✨✨ 9.25 out of 10 ✨✨
Keywords: scifi, space opera, political, war, first contact, hive mind
Following its predecessor, A Desolation Called Peace continue to deliver engaging story with its heavily political space opera. We follow the story from several points of view, from Mahit Dzmare to the warship general and even to eleven years old heir to the empire. The story rightly jump in to the aftermath of the previous events, where the empire of Teixcalaan faced with a war they started with mysterious enemies. And Mahit within her Lsel Station in no better condition, faced with political intrigue within Lsel's government.
As we got to see many perspectives, we began to understand what moves them and making the story more comprehensive. I like how nuanced the story is, from its theme of home, colonialism, identity and what it means of being a person, to nasty atrocities in the name of peace. The story is nuanced but also have several unpredictable turns and twists that makes it enjoyable to read. It's a comfort read for me and deffinitely one of my faves this year.
Thanks to Netgalley, I received a digital advance reading copy of this book in exchange of honest review.
A sequel to <a href="https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2776183921">A Memory Called Empire</a>. The Teixcalaanli Empire and its tiny but for the moment still independent ally, Lsel Station, must face an alien threat far more unfamiliar and disorientating that any human culture. We've still got themes of translation and communication, imperialism and dependance, nasty court politics and rare attempts at genuine goodwill.
Really fantastic, and I can't wait to see what Martine writes next.
(Also, god, I'm so in love with the title. What an evocative phrase. Sure, credit might actually belong to Tacitus, but my heart still swoons every time I read this name.)
Can I just say this.....hands down, this will be my favorite book of the year! This is how you do a sequel book. It picks up right where book one ended-political upheaval. These two stories have been complex, like most sci-fi, but the author does a fantastic job of building the world of Teixcalaan and Lsel. This book focuses more on the alien invasion and tech ( even though the first book did an excellent job).
This was an exceptionally fun read-entertaining-and I hope there will be a third book-and soon.
Highly recommend this to anyone looking for a fast-paced, fascinating Science Fiction and space opera read.
I received a copy of this book through NetGalley for an honest review. I thank Macmillan-Tor/Forge, Tor Books, for the opportunity to read this fantastic and action-packed story.
A Desolation Called Peace is a worthy successor to A Memory Called Empire. It is simultaneously in argument with science fiction’s history of empires as protagonists, in conversation with familiar ideas such as hive minds and first contact, in engagement with the timeless themes of language and borders, while all the time managing to tell an entirely original story. There are also little delights scattered across its pages: one can spot a tip of the hat to Hamlet here, a mischievous riff off Star Wars there, a quick homage to This Is How You Lose the Time War elsewhere, and a memory of Ursula K. Le Guin somewhere else. And it is at its heart a human story that encourages us to think, as Mahit once encouraged Emperor Six Direction to think, about what it means to be human. Long after putting it down, readers are likely to find themselves in extended conversation—and occasionally, argument—with its principal characters.
Not sure if I like this book QUITE as much as A Memory Called Empire, but it's only slightly behind. I still adored it.
Both books beautifully tackle the idea of empire, and what that means for both the colonizer and the colonized. I loved the relationship between Mahit and Three Seagrass (Reed), as the former starts to open the eyes of the latter.
This book had a little bit of a different feel, and many more perspectives. We follow the POVs of Nine Hibiscus, Mahit, Three Seagrass, Eight Antidote, and more.
Here's the problem. When I dislike a book, I can manage to go on forever about what was wrong. When I love a book my brain shuts down and all I can say is this book is amazing and I love it. So. This book is amazing and I love it.
A fantastic continuation to A Memory called Empire. It was nice to have such a variety of characters to explore Teixcalaan culture.
Memory Called Empire was a tough act to follow, but in my opinion Arkady Martine stuck the landing beautifully! This is a brilliant duology that I would recommend to anyone who liked the Ancillary Justice series. Lots of thinky thoughts about imperialism and language, a complex plot whose threads all come together very satisfyingly, and several characters I loved reading about.
Space Opera we tend to think about the scale and how what we read probably sounds to a soundtrack to impress upon us vast empires, vistas and huge SFX. But the concept of an opera is often less explored; the use of characters, settings and the musical dialogues and motifs to create the whole. Arkady Martine in their excellent A Desolation Called Peace creates a book that uses everything within it to explore the concept of communication between people, factions, empires and aliens to create one of the most impressive reads of my year so far.
