REVIEW: A Memory Called Empire (Teixcalaan, #1) by Arkady Martine
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.
Ambassador Mahit Dzmare arrives in the center of the multi-system
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.
Dear Arkady Martine,
When a friend of a friend mentioned your book in her status update I was reminded that I wanted to check it out – science fiction mystery could very much be my thing and the blurb sounded very appealing.
As the blurb tells you, Mahit Dzmare is a newly minted ambassador to Teixcalaanli Empire from the small mining station. The station would like to stay an independent republic ( it is a very small place; at some point in the story it is mentioned that only about thirty thousands people live there), but they know that Empire can annex them at any time.
Mahit arrives to the center of the Empire and lands right in the middle of a whole lot of trouble. As the blurb tells you, her predecessor has died, and not just died but was brutally murdered only nobody seems in a hurry to admit that fact. Mahit’s life also becomes endangered pretty quickly and she has to navigate Teixcalaanli politics, engage in a lot of maneuvering to actually stay alive, discover what happened and not forget that she has to serve her tiny Station/country as well to the best of her abilities.
When Maxit arrives, she receives a “cultural liason” assigned to her, someone to “open a lot of doors” for her since no matter how hard Mahit studied the culture, the language and ins and outs, of course there is so much she does not know.
Dear readers, meet Three Seagrass, who quickly became one of my favorite characters in the book.
“‘Three Seagrass” was an old-fashioned Teixcalaanli name: the numeral half was low value, and the noun half was the name of a plant, even if it was a plant Mahit hadn’t seen used in a name before. All of the noun parts of Teixcalaanli names were plants or tools or inanimate objects, but most of the plant ones were flowers. “Seagrass” was memorable. Asekreta meant she was not only part of the Information Ministry, as her suit suggested, but a trained agent of rank, as well as holding the court title of patrician second-class: an aristocrat, but not a very important or rich one.”
Apparently all Teixcalaanli names have numerals and objects in them. Funny enough, after a very short array in the story those naming conventions stopped being weird for me and made perfect sense, for which I should give kudos to the author. The world building was lovely overall, although I have to say that I was not entirely sure why Mahit loved the culture so much. Don’t get me wrong, as I said the culture seemed interesting with the poetry they use to talk on so many occasions and the temples and other things which would be spoilers. I just was not sure why Teixcalaanli culture was so *appealing* if that makes sense. It was sophisticated and advanced – I just didn’t get the love and longing.
I liked Mahit. I liked that she was not so goddamn perfect that she figured out what to do the moment she started having problems, but instead was smart and spent years studying her chosen profession and preparing to be an ambassador. I liked that while she had a certain predisposition to be *political* ( whatever that word means for different people), she was also figuring stuff out as she went along. She blundered and made mistakes and she also made a few friends ( and enemies) along the way.
“‘Well, if you want to insult all your predecessor’s contacts and establish that Lsel Station is hostile to imperial interests, not coming to dinner is a wonderful start.” Mahit leaned in quite close, close enough that she could feel the warm pulse of Three Seagrass’s breath on her face, and smiled with all her teeth, as barbaric as possible. Mahit watched her try to stay still and not flinch back, and spotted the moment when she succeeded,[and when Three Seagrass – my addition for clarity] rationalized what was happening.
“’Three Seagrass,” Mahit said then, “how about we assume that I’m not an idiot.” “We could do that,” Three Seagrass said. “Do your people invade personal space as a reprimand on a regular basis?” “When necessary,” Mahit said. “And in exchange I will assume you’re not involved in an obvious attempt at diplomatic sabotage.” “That seems like a fair trade.” “So I’m accepting His Imperial Majesty’s gracious invitation. Send the message and I’ll sign it. And then we need to get through the rest of this backlog of infofiche.'”
Mahit also struggles with her identity throughout the story, however a reason she does so is very spoilerish and surprising and I cannot really discuss it. I will just say that I thought it was integrated in the story and drove the story forward quite well.
This is definitely a book about politics. It does have a lot of conversations and multiple meanings, but it also has some action and mystery and terror. The mix of action and talk did work for me.
What did not really work for me was the payoff. Yes I knew that it was book one and no, it does not end on the cliffhanger. However I hoped for a more satisfying payoff than what I got. I will still read book two when it comes out though.
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