Book review: A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine

Title: A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine

Publisher: Tor

Publication date: March 2019

Genre: Science fiction | Adult

Page extent: 462 pages


Goodreads 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.

I’ve read a lot of reviews for this book, and they all say it’s one of the most unique science fiction novels they’ve read. And I don’t want to repeat that – but, it’s difficult to find the words to describe this novel otherwise. It is one of the most unique science fiction novels I’ve ever read. It is both murder mystery, political thriller, a love letter to poetry and a science fiction novel.

A Memory Called Empire will not be to everyone’s tastes. It took me 150 pages until I really began to get stuck into the style. Intensely introspective, the book takes place mostly in the mind of the main character, Mahit. Mahit is the Ambassador from an independent outer world mining station, yet to be inhaled into the massive Texicalaan Empire where Mahit serves as Ambassador. Urgently rushed to Texicalaan, Mahit arrives to find her predecessor murdered and herself embroiled in a detailed and complex political battlefield. To save herself, as well as her country, Mahit finds herself in a battle of wits between the players of this political game.

The introspective nature of this novel is hard to get into. Mahit comes from a mining station with advanced neurological technology, where memories and personality can be condensed into technology and placed into others minds – meaning those dead, can survive in the minds of others. Mahit has the memories of her predecessor in her mind, and therefore much of the bulk of this novel takes place in her mind. Her thoughts are as much a battlefield as her interactions with others, as she must discuss and talk with the predecessor embedded inside her. It’s complicated. Like, so fucking complicated. It took me 150 pages to get used to the style, and understandably, many people just won’t want to put the work in to reach enjoyment of a book. But once I did pass the 150 page mark, the style did seem to click into place. I got used to the way the plot weaves unhurridely and unrushed to focus more on Mahit and the political shenanigans around her. I got used to the poetry, the language of Texicalaan and how intensely different it is to any other book I’ve read. And I got so involved in the plot. I sped through the latter half of the novel, desperate to know what the everloving fuck was going on. The political twists and games are just phenomenal, keeping you on the edge of your seat until the very last page. It is most definitely not a novel for everyone; but if you can get used to the style, it is a detailed political mystery set in the heart of an overwhelming science fiction empire.

Also, it is SO GAY. The relationship between Mahit and her cultural liaison, is both sweet and hilarious. The two bring a lightness that is needed in such a stylistically heavy book. Their flirting and sarcasm is a joy to behold, their ease with each other, the slow burn romance, their relationship is just a wonderful addition to the book, and one that does a great job at bringing some humour to the empire.

“I could have told her the truth,” Mahit said. “Here I am, new to the City, being led astray by my own cultural liaison and a stray courtier.” Twelve Azalea folded his hands together in front of his chest.

“We could have told her the truth,” he said. “Her friend, the dead Ambassador, has mysterious and probably illegal neurological implants.”

“How nice for us, that everyone lies,” Three Seagrass said cheerfully.”

I really enjoyed this one. I’ll admit, at page 50, I almost gave up. I couldn’t get into the writing style, it felt overly complicated, and I considered just putting it down. But some of my favourite bloggers really loved this book, and so I persevered and I am so glad I did. It is definitely not the easiest book to read, it’s ridiculously complex, incredibly politically detailed, but I also thought it an absolutely masterful, completely unique combination of science fiction and art, a love letter to poetry, and a brilliant, creative new world.


3 thoughts on “Book review: A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine

  1. Great review! I also recently read this and gave it 5 stars, I read it in audiobook so I just went with the flow but I think I would have had a hard time starting it otherwise, but once I was in I was hooked!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. […] A Memory Called Empire is one of the most unique books I’ve ever read, and certainly the most unique science-fiction novel I’ve read. It’s a genre-blending novel crossing hard sci-fi, murder mystery, political thriller and a English Literature thesis on poetry. A Memory Called Empire follows Mahit, an ambassador to a small mining station. She is called to the Texicalaan Empire when her predecessor is murdered. As she tries to discover who killed her predecessor, she is embrolied in complex political battlefield. The writing style of this novel could be difficult to get into – as I mentioned above, it’s almost like a thesis on poetry as in Texicalaan, the language is poetry. Alongside the memory melding technology (whereby Mahit’s predecesor’s memories and voice are embedded in her mind), this makes for a complex, unique book, but one that is absolutely outstanding. You cna read my full review here. […]


  3. […] Possibly the most unique book I’ve read recently, this is a science fiction unlike any other: it combines massive space empires with poetry and murder mystery. And obviously a very (and I mean very) slowburn f/f romance. It’s a twisty turny political-technological-sci-fi-ode-to-poetry-murder-mystery-romance! It sounds complicated (and it totally is), but it’s absolutely amazing and full of humour as well, which brings a much needed lightness to this complex book. You can read my full review here. […]


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