In the previous novel the Teixcalaanli Empire narrowly avoided civil war and being led by an immortal empire. A new Emperor is on the throne and thanks to the work of the outsider Ambassador Mahit Dzamere (who so wished to be part of the Empire) and her liaison Three Seagrass there is now also a war brewing outside with aliens who have begun infringing upon the space near to Mahit’s home of Lsel Station. This new threat is able to appear in space without warning; have exceptionally good tactics and when they meet people on planets there is massive bloodshed. This may be a threat the Empire cannot contain. Three Seagrass is sent to explore if there is any way of breaking through to their enemy and she whisks away Mahit to assist (not quite willingly). In their way is an alien who appears not to have a language; a space fleet command filled with suspicion; political infighting on both their homes and a young Emperor in waiting starting to navigate the dangers of ruling themselves under the watchful eye of the current incumbent.
A warning from the start. There will be space battles but they’re often very brief and not the centrepieces other books make them to be. This tale is in many ways a slow burn for at least two thirds of the tale gently weaving in various threads to tell an epic tale of when two vast empires came into conflict and an attempt to reach an understanding will either result in a form of peace or a vast amount of bloodshed on a scale that is hard to imagine. I loved it deeply but those who like fast flowing action and find books that dwell instead on character and also intricate plotting (probably dismissing it as ‘literary’) will be best to find something more pyrotechnic. Those of you who like me do love these things will find much more to enjoy!
What really works for me is the various conflicts that run through the story. Various plots focus on different key pairings of either individuals or factions and their initial lack of understanding of what the other wants. At the macro level it’s the two empires of the powerful, ancient, and sometimes historically war-focused Teixcalaanli Empire - a place where language itself has evolved to be a weapon/tool to help people understand things and also help an empire conquer hearts and minds that is faced with an alien who appears not to have any of those things – just apparent all stopping war. Martine does give us glimpses of the alien mind and approach and it is gloriously other – something initially hard to understand not just their worldview but knowing what they can be capable of. Even though Teixcalaanli isn’t human either it is something using concepts a lot more familiar to us so the humans as always tend to be where we empathise. As the two sides seem remote the threat of war feels very very real, and the story is full of times when language is not enough to prevent a war.
Powering all of this plot though are myriad smaller battles within the Teixcalaani space. Th most familiar to readers of the first book is Mahit and Three Seagrass who in the first book were a powerful force when working together to create a massive change, grew very close to one another but Mahit ultimately found the Empire she worshipped from afar was both more political and dangerous than she ever expected plus she found as being an outsider she realised she would never truly be accepted as one of them – even by the woman she has grown to love who is Three Seagrass and in many ways represents all of the above. Three Seagrass ambitious, sarcastic, and always looking at the angles finds though that Mehit is showing that it is possible to be more than the barbarian she always thinks she is. At the start their relationship is shattered and their aim is in working together to stop a war also to find a better way to talk to each other.
Complementing this are various other key battles. We meet the fleet commander Nine Hibiscus a soldier so dangerous and inspiring much loyalty has been sent out to the frontline to fight and possibly to meet her death. An equally ambitious and loyal leader named Sixteen Moonrise starts to question her authority. Each has their view of what the other is up to, and can they find a mutual understanding in the world of politics and war that is the Empire and to achieve their own aims they both see Mahit and Seagrass as threats or opportunities to exploit. While back in the heart of the Empire that itself is rebuilding itself after a near civil war we get to meet the new Emperor Nineteen Adze and her future successor the young clone Eight Antidote. Antidote is unaware of what their predecessor managed to avoid and he has a increasing understanding of how the Empire’s factions works and find that in particular the War faction is keen to bring him into their side.
This myriad of conflicts allows us to explore the main factions that power the Empire that also tend to be in subtle conflict with each other at the same time vying for power. Now the threat of war both excites them and makes us each question what the correct next step is. While this section is all intrigue rather than fighting the moves made here have huge ramifications across the light years of space around it. There are no villains here just different viewpoints and exploring the consequences of each and trying to make each other understand their opposing numbers can lead to either triumph or failure.
