A Memory Called Empire (Teixcalaan series book 1) by Arkady Martine.

‘A Memory Called Empire’ is book one in the Teixcalaan series by Arkady Martine. Having said that, I felt that it could be read as a standalone. It is also Martine’s debut novel, something I found hard to believe as I was reading it as it was so well-written and accomplished.

In ‘A Memory Called Empire’, we are following Ambassador Mahit Dzmare as she arrives on the planet Teixcalaan. Her predecessor has unfortunately passed away and she is coming to realise that this might not have been an entirely natural passing. Mahit has arrived at a time of massive unrest on Teixcalaan so it’s not clear for a lot of the book whether she is actually going to survive all the political machinations going on around her. Mahit’s dream job and dream place to live very quickly become a nightmare of immense proportions.

I have to admit that I don’t read a lot of Science Fiction books, but I do enjoy a good character-driven SF and this is what I got in this huge chunk of a book. There are so many fabulous characters, including Mahit herself and the new friends, as she makes along the journey. Everyone has really odd names by our standards and by Mahit’s, so brace for some of those weird names.

Three Seagrass is the first person to become part of Mahit’s gang and she is highly entertaining with her snide comments and Teixcalaan inability to show any kind of emotion. She brings along her buddy Twelve Azelea, who is so completely in love with the idea of getting entwined in all the political manoeuvring he can’t help himself. We only really get to see these characters through the eyes of Mahit, as this is mostly a single viewpoint book, I’d love to see through some of the other characters’ eyes in book two. Martine can write characters fantastically well and I love her for it!

There is some SF in there, too, with spaceships, mostly at the beginning of the book, and technology. The tech is a little weird but I’ll do my best to describe it. Basically each person from Mahit’s home space station are fitted with something called an Imago. This device seems to record everything that person experiences and learns so this can then be passed down to the next person to take over that job. For example, Mahit is given the Imago of the previous ambassador to Teixcalaan but, unfortunately, he last visited her home 15 years ago which means that the Imago she has is 15 years out of date.

I was a little confused with this tech and wondered whether the Imago is put in place at birth for some people or if you’re born into a job or position? Are you only able to host one Imago at a time in terms of having your own previous one and a new one if you’re given a new job? Anyway, needless to say, I have lots of questions and I hope they’re answered in book two. These questions in no way mean that the book is not good, I’m just nosy.

Martine does seem to have the largest and most impressive vocabulary of any other writer I’ve ever read. I had to keep looking up words as I was reading as it was a real learning experience! I loved the rather formal writing style as it perfectly reflected the feeling that the Teixcalaan people gave. I felt like there were rules and regulations about everything in their lives. Oh and their language sounds like a complete pain to learn, so many different ways to interpret the same word just given context, but it sounds amazing!

Overall, this is a fantastic book and you should definitely pick it up if you have the chance. I will be awaiting book two with baited breath to see where Martine takes the story.

Sarah Bruch

April 2019

follow me @shelbycat

(pub: TOR, 2019. 462 page hardback. Price: £16.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-52900-157-0)

check out website: www.toruk.com

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