A Memory Called Empire (Teixcalaan, 1)

by Arkady Martine

Hardcover, 2019



Call number



Tor Books (2019), Edition: First Edition, 464 pages


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.… (more)

Media reviews

Behind the cloak-and-dagger maneuvers that drive the foreground action lies a consideration of the ways cultures maintain themselves and how individuals navigate “belonging” to such frameworks. It’s an absorbing and sometimes challenging blend of intrigue and anthropological imagination... It
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is also often quite funny, in a gentle and sneaky way.
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3 more
Arkady Martine has created a stunning accomplishment with her debut novel; A Memory Called Empire is a success by every metric possible.
A scholar of Byzantine history brings all her knowledge of intricate political maneuvering to bear in her debut space opera.
A Memory Called Empire Is a Compelling Political Whodunnit Wrapped in Intriguing Sci-Fi Worldbuilding

User reviews

LibraryThing member fred_mouse
This is a very dense book, and it took me some time to get in to. There is a wealth of world building, politics, characterisation, and plot, and the author throws the reader in at the deep end. While very much SF, far future, in space, it is also just as much a political thriller.

I gather that
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this is Martine's debut novel. This is startling, because this is a very sophisticated bit of writing -- better than I've seen from many writers after multiple published novels. Martine is now on my 'must buy' list, and I'm very much looking forward to anything else they write, either in this universe or elsewhere.
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LibraryThing member joecanas
This won the Hugo???
LibraryThing member Phrim
A Memory Called Empire tells the story of Mahit Dzmare, the ambassador from a small asteroid-mining nation to the expansive space empire known as Teixcalaan. She arrives following the mysterious demise of the previous ambassador, and has to move quickly to avoid becoming a political football in a
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court where she is completely unaware of her predecessor's schemes. Following the intelligent and likable Mahit as she works to unravel the political intrigues of the court and her predecessor's place in them is a joy. However, I would be remiss not to mention the excellent world-building--Teixcalaan has a very inwardly-focused society that's reminiscient of the Roman Empire, but at the same time it's a society that attaches a great deal of prestige to the literary arts and poetry. Put together, this is one of the better books that I've read in a while.
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LibraryThing member g33kgrrl
This is an amazing read. The plot, the world, the characters - everything is there.

What fascinates me is all the reviews and even the author's own writing about the book say it's about the uneasy relationship subjects have with an empire - and I'm sure it is. But I've never lived outside of the
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USA so I've never experienced that dynamic. The tensions, though, remind me of being a woman in the patriarchy. You have to live with and negotiate rules that control you without having a choice in those rules and without agreeing to play by them. It's... interesting. At one point Mahit thinks, "She found herself in a state of simultaneous gratitude and fury. She was getting used to the combination, the doubling, the strangeness of being grateful for something she should never have had to experience in the first place." That piece of writing stopped me dead. It nails a concept I've spent so much effort failing to explain.

This is a great book.
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LibraryThing member calmclam
I wanted to like this more than I did. The writing is superb, the digressions about poetry and language are really fantastic, and the worldbuilding is super interesting. But the plot seems to drag -- I think about halfway through I felt like I could sum up all the events of the last 200 pages
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fairly quickly because nothing much was going on -- and in places was very predictable. If you enjoyed Ancillary Justice and like reading about poetry, I think the writing will carry you through.
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LibraryThing member SpaceandSorcery
I received this novel from the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review: my thanks to both of them for this opportunity.

From the very first time I saw this book mentioned in the blogosphere I knew I would love to read it, since it promised to offer many of the themes I enjoy
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in speculative fiction, especially the in-depth examination of the cultural and political implications of a huge empire, one where the Dune-like vibes appeared to be quite strong - which never fails to attract my attention. What I ultimately found was quite different, but in the end it did not matter much because A Memory Called Empire turned out to be a thought-provoking read.

The Teixcalaanli Empire has not extended its influence only through political or military annexation, but more subtly through the impact of its culture, one which is based on a poetry-inclined mode of expression that has become the model for what is viewed as 'in' - the very model of civilization. Even the systems not directly placed under the Empire's control can fall prey to this fascination for Teixcalaanli civilization, as is the case with Lsel Station, a mining space enclave whose only political tie with the Empire is represented by its ambassador in the City, the central planet at the heart of the dominion. Mahit Dzmare, a young woman who has long been a student and enthusiast of all things Teixcalaanli, is summoned to replace the former ambassador, only to discover upon arrival that her predecessor is dead.

