A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine
Series: Teixcalaan #1
Published by Tor Books on March 26, 2019
Source: Gift
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 462
Format: Hardcover
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four-half-stars

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 thoroughly enjoyed A Memory Called Empire. It was engrossing and smart. It’s science fiction centered around political intrigue and a murder mystery.

One of the themes of the book is colonialism. Teixcalaan is a galaxies-spanning empire with a capital that is a planet-spanning City. In their language, the word for the world and the planet and the city is the same. Peoples who are not part of the empire are “barbarians” and while in the City are not granted the freedoms and technology of the Teixcalaani. It is an old culture rooted traditions and deeply connected to its poetry. I found the importance of poetry to the culture fascinating and is part of what I loved. Poetry as history, political rhetoric, battle cry, prayer for peace, everything poetry can be but that we don’t give the power it deserves. Teixcalaan’s size and influence dwarfs the small, but still independent Lsel station.

Mahit Dzmare is the new ambassador from Lsel to Teixcalaan, hastily chosen to replace her predecessor, Yskandr Aghavn. For Mahit, it’s a dream posting – there’s nowhere she’d rather be than the heart of the Empire that she’s admired and studied her whole life, a culture that seems so much more sophisticated and special than her own. She is torn between the long-standing admiration for the colonizing culture and loyalty to her own, less glamorous but very much hers.

This story also explores the themes of identity and memory. You see, the one thing that Lsel has that Teixcalaan supposedly does not know about is the imago machines. Imago is an imprint of a person with all their memories and knowledge and personality, implanted into the one designated as their successor to prevent loss of knowledge accumulated over the generations. The personalities eventually integrate, or at least they are supposed to. And of course the question arises – is it still you? And what does the concept of “you” encompass?

Mahit, of course, received an (unfortunately fifteen years out-of-date) imago of her predecessor Yskandr — but something is wrong, and Yskandr’s imago is malfunctioning, leaving Mahit without valuable memories and guidance, while she is targeted by the forces who are likely responsible for Yskandr’s death. And how deep exactly did Yskandr’s ties to the ruling elite of Teixcalaan go? And how far was he – and now Mahit – willing to go to preserve Lsel from apparently inevitable annexation?

I loved how intricate and complex the world was. The characters were fully developed, with loyalties, loves, dreams and secrets. There are tense moments and bits of laughter, along with a few tears. This is the first in a planned series, but it wraps its own storyline up nicely.

About Arkady Martine

Arkady Martine is a speculative fiction writer and, as Dr. AnnaLinden Weller, a historian of the Byzantine Empire and a city planner. She is currently a policy advisor for the New Mexico Energy, Minerals, and Natural Resources Department, where she works on climate change mitigation, energy grid modernization, and resiliency planning. Under both her 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, Sweden, and Baltimore, lives in Santa Fe with her wife, the author Vivian Shaw.

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