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Review: A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine (Teixcalaan #1)


This is one of the many books that have been on my TBR far longer than they should have. I’m pretty sure I wanted to read it since before release, had it on my kindle since the first time it went on sale…but you know how it is 😂 In the end, I enjoyed myself and I think the author has great promise, but there were some rather rough patches, too.

Mahit Dzmare arrives to the capital of Teixcalaanli empire as a new ambassador from the remote Lsel Station. Immediately after arrival, she learns that her predecessor has been murdered. If that wasn’t enough, her imago, a brain implant that carries his memories (although fifteen years out of date), soon breaks down too, leaving her with little help except from her cultural liaison Three Seagrass in the middle of a political crisis.

Their laughter covered how she wanted to squirm, wanted to be grateful for being not a barbarian enough that citizenship would have been a possibility and hating herself for wanting to be grateful, all at once.

The worldbuilding, especially the cultural worldbuilding I tend to care the most about, is excellent. The flower symbolism, the names, the poetry. And Mahit, with her simultaneous fascination with Teixcalaanli culture, knowledge she’ll never truly be one of them, and desire not to lose her Stationer identity, was in some ways a very relatable character. If you’re a non-American on the internet, you’ll surely understand at least some of it intimately.

However, in many other aspects, the book is very much a debut. When it comes to plot, the middle felt rough – the imago malfunction was a little too convenient and contrived of a plot point and took far too long to be handled for something that was such a fascinating and fun aspect of the book. Especially since I have seen it done and done well without the need to take them away – Aliette de Bodard’s Xuya series has memory implants that function pretty much the same. But once it finally, finally got resolved I started properly enjoying myself.

I also wasn’t too fond of following a protagonist who’s new to the job and hopelessly out of her depth because of it. I expected a little more competence porn and less stumbling half-blindly from situation to situation (contrast and compare: Bren in C.J. Cherryh’s Foreigner, whose main trouble is being the most competent and experienced person to handle big diplomatic messes), and Mahit didn’t really get to catch her feet until about the last third or so.

But with both of my main two annoyances out of the way, I really did enjoy the ending. All the right emotional beats and “oh SHIT” moments (apart from one character death I could see coming from half a book off and not in a good way), high stakes, quick pacing, Mahit finally having a plan. It worked. It worked really well and I’m excited to read the sequel.

Enjoyment: 4/5
Execution: 3.5/5

Recommended to: character-focused readers, fans of books about political intrigue and culture clashes
Not recommended to: anyone looking for competence porn

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