Stationer culture offers a unique perspective on the preservation of past experiences: they have developed a neural implant called imago machine which can store the memories of its holder and share them with a different host - the mechanical equivalent of a Trill symbiont from Star Trek or the ancestral memories received by Reverend Mothers through the ritual of the water of life in the Dune universe. Mahit carries the fifteen-years out of date imago of her predecessor, Yskander, and is still in the process of fully integrating with it given the swiftness of her assignment, but as soon as she visits Yskander's body in the City's morgue, the voice inside her head goes silent, either because of a shock sustained by the hosted personality or of some kind of unexpected malfunction.

By all intents and purposes, Mahit must therefore carry on her mission alone - a stranger in a strange land, no matter how much of the Teixcalaanli culture she has absorbed - and under the double pressure of having to discover what really happened to Yskander, which could very well have been murder, and the political turmoil agitating the Empire, seemingly bent toward a new campaign of expansion, this time headed in the direction of Lsel Station. Not completely alone, though: the cultural attaché she was assigned, Three Seagrass, appears inclined to help her even when that means going against the rules, and the dramatic events they are part of - including a couple of attempts on Mahit's life - keep drawing the two young women closer, in a sort of mirror attraction for each other's culture that slowly turns into a personal one. Still, despite finding a few allies in unexpected places, Mahit's job looks like a mix of improvisation, deception and learning on the fly that never allows her a moment of respite, while the world all around her looks headed down a dangerous, uncertain path, one she must try to deflect at any cost, even personal safety.

A Memory Called Empire proved to be an intriguing read, as I expected, largely on the basis of the themes central to the story: one of them is the absolute belief at the root of Teixcalaanli society that it represents the best humanity can offer, the most civilized, refined example of mankind's achievements; a belief that makes them view everyone else as a barbarian, dismissing them all too easily. There are many instances where Mahit finds herself measured by this very yardstick instead of being accepted for her accomplishments in the culture she admires so much and in its aesthetic values, not to mention her own innate abilities. This leads to another interesting concept, the meaning of self and the way it can be defined - especially when confronted with the use of imago memories and the possibility of change introduced by the coexistence of one's experiences with someone else's. Where the initial buildup appears somewhat slow, once the pieces are all set on the board, the action moves forward at a fast pace, with the last segment focused on a fight against time and apparently insurmountable odds, one who certainly kept me on the edge of my seat as I waited for the whole complicated scenario to unfold completely.

And yet… As captivating as this story was, as delightful some characters were (Three Seagrass being the winner in this contest, thanks to her elegantly witty repartees), I could not shake the feeling that there was something missing - which does not mean that I did not appreciate this book, only I could not be… captured by it, always remaining on the periphery, so to speak, and never truly losing myself in it. Even now, as I'm writing this, I have not managed to put my finger on the real reason for this perception of distance and the best comparison I can find is through music: I enjoy listening to Mozart, I recognize the beauty of the works he shared with the world, but to me it’s a cold beauty, devoid of the heated passion I can find in Chopin or Rachmaninov, just to quote two of my favorite composers.

