BOOK REVIEW: A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine

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A Memory Called Empire is Arkady Martine’s debut novel and the first installment in the Teixcalaan series.

Ambassador Mahit Dzmare arrives in Teixcalaan and finds that the previous ambassador has died under suspicious circumstances. Now it’s up to Mahit to uncover who was behind the murder.

I will preface this review with a note that I can count on one hand the books that I haven’t finished once starting, and I am sad to say that this book has made it onto that short list. I had high hopes from this space opera, a genre which I enjoy but haven’t read too many of, and it really fell flat on all levels for me. That being said, it was an ARC, so perhaps the finished product will have had some lengthy edits.

The plot is politics-heavy and unnecessarily convoluted. At the root, it’s a murder mystery set in space (what’s not to love I hear you cry), which is sadly suffocated by the dull ‘intrigues’ of an empire you feel no empathy for.

There are lengthy explanations of diplomatic manouvers which go on for pages rather than the few paragraphs they should be, and I felt myself skimming over large chunks out of boredom. The politics focussed on are neither exciting nor intriguing, whereas the interesting snippets seem to be passed over without a look-in (mentions of blood rituals are thrown away in a sentence, while the unpicking of a conversation is given three pages). The mystery itself seems secondary, and isn’t helped by the fact that there are no sympathetic characters. Everyone is described as intellectually deep, but in reality I felt they were two-dimensional to read, hollow and nothing they did really made me care.

Further to this, the overarching writing style is pompous and pseudo-intellectual. The Teixcalaan culture is centred around poetry, and I felt at many points in the book that the author is simply showing off how clever they are for creating such a novel society. I’m all for beautiful language, but this book goes on about the mechanics of the language, rather than just using it. It, at points, reads like an essay on literary criticism, which I don’t find particularly entertaining.

Overall this was an incredibly disappointing read, utterly boring and devoid of any real redeeming features. What a shame.

A Memory Called Empire is published by Tor and is available here.

Arkady Martine

Arkady Martine is a speculative fiction writer and, as Dr. AnnaLinden Weller, a historian of the Byzantine Empire and a city planner. Under both names she writes about border politics, rhetoric, propaganda, and the edges of the world. Arkady grew up in New York City and, after some time in Turkey, Canada, and Sweden, lives in Baltimore with her wife, the author Vivian Shaw. Find her online at arkadymartine.net or on Twitter as @ArkadyMartine.

Reviewed by Amber Mears Brown

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