neverending tea party.
The story is neat. I fear this review might be a bit incoherent at times, because the book contained so much information and setup that you have to explain quite a lot to really get to what this book was about. Mahit Dzmare is a diplomat from an independent mining station on the edge of Teixcalaan space. She has been chosen to replace the previous ambassador after Teixcalaan mysteriously sent for a new one, without any real information. The mining station she comes from has a really neat way of passing along information, memories, and people through a device called an imago inserted in the brain. A device that is, if not outright forbidden, considered immoral in Teixcalaanli space.
Mahit’s immediate mission is simple in scope, difficult in execution. She has to figure out what happened to the previous ambassador. If he is dead, which she doesn’t know for certain, she needs to figure out how and why. She also needs to figure out what kind of damage he has done. Also she has to stop the mighty Teixcalaanli Empire from claiming her teeny tiny mining station, and its people, for its own. A seemingly impossible task.
All while Mahit’s imago is non-functioning. And even when it was functioning it was horrendously out of date. She is on her own, in enemy territory. Surrounded by people she doesn’t know and cannot trust. With no knowledge of the current situation.
There are a lot of neat ideas and scenarios in A Memory Called Empire. For instance, the politics are really interesting. Mahit is the new kid on the block, so everyone is interested in her, but also wary because they don’t know what she knows. This is on top of them already being a rather secretive and xenophobic people, if you can be considered xenophobic when you consume other civilizations and make them become yours.
There is also the culture of the Teixcalaanli people. I just talked about how they are unwelcoming to non-Teixcalaanli people. But they are also just alien to both us the reader and the main character. Their culture is so fascinating, and we only really scratch the surface. There is too much happening in the book, and Mahit is too new to Texicalaanli space, to get a really in depth look. They might as well be actual aliens, for how similar their culture is to ours. The most unique thing was their absolute love of poetry. Every part of the story was accompanied in some way to poetry. It is really neat.
I loved reading A Memory Called Empire. It had absolutely amazing worldbuilding. I love how much of an absolute weeb Mahit is. There were parts that didn’t always work for me, but as a whole I’m really, really glad I read this. I’ve been wanting more books like this, and I found it.