This does not mean that I view A Memory Called Empire in a negative light - the rating I gave it should dispel any doubt about that: it's only that though I recognize its brilliance, I failed to be engaged by it, probably because my heart wanted to be warmed by the story just as much as my mind had been intrigued by it…
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LibraryThing member Shrike58
It's always hard, or at least I always find it hard, to say something about real excellence, but this is as good a genre science fiction novel that I've read in the past few years and deserves all the nominations it's received. If I was going to mark this novel down for anything it's that one
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initially seems to be dealing with a fairly conventional "fish out of water" scenario, exacerbated by the plot device through which the author leaves Ambassador Mahit Dzmare high and dry and totally dependent on only her wits and those contacts in the imperial city she's made. That these plot choices don't turn out to be trite reflects really well on Martine. Perhaps more professional historians should try their hand at writing fantasy and science fiction, as many of the authors that have impressed me of late (S.A. Chakraborty, P. Jeli Clark, R.F. Kuang) have solid academic history credentials. Also, I don't remember where, but comparisons to Asimov have been made; however, this is Asimov stripped down to the frame and rebuilt with modern components.
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LibraryThing member LisCarey
First I want to note that I received this book in the Hugo Voters packet, as a PDF, in which the text was too small for me to be able to read comfortably. In self-defense, I took a spare Audible credit and got the audiobook. Because I had to listen rather than read, there are and proper nouns I'm
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guessing at the spelling of. Because listening rather than reading was not really my choice, well, let's just say there's a limit to how much work I'm prepared to do to find the author's preferred spellings. Accessibility is a thing, people.

Mahit Dzmare is the Ambassador from Lasalle Station to the Teixcalaan Empire. She's young; it's her first assignment; she's well-prepared academically. However, because the Empire demanded a new ambassador "immediately," she's not as well-prepared as she would otherwise be. There was no time, and there's another problem, related to her predecessor not having been as communnicative as he ought to have been.

She arrives on Teixcalaan, the world-city at the heart of the empire, to find that her predecessor is dead, allegedly of a food allergy. Since he had lived on Teixcalaan for twenty years, this seems unlikely. She's met by Three Seagrass, her cultural liaison from the Information Ministry, who takes her to her official apartment, and, it turns out, will be her guide even in opening doors in her own apartment, decrypting official messages some of which are encrypted in a manner she'll never have the key to, and in doing a number of other things in which, as she's a foreigner, and therefore not recognized by the world-city's AI as a person, she'll apparently always be dependent on her liaison or other Teixcalaani.

It's not long before she has met friends of the previous ambassador (including a high-ranking official named Nineteen Adze), a friend of Three Seagrass (Twelve Azalea), and the cultural liaison of the previous ambassador, back when he was new and young and needed one (Nine Engine? Maybe?), who gets assassinated while they're having lunch together, and Mahit is slightly injured herself.

She's soon deep in Teixcalaani politics, uncovering evidence that the former ambassador may have been intending to trade highly classified Lasalle Station technology to the Emperor, Six Direction.

Mahit loves Lasalle Station. Mahit also loves Teixcalaani culture. And Teixcalaani expansion plans include the sector that Lasalle Station is in--and would utterly obliterate Lasalle culture. Can she thread this needle? Can she save Lasalle Station without betraying it?

This is a fascinating, enjoyable adventure in a complex culture alien to Mahit and unfamiliar to the reader. Thoroughly enjoyable.

As mentioned, I did originally receive this book as part of the Hugo Voters packet. I am reviewing it voluntarily.
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LibraryThing member redheadedfemme
This has so far been a good year for space opera, and this is one of the best. This is a story of colonization and striving to hang on to your civilization and culture in the face of a monolithic empire that "annexes" (forcibly) nearly every star system it comes across. It's rich with nuances of
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language and culture, rife with politics and court intrigue, and has a neat little murder mystery at its heart. The mystery isn't really the story's focus--the overarching themes of identity and independence are--but it certainly serves to ratchet up the tension. This is a very fine book.

Mahit Dzmare is the new Ambassador for Lsel Station, a mining system where people live on stations instead of planets. As the story opens, she is bound for the City, the planet that is the heart of the Teixcalaanli Empire, to take the place of the previous Ambassador, Yskander Aghavn, who she eventually discovers has been murdered. Lsel Station is no financial or military match for Teixcalaan, but they do have a technological advantage in their imagos, implants that record the memories and experiences of several generations of previous holders so that precious knowledge is not lost. But Marit's imago is fifteen years out of date, so she is heading into this new assignment with one hand tied behind her back.

