cover image A Memory Called Empire

A Memory Called Empire

Arkady Martine. Tor, $24.99 (464p) ISBN 978-1-250-18643-0

Debut novelist Martine sets a careful course in this gorgeously crafted diplomatic space opera that strands its protagonist amid imperial politics and murder. Mahit Dzmare, summoned from tiny Lsel Station to replace the previous ambassador to the Teixcalaanli Empire, Yskandr, must negotiate both for Yskandr’s corpse and for the safety of her home world, an object of Imperial annexation. Her fluency in Teixcalaanli language and culture (“for a barbarian”) helps her decode the messages hidden in their poetry, even as it inclines her to the same starry-eyed admiration and involvement with the Imperial court that overcame her predecessor. Her secret implant of Yskandr’s memories should be aiding her, but it is 15 years out of date and, apparently, sabotaged. Mahit instead relies on her need to establish an identity of her own while juggling an aging Emperor’s desire for technological immortality and a threatened military uprising to his rule. The Teixcalaanli culture comes so fully to life that the glossary in the back of the book is unnecessary. Martine allows the backstory to unroll slowly, much as Mahit struggles with her intermittent memories, walking delicately upon the tightrope of intrigue and partisan battles in the streets to safely bring the tale to a poignantly true conclusion. Readers will eagerly await the planned sequels to this impressive debut. Agent: DongWon Song, Howard Morhaim Literary. (Mar.)