Debut novelist Martine sets a careful course in this gorgeously crafted diplomatic space opera that strands its protagonist amid imperial politics and murder. Mahit Dzmare, summoned from tiny Lsel Station to replace the previous ambassador to the Teixcalaanli Empire, Yskandr, must negotiate both for Yskandr’s corpse and for the safety of her home world, an object of Imperial annexation. Her fluency in Teixcalaanli language and culture (“for a barbarian”) helps her decode the messages hidden in their poetry, even as it inclines her to the same starry-eyed admiration and involvement with the Imperial court that overcame her predecessor. Her secret implant of Yskandr’s memories should be aiding her, but it is 15 years out of date and, apparently, sabotaged. Mahit instead relies on her need to establish an identity of her own while juggling an aging Emperor’s desire for technological immortality and a threatened military uprising to his rule. The Teixcalaanli culture comes so fully to life that the glossary in the back of the book is unnecessary. Martine allows the backstory to unroll slowly, much as Mahit struggles with her intermittent memories, walking delicately upon the tightrope of intrigue and partisan battles in the streets to safely bring the tale to a poignantly true conclusion. Readers will eagerly await the planned sequels to this impressive debut. Agent: DongWon Song, Howard Morhaim Literary. (Mar.)
The Lsel Ambassador, Mahit Dzmare, arrives for her first assignment to Teixcalaan, only to discover that her predecessor is dead and the technology used on Lsel that could allow her to communicate with him is not working. It doesn't take her long to figure out that sabotage and murder are likely involved. With the help of her Teixcalaan Guide, Three Seagrass; some newfound allies; and her own abilities, Mahit navigates a political minefield. Revolution from within the Empire begins even as a new threat looms over her home of Lsel. Mahit must protect her home at all costs, in this complex world in which poetry is the language of history, culture, and communication. This is a complicated and dense space opera that may take teens some time to get into. But mature lovers of science fiction who are ready to make the jump from Robert Heinlein, Frank Herbert, or Andre Norton have much to enjoy here. VERDICT For avid sci-fi fans.—Connie Williams, Petaluma Public Library, CA
A scholar of Byzantine history brings all her knowledge of intricate political maneuvering to bear in her debut space opera.
The fiercely independent space station of Lsel conserves the knowledge of its small population by recording the memory and personality of every valuable citizen in an imago machine and implanting it in a psychologically compatible person, melding the two personas into one. When the powerful empire of Teixcalaan demands a new ambassador, Lsel sends Mahit Dzmare, hastily integrated with an imago the current ambassador, Yskandr Aghavn, left behind on his last visit home, 15 years ago. Once arrived at the Empire's capital city-planet, the Jewel of the World, Mahit faces the double loss of Yskandr: Sabotage by her own people destroys the younger Yskandr copy within her, and she learns that the older original was murdered a few months ago. Bereft of the experienced knowledge of her predecessor, she will have to rely on all she knows of the sophisticated and complex Teixcalaanli society as she struggles to trace the actions that led Yskandr to his tragic end and to ensure Lsel's safety during a fierce and multistranded battle for the imperial succession. Martine offers a fascinating depiction of a civilization that uses poetry and literary allusion as propaganda and whose citizens bear lovely and sometimes-humorous names like Three Seagrass, Five Portico, and Six Helicopter but that can kill with a flower and possesses the military power to impose its delicately and dangerously mannered society across the galaxy. Love and sex are an integral aspect of and a thing apart from the nuanced and dangerous politicking. This is both an epic and a human story, successful in the mode of Ann Leckie and Yoon Ha Lee.
A confident beginning with the promise of future installments that can't come quickly enough.
“An elegant and accomplished example of the subgenre of subtle scheming with a background of stars. A delightful read. I couldn’t put it down.”Jo Walton, Hugo and Nebula award-winning author of Among Others
“A taut murder mystery entwined with questions of technological ethics, A Memory Called Empire is also an evocative depiction of foreignness. Martine creates an elaborate and appealing culture against which to play out this story of political intrigue, assimilation, and resistance. Daring, beautiful, immersive, and often profound.”Malka Older, author of Infomocracy
“A Memory Called Empire is a murder mystery wrapped up in a political space opera, and deeply immerses the reader in a unique culture and society. I very much enjoyed it and look forward to what Martine does next.”Martha Wells, author of The Murderbot Diaries
“A Memory Called Empire elevates space opera to poetryclever, deep, sometimes tragic, sometimes violent, always transcendent poetry that shines like the edge of a knife.”Delilah Dawson
“An intricate, layered tale of empire, personal ambition, political obligations and interstellar intrigue. Vivid and delightfully inventive.”Aliette de Bodard, Nebula Award-winning author of the Xuya Universe stories and The House of Binding Thorns
“A cutting, beautiful, human adventure about cultural exchange, identity, and intrigue. The best SF novel I’ve read in the last five years.”Yoon Ha Lee, author of the Machineries of Empire trilogy
“An exceptional first novel recommended for fans of Cherryh, Leckie, Banks, and Asimov.”Elizabeth Bear, author of Hammered
Ambassador Mahit Dzmare arrives at the City, center of the multisystem Teixcalaanli Empire, rushed, because her predecessor has been out of contact. Those in Mahit's position are set up with imago machines: tiny chips imbedded in their nervous systems that contain the memories and responses of the previous incumbents. However, Mahit's imago of the former ambassador is more than a decade old, and what's worse, the ambassador is now dead and her connection to even that outdated version disappears. Now floundering in an alien culture with only her studies and an assigned assistant to guide her, Mahit must discover the truth behind her colleague's death and the secrets of the last years of his life, as well as attempt to save her independent station from being absorbed by the Teixcalaan. VERDICT Politics and personalities blend with an immersive setting and beautiful prose in a debut that weaves threads of identity, assimilation, technology, and culture to offer an exceedingly well-done sf political thriller.—Kristi Chadwick, Massachusetts Lib. Syst., Northampton