I'm sure some will say that this story is slow, and if a reader is accustomed to periodic explosions, desperate fights, and breakneck pacing, I guess it is. But the vividly realized richness of the world and characters more than makes up for it. There are many layers here, both in worldbuilding and characterization, and the author takes the proper time to explore them. (Just as an example: the character names are so gloriously alien. Six Direction, Nineteen Adze, Three Seagrass--numbers and nouns. And there are quotes at the beginning of each chapter: snippets of poetry and history, paragraphs from manuals and news broadcasts, that convey the sense of an entire complex culture without intrusive or tiresome infodumping. It's masterfully done.) But at the same time, the ticking of the plot gradually becomes louder and louder, until that moment about two-thirds of the way through the book when it explodes--and because it has all been so well set up, the reader's heart is thumping as they race to the end.

After the revolution and the installation of a new Emperor--an event in which Mahit is intimately involved--she returns to Lsel Station, irrevocably changed by what she has experienced. The next book, hopefully, will deal with that. There is also an overarching alien threat in the background, scarcely touched on in this book, which I presume will loom larger and larger as the series progresses. Don't miss it.
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LibraryThing member MiserableFlower
If I hadn’t gone with an audio book version I wouldn’t have finished this one. There are parts of it that I like…. But it gets buried by everything else. There’s SO much to this world, it’s detail and intricate…. But we’re told about it. We aren’t shown it, we don’t get to explore
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the world with the characters. We get it all in slow excerpts and snippets. We have to be told everything by the characters dialogues or generalized explanations. Names and titles are thrown around and it’s so easy to get lost on who is who and what title means what, because almost none of it it’s given real attention or focus. I stuck with it because the little bit that hooked my curiosity but honestly…. Most of it is due to enjoying the narrator’s voice.
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LibraryThing member Jayeless
This was a phenomenal book, something of a political thriller combined with ruminations on the construction of historical memory and the seductiveness of empire, particularly how they use cultural output (books, film, etc.) to make themselves sympathetic and attractive even to the very people they
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threaten to devour. The main character, Mahit Dzmare, represents a small space station of 30,000 people which is at serious risk of being conquered and subsumed by the Teixcalaanli empire… but Mahit herself has been raised on Teixcalaanli media, is entranced by their culture and almost intoxicated by the excitement of being able to go and live in the heart of the empire for real. I found it an interesting internal conflict and that is, of course, only the very beginning of the story.

The other part of the story is the political thriller part; Mahit Dzmare is sent as a replacement ambassador after the previous one died in suspicious circumstances, and immediately has to try to work out what exactly her predecessor was up to and who of the many political players in this book she can trust. This aspect of the book was pretty dense, and I'll admit that I kept notes as to who of the many named characters was who, but it was also effectively maintained suspense and I was completely engaged by the story throughout. The setting is also intricately depicted and fascinating, with an evident Aztec influence. It was another one of those worlds I'd love to see depicted in a movie or TV show, because I think it would be visually spectacular.

There are a number of other things I could praise about this book too; I loved how language actually plays an important role, in that while Mahit is clearly fluent enough in Teixcalaanli to be the ambassador, it still takes effort to speak all the time in a language that isn't her native one and other characters sometimes underestimate her intelligence because she sounds like a foreigner speaking Teixcalaanli, which she is. I thought the imago-machines, and the different perspectives Stationers and Teixcalaanlitzim have on them, were intriguing. I liked the glimpse we got of how working-class and politically subversive Teixcalaanlitzim live (you know, away from the glitz and glamour of the central districts). I appreciated the major characters, and thought they were crafted well. Really, I have nothing to complain about in this book at all.

Overall, if you like thoughtful political thrillers and unique sci-fi settings, I would absolutely recommend this book. I thought it was excellent and will be anxiously hoping that the follow-up next March will be just as good.
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LibraryThing member rakerman
A masterpiece. An exhilarating epic poem that drops a pebble called Mahit Dzmare into a pool called the Jewel of the World and uses the ripples to reveal an entire civilization.
LibraryThing member reading_fox
A difficult book to review. At times utterly compelling full of abstract beauty, cultural imperialism, delicate romance and complex politics with fascinating characters, and yet at other times although not appreciably different in style, I was happy to just put the book down and do something else -
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usually a hallmark of something I'm not interested in reading.

