I’ve been following updates about this novel for the last few months. Not just because of the promising synopsis but also because of the great cover it has. ‘A Memory Called Empire’ is the first novel from the North American writer Arkady Martine. An ambitious book full of details and also a bit challenging at the beginning. However, once you get familiar with it, I don’t think it is difficult to follow and enjoy.
The book starts when the Lsel ambassador in Teixcalaan is found dead. Mahit Dzmare is the new ambassador assigned to the position. When she reaches her new status she will found out that the death of Yskandr covers a complex plot of betrayals, revenges and secrets. These are the key elements in the novel and finding out who and why has committed the murder is the main topic along the novel.
Opposite to what I thought before starting reading, this is not a galactic adventures novel, nor an interplanetary travelling or space battles novel. However, these are mentioned in some kind of brief introductions to each of the chapters which allows the reader to have some context of what is going on but they are not the main topic. Arkady Martine has written a political novel based on secrets owned by the powerful people of Teixcalaan and Lsel. Because of that, most of the novel takes place in closed and luxury places, where the decisions that affects the people are taken. Dialogues and silences of the powerful guide the resolution of the mystery in the novel.
‘A Memory Called Empire’ has a never-ending list of features which can be discussed for long and all are included very smoothly in the novel. Mahit, the main character, carries a secret implant inside her body with the memories of her predecessor. However, the last fifteen years are not included as the memory is not working properly and it will make the management of the knowledge within much more difficult. Very soon in the novel the questions will start arising. Was this memories intentionally hidden? How can this memories be recovered? And finally, what is the power that these implants can give you and what are the complications?
The novel is also full of Teixcalaan terminology which, although unknown, allows the reader to understand the rules and structure of this world and culture. One of the best thing of this read is figuring out how to properly communicate with the Teixcalaans and how they react to some events. As a complement the novel has a very useful appendix at the end of the book. I highly suggest keeping an eye on it while reading the book. And don’t be scared if you are unable to pronounce some of them!
In addition to this, the novel has multiple socio-political views. Since how the Teixcalaan government is structured and how they manage their society to how a small planet like Lsel fights to avoid being colonised by the powerful Teixcalaans. Keeping your own culture, language, identity and being independent sometimes requires to reject some other advantages. Religion, ethics and honour are not missed within the topics in the novel.
The novel has some problems. The pace during the second third of the novel drops after an exciting start, lowering the expectations created in the beginning. Fortunately, the last quarter of the novel reveals most of the secrets making the read much more effective and increasing the interest. Although it is at a cost of some decision that does not fit as well as it should.
It is worth mentioning that ‘A Memory Called Empire’ is just told from the point of view of Mahit, something I am not convinced about the result. I really think that another point of view would have been an interesting addition to the way the novel is being told and some of the events that take place.
In the end, I would recommend reading ‘A Memory Called Empire’. The novel catches you with a powerful beginning, an ambitious world rich on details, even with a few elements I disliked. A world pending being expanded in future releases. Personally, I will come back to Teixcalaan with the next book.