Page Count: 462
Release Date: March 26th, 2019
Series: TEIXCALAANI, Book 1
Rating: 5/5 Stars – Loved it!
Note: I received a free ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for my fair and honest review.
The ambassador from Lsel Station is dead. Long live the ambassador. Mahit Dzmare has been dispatched from her tiny independent mining station to replace her predecessor, Yskandr Aghavn, as ambassador for her people to the great Teixcalanni Empire. Mahit’s new role comes with all kinds of complications. For one, she has an implant called an imago, that contains within it the memories of her predecessor; this secret Lsel technology is supposed to allow people in critical jobs to benefit from the knowledge of all those who held the role before, to allow a smooth transition. Except Yskandr only returned to Lsel Station once, 15 years ago, to update the memories, meaning Mahit’s information is 15 years out of date. And to make things worse, her imago stops working shortly after arrival, but due to malfunction or sabotage is unclear. What is clear is that Mahit is alone at the heart of a foreign empire, and that Yskandr was deep into some sort of political conspiracy, one that cost him his life. As tensions within the Empire rise, Mahit will need to figure out who wanted him dead and why – and how to stop those same people from killing Mahit herself.
Where to even start with this book? I’ve been dying to read this book since it was announced, it seemed like such an intriguing concept. A space opera with court intrigue and a murder mystery? Be still my heart! And A MEMORY CALLED EMPIRE delivered on every level, easily making it one of my favorite reads of the year.
I’ve mentioned in the past how much I enjoy books that let me experience other cultures, fictional or otherwise. It’s one reason the sci-fi genre appeals so much to me, the chance for authors to imagine societies completely outside our own norms. A MEMORY CALLED EMPIRE does so much more than simply hand me a few new cultures to explore. The crux of this book rests on the shoulders of Mahit, a woman who has studied Teixcalaani culture from afar for years, and is now thrust into using all those college language and protocol skills in the “real world.” But even as she tries to emulate the culture and be accepted by those for whom it is a native tongue, she struggles with feelings of inferiority, that even if her accent was flawless and nuances perfect, she would never be more than a “barbarian” being politely humored.
And on top of THAT these are the same people who want to annex her station, who are on the verge of attacking her home to essentially bring it into the fold of “civilization,” for how can anyone possibly be living a good life without the benefits of Teixcalaan? Mahit loves the culture, even as its people want to destroy hers. This complex set of emotions between colonized and colonizer is one that Mahit wrestles with the whole book and never quite arrives at an easy answer of how to cope with it.
All of this contemplation is wrapped in a shell of court politics, assassination attempts, and more. There’s hidden messages, back-handed compliments at banquets, and other favorite hallmarks of a good court drama. The last quarter of the book in particular was a non-stop race to the finish, one of those times where you feel yourself pass a point of no return and end up reading the last 100 pages in one sitting.
As for the culture itself, it was inventive without being overwhelming. The author does a fabulous job of portraying the nuances between two languages and even the differing perspective on the same events. Each chapter starts with two excerpts, one from Teixcalaan and one from Lsel Station, showing not only their different perspectives, but cluing us in on what events are currently important to each people. I loved the obsession the Teixcallani have with poetry and the way it is used to communicate political messages. I loved it almost as much as the naming convention of “number object” which results in sometimes absurd names like Six Helicopter. And yet, I defy you to not have anything less than love and respect for Three Seagrass by the end of this tale.
A MEMORY CALLED EMPIRE is the hallmark of great sci-fi, the kind that takes you into a world of future technology and strange ways of living and explores a complex theme while taking you on adventure. For any who love court dramas, you can’t go wrong here with this ambassador trying to keep her people from being annexed in the middle of a political crisis. This book was an excellent ride, and I cannot wait for the next book in this world!