The setting is perhaps a little contrived obviously based on a chinese imperialistic dynasty, although the setting is far future, with humanity splintered in a long galaxy conquest, different star systems settled at different times by different exploration waves have fragmented away from what we'd know as baseline human - such a concept no longer remains, each merely comparing the other against themselves. There are aliens out there too, but barely noted, although the hook for the next book seems likely to involved them. So the multi-system empire of Teixcalaan has existed for some generations, the latest reign of His Brilliance, Six Directions has lasted for eighty years of peace, Bureaucracy and culture has flourished, but he has no safe Heir and the three main candidates are not so gauche as to squabble for the privilege, but the politics is getting heated. Into this comes on Marit new Ambassador from a small Station based community, neighbouring but so far resisting amalgamation into the greater Empire next door. She has been summoned to the capital, the City, The Jewel as the Heart, very abruptly after a long silence of 15 years from their last ambassador. One of her overriding first duties is to establish what has happened to him, and why he hasn't been home to upload his memories into the Station archive for her use, a technology that the Empire shouldn't be aware of, and likely to disavow should they hear of it. On arrival she is quickly invited to view his body, clearing up the first mystery, but not answering the how or why.

As per chinese culture many of the statements in the empire were written in poetical forms, fortunately we're spared these other than as chapter headers, so this wasn't the cause of my disquiet, and the only obvious error: the frequent conflation of AI or algorithms -while important and annoyingly wrong term used to describe a key technology underpinning the City's working, was minor at worst. The author does quite a god job having the complex background politics exist around Marit, her being unable to perceive them, but still becoming clear to the reader as necessary. It's a long long build-up despite only taking place across a few days, as Marit gets to real grips with the culture that she's only studied for years, and then while she's still struggling with her memories of the previous ambassador there's a final crescendo.

I did enjoy much of this, the world-building of the City is great and characters clever and empathetic, but somehow the whole thing didn't quite gel in places, maybe it's just part of being the author's first novel. I'm interested enough to try the sequel and see where that goes.
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LibraryThing member KingRat
A solid premise and extremely well done world-building, but the story drags in audio format due to the main character (Mahit Dzmare) worrying, second-guessing, and over-thinking every little thing.

For example:
The cultural liaison handed her an ice cream. Minutes and minutes of consideration of
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whether the cultural liaison was about to poison her, how her eating an ice cream reflected on her being a "barbarian" in the "civilized" society of Teixcalaan, etc.

Get. On. With. It.

Additionally, the main character is the ambassador to a large space empire from a small independent station. But is sent to be an ambassador without any support personnel and criminal under-preparedness. The only qualifications are that she really likes what she thinks the culture of Teixcalaan is, and she has a 15 year old copy of the previous ambassador's memories. But when she arrives, she doesn't even know that her mail is encrypted. You'd think the previous ambassador's memories would tell her at least that, or that would be part of some sort of briefing.

Both of these things set up Mahit to fumble her way through the plot incompetently, even though she's a learned person.
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LibraryThing member adzebill
A space opera where the main characters are women and the culture's non-European. Works well, goes at a cracking pace, and a pleasure to read.
LibraryThing member antao
Wow. Talk about being conned! I thought I’d be blown away by this book so far, because I've always loved SF, and I thought this would be right up my alley: a diplomat is sent to the heart of a deeply bureaucratic and conniving empire where language and status is based around poetic cyphers and
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unspoken politicking. Good premise, right? I was expecting a very tense novel, a sort of fish out water situation where an ambassador is trying to figure out what happened to her predecessor and keep her home station safe while introducing herself to court. There's also a technological wrinkle that should give the protagonist an inside edge, the personality/memories of her predecessor are implanted in her head (albeit 15 years out of date memories as he hasn't been home in a while), so they should function seamlessly almost as one person benefitting from the latter experience of life at court, but of course that goes wrong at the get go. Aside from all the court intrigue, make-believe-tension and double-talk, the relationship between the main character and her empire assigned aid from information ministry, 3 Sea Grass is laughable to say the least. Very stupid and false even in such strange circumstances.

It received terrific reviews and is inventive in its premise. But it is written in a terribly pretentious and grating expository style in which every thought and action is explored from what feels like an infinite number of angles. Imagine Asimov trying to write like late Henry James on a bad day.
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LibraryThing member Stevil2001
I enjoyed this from the start. Me being me, I was immediately classifying it in terms of genre: it reminds me of both the Imperial Radch and Baru Cormorant books in its attention to the functioning of empire. These books aren't about empires as military juggernauts (though that's in there), but as
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political and cultural forces. A friend read Ancillary Justice and The Traitor Baru Cormorant and pointed out they were both about "evil meritocracies"; A Memory Called Empire is about one as well! The focus on empire isn't the only similarity (both even feature empires with elaborate tea ceremonies, and a language where the name of the empire is synonymous with civilization), as there's an interesting correlation between the leaders of both empire, even. The acknowledgements say that this book was begun in 2014; Ancillary Justice came out in 2013. I say all this not to criticize A Memory Called Empire, but to triangulate it. I think these books are all doing something that really appeals to me, and clearly also appeals to readers, taking many of the tropes of sf, but invigorating them with new life by thinking through their complexities. (I need a name for this subgenre, which I would also add The Goblin Emperor and the Hexarchate books to. It obviously connects to space opera, but is not limited to it. "Imperial sf" seems to be taken. "Post-imperial sf"?) A Memory Called Empire is also interested in the production and consumption of narratives, something I've seen in other recent sf (it comes up a lot in the Murderbot stories, for example, and I seem to recall there's something of it in the Wayfarers novels, too), which feels natural in a genre landscape where many writers would have been involved heavily in media fandom. And, like in The City of the Middle of the Night, there's a big focus on the languages of the different cultures, and how they shape thought: one has a lot of case markers.

Mahit Dzmare is the ambassador from the tiny polity of Lsel Station to the homeworld of the powerful Teixcalaanli Empire. But even though Teixcalaan's might threatens her station's sovereignty, she's grown up reading poetry and novels and watching tv shows from Teixcalaan. She loves and is fascinated it, even as she understands its dangers-- but reading about it is no substitute for being there. This was one of my favorite parts of Memory: empire is cruel, but also seductive, and it provides great stories. In the nineteenth century you would have grown up reading about the virtues of Rome even if Rome's virtues actually weren't your nation's virtues. I really liked the book's attention to the nuances of empire; as I said above, it really feels as though it builds on Ancillary Justice in terms of that.

I enjoyed it from the start, but it got better as it went. It's a good political thriller (and it makes sense); it has some neat sf ideas; it has strong worldbuilding (the Teixcalaanli naming system is fun, even if I kept getting distracted by the name "Six Direction" at first). It gets you invested in its characters and their struggles. Mahit is a great, believable protagonist, but I had a soft spot for Twelve Azalea, a friend of Mahit's cultural liaison, a goofy guy who comes through in a pinch. Some aspects of the climax really got me emotionally, and by the end, I loved it, and I can't wait for book two (which isn't out until March 2021 in hardcover, so God knows when it will hit paperback).
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LibraryThing member iansales
I will not be surprised if this appears on a few shortlists later this year. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good book, merely that’s it’s being pushed a lot… and being talked about a lot. However. Plot first. The Teixcalaani Empire asks Lsel Station, a small space-based polity on
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the edges of the empire, for a new ambassador. It seems the old one has died – murdered, the new ambassador, Mahit Dzmare, discovers shortly after arrival on the Teixcalaani capital world (which is one giant city). It turns out there’s a bit politicking going on, both on the capital world and on Lsel Station, none of which Dzmare is aware of, even though she should be carrying an “imago” of her predecessor, ie his memories and a copy of his personality, in her own head. First, a popular general is trying to seize the throne. Second, Lsel Station is trying to prevent impending annexation. Third, the Teixcalaani emperor is trying to safeguard his succession, using Lsel imago technology. And, on top of all that, it turns out there are powerful aliens lurking out past Lsel Station and Lsel wants the empire to keep it safe from them. With all that going on, it comes as something of a surprise to find that A Memory Called Empire spends more time on interiority than it does on plot or action. Or on worldbuilding – and there is a lot of worldbuilding. And it is, in the main, done quite well – except all the Teixcalaani words in the prose are italicised. Who still does that? Italicising non-English words in an English text is so twentieth-century. The end result reads a lot like Ann Leckie’s Imperial Radch trilogy, albeit without the advantage of being first or using Leckie’s default gender trick – but fans of that trilogy will no doubt love this novel. The publisher seems to think fans of Le Carré and Banks will love it too, but comparisons to their oeuvres is one hell of a stretch (Dzmare could be a character name from a Culture novel, but that’s about it). In A Memory Called Empire‘s favour, it has a remarkably low bodycount for a space opera, in the high three figures. Space opera as a subgenre relies heavily on well-used tropes and worldbuilding-blocks (to coin a phrase), but there is also one type of space opera that makes a feature of its worldbuilding. A Memory Called Empire falls into the latter category. That makes it interesting, and a better read, than the majority of space operas, but it’s also plain most of the book’s energy has been invested in the worldbuilding… and the romance which forms the emotional core of the novel. As a result the science-fictional elements feel paper-thin – the infrastructure of the capital city, for example, is supposedly controlled by an AI, but the book presents this as little more a big computer, and the controlling “algorithm” for the AI even forms a minor unconvincing subplot. The central murder-mystery isn’t actually much of a mystery – the murderer confesses freely to Dzmare, knowing he won’t be prosecuted – and the offstage threat is so far offstage it only seems to impinge on the plot when the writer remembers it. This is a novel that is essentially all about the worldbuilding. The writer clearly revelled in it, and hopes the reader will too. And, in general, they’ve done an excellent job. A Memory Called Empire is not a great novel, or arguably a good novel, but it is the first novel – long overdue – in a form of space opera which needs to be more prevalent. It is an example of a model of space opera which could have appeared in the late 1990s or early 2000s, and would have made space opera a better subgenre, but which was pretty much squashed at the time. Instead of The Risen Empire or Spirit: the Princess of Bois Dormant, we’ve ended up with the Expanse and assorted clones. Sigh. A Memory Called Empire won’t make any of my award shortlists, but I’d sooner it was a typical example of 21st century space opera rather than something worth remarking on…
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LibraryThing member dreamweaversunited
I really enjoyed this book and found the ending very satisfying, which is all too rare even with books I love. It has worldbuilding, mystery, and a strong emotional through-line.
LibraryThing member SChant
It has a lot of world-building but that intertwines beautifully with the slow unfolding of the plot. I'm find it fascinating and very immersive, and enjoying the wry wit of the central character - she doesn't take herself too seriously - which gives the whole book a light touch even though it deals
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with political maneouvring and intrigue.
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LibraryThing member Dokfintong
It's hard to imagine that a better SF book will be written this year. Arkady Martine has done a fantastic job at world and character building while deftly celebrating "Left Hand of Darkness".

I have some quibbles about Ms Martine's refusal to use the subjunctive (she's a linguist, she knows what
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that is), and I think she is on shaky ground exploring the sexual attraction between the Ambassador Mahit Dzmare and her aide. In a bit of diplomatic geekiness I would remind everyone that an embassy is supposed to be the safest place for an ambassador because it is legally the sovereign territory of the ambassador's country that is to be protected by the hosting state. I found the pace of events to hasty, there was no need for all the drama in the first days of Mahit's arrival. And why couldn't somewhere retrieve Mahit's official mail when she was sequestered for her own safety?

But these are quibbles. It's a great book.
"A Memory Called Empire: Teixcalaan Book 1" by Arkady Martine is published by Tor.
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LibraryThing member grandpahobo
The first 2/3 of this are intriguing, but there are a lot of really slow parts where the plot get bogged down in minutia. The quality of the writing and the strength of the characters are enough to carry you through the sections that feel like you are walking through molasses. And then, the last
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1/3 makes it all worthwhile.
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LibraryThing member Glennis.LeBlanc
With an out of date version of the previous ambassador in her head Mahit goes to the center of the Teixcalaanli Empire as requested by them to find her predecessor dead and the capital up to its eyeballs in political intrigue. Mahit must trust her liaison from the empire in order to do anything
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from reading her mail to what happened to Ambassador Aghavn. The station she represents is small but they have one piece of tech the empire doesn’t have, the ability to record another person’s memories to pass along knowledge and skills. The station is holding one other secret as an ace in the hole with the empire to buy peace before the expansion hungry Teixcalaan take them over.

I really enjoyed the world building in this and how the politics of the end of an emperor’s rule played out. A great dive into this new setting and I can’t wait to see more of it.

Digital review copy provided by the publisher through NetGalley
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LibraryThing member quondame
In this satisfying space empire intrigue, an ambassador, Mahit from a town sized space station to the vast empire Empire of Teixcalaan becomes involved in empire wide politics. The scale didn't quite work for me - I don't believe in space empires, or even planetary ones, but on an emotional and
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story level it worked well enough, reminding me of C.J. Cherry's Foreigner. The internal concerns with personal and cultural identity and integrity harmonized well with the setting and plot, and the characters felt inhabited.
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LibraryThing member texascheeseman
A Memory Called Empire
Author: Arkady Martine
Publisher: Tor Books
Publishing Date: 2019
Pgs: 462
Dewey: F MAR
Disposition: Irving Public Library - South Campus - Irving, TX

The mighty Teixcalaanli Empire is a hungry
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neighbor for the small system of space stations that make up Lsel space. And something has gone wrong with Lsel’s longtime ambassador. The Empire has requested a new ambassador immediately. Murder, mayhem, riots, coups within coups, and an Emperor who wants eternal life at the cost of his clone’s soul and mind. But Lsel has a trump card. Problem being the new ambassador doesn’t know what it is or how to get it amidst the foibles of Teixcalaanli culture and the encroaching of palace intrigue turned up to 11. Agendas swirl, new allies, former allies of the previous ambassador, former lovers of the previous ambassador, death, life, the stars...empire.
Science Fiction
Space Opera
Palace Intrigue

Why this book:
I’m on a bit of a palace intrigue kick at the moment.
Hmm Moments:
Was beginning to wonder if the Yskander imago was going to try and pull a body coup and take control of their shared consciousness.

Palace intrigue with no romance except for what I’m reading into it. Nice. I don’t have a problem with romance being part of the story. I just don’t like it when stories are stopped down for the romantic subplot. I’m looking at your CW’s Supergirl. Nice the way that Martine slips the growth between Three Seagrass and Ambassador Mahit into the story. Smooth.

So...multiple usurpers readying their forces. Or is it all smoke and wag the dog. Is only one of them making a move and the rest being set up? Hmmm.

A grow or die empire that has found peace. A peace marred by the recently quelled Odile insurrection. Or is it as quelled as the public is lead to believe.

The plot, not the story’s plot, but the plot is an onion that Mahit is trying to decipher without nearly any pieces. Author did a great job of not telegraphing. I dig it.

The Unexpected:
One Lightning trying to be a warrior emperor with no victories to his name.

Well of course the other Ygravan has to come into play. God’s eye view.

Missed Opportunity:
Lots of dangerous friends at the party. Veiled threats all around. Is the 10-year old, 90% clone of the current Emperor, co-heir to the throne, the most dangerous of all?

Despite my feelings about romance in stories, Three Seagrass and Mahit orbitted each other and failed to truly come together. Though I guess it could have been an offscreen kind of thing. But there wasn’t a payoff to the tension.

They’re all in on it. Just a bit of jumping to conclusions there.

Movies and Television:
It’s too internalized, too much thought and conversation with their own id, to make this into a decent movie...without totally leaving the story in the dust.
Very well paced.

Last Page Sound:
I love this book, but I hate the ending.

Questions I’m Left With:
Why the sabotage?

What’s up with the wheeled ships? Where do they come from? Are they the Ebrekti?

Mahit stated that poetry is more for the old because they feel the works differently than the young. I say that the passion of youth and their naivety makes the words leap off the page differently than they do for the older reader.

Author Assessment:
In the beginning, there is a whole lot more tell than show in this story. The heavy exposition of the story, once you are used to it, works in this context.
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Hugo Award (Nominee — Novel — 2020)
Nebula Award (Nominee — Novel — 2019)
Locus Award (Finalist — First Novel — 2020)
RUSA CODES Reading List (Winner — Science Fiction — 2020)
Arthur C. Clarke Award (Shortlist — 2020)


Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

8.6 inches


1250186439 / 9781250186430
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