Reading this book is like watching myriad dances or singers crossing paths or merging notes; importantly either in harmony or conflict with one another which makes the wider story work rather beautifully. Everything is commentary or reflections of the bigger story at all levels. Ambition, love, power and war are all motivations within our character’s hearts, and each serves a purpose. By the end we understand all the characters a little more – some will find joy and others will face death, but the outcomes are uncertain until the last minute. There is a growing question of when does the individual move into the wider population. Our concept of Us and Them – empire citizen versus Barbarian; soldier versus spy; alien versus human is shown to be down to the concepts we refuse to accept the other is capable of understanding and subtly this all becomes clear to show often the barriers are not simply a failure in language but our own ability to grow and change ourselves in order to accept or even understand another viewpoint and what it means to us when we finally can do so.
A Desolation Called Peace is a quiet yet powerful space opera that builds upon A Memory Called Empire to give the reader a lot to chew upon. A message just as useful to our own loud and often argumentative times. A reading highpoint and I cannot wait to see what Martine has in store for us next! Strongly recommended!
4-4.5/5 star. Full review pending.
This review is intended as a dual (spoiler free) review of the entire Teixcalaan duology. I read book one in September of 2020, and at the, I wasn't the biggest fan. I could see the appeal and the larger themes it was trying to tackle. However, I was overwhelmed by the complexity of the story. In 2021, I got the opportunity to review the second book in the series when I was granted an e-arc of A Desolation Called Peace on NetGalley. I requested it to motivate myself to revisit the first book in hopes that I could better appreciate all it had to offer. Admittedly, that may have been a bit premature considering my mixed feelings the first go around, but lucky for me, it paid off!.
In my reread of A Memory Called Peace I had the added benefit of hindsight to aid me in my journey though Martine's carefully crafted world. I found myself enveloped in the world in a way I did not get the first go around, and I appreciated the series much more for all it has to offer.
The book follows an ambassador to the main empire of Texicalaan. The ambassador's home colony/nation, are not officially Texicalaanly, or if they are, it's muddy. Hence the need for an ambassador to maintain a peace between the two entities. Except, we enter the fray in the midst of the chaos. The previous ambassador is dead. He had been ambassador for at least a decade an a half. Now, we follow his replacement. From that perspective, we get a look at the supposedly "civilized" empire of Teixcalaan as it judges all outsiders as literally <i>barbarians</i> with less intelligence and sense. In many way, Teixcalaan is like most western colonial countries, so convinced of their own self worth and superiority (mentally, morally, and every other way possible). There is also an entitlement to control all there is.
So, you can imagine how tough it is for the new ambassador to fit in to this new world. Lucky for her, she has a great of training on how to fit into the culture. What's more, her people have a unique technology that allows them to basically mesh the mind of other people into their own. The actual nature of that mind is complicated, but it is essentially a download of them from a certain point in time. The problem for our ambassador is two fold. 1) her download is over a decade out of date (which is a hint at the complexities at play between Teixcalaan and the outside "nation"), and 2) it has been sabotaged.
The first book in the series proceeds to take us on a journey to understand the relationship between Teixcalaan and the other "nation" while also getting a better understand of the political machinations going on in Teixcalaan (and outside it). Despite my misgivings the first go around, I was fully invested in world and our characters.
Book two takes us onward in this journey, breaking free of the ambassadors perspective that guides the first book, and showing us multiple perspectives of figures within Teixcalaan and this other nation from where the ambassador hails from (forgive me as I don't remember what it is called, hence the constant avoidance of naming it). The political tensions that exists between the two "nations" continues in this book, but alongside it is a much larger war.
Some alien species, not some variant of humans, but an almost monstrous animal like creature that seems incapable of communication and interested in only destruction. This isn't horror, but I felt like there were some definite homages to the alien franchise in this book.
The book itself feels split into, first concluding (or continuing) certain threads of the first book, and, second, dealing with the greater alien threat. The transition from one to the other I felt was clunky. The way characters we know become enthralled in this new narrative feels artificial. Perhaps I missed something; it was certainly designed to seem like a logical progression. Nevertheless, it felt like a TV show needing to keep its main caste relevant when their time had passed.
Still, looking past that, it allows us to continue exploring many of the themes touched on in the first book, reflecting on the assertion of Texicalaan as a superior and civilized empire. It forces us to reflect on our nation, and how we justify atrocities rather than risk appearing weak and trying more human options.
Overall, an amazing series. 4-4.5/5 stars for each book and the series at large. It is really well crafted with rich commentary and worldbuilding.
Having loved the first book in this duology, I was both excited and nervous to pick up this second and concluding book. Happily, it didn't disappoint and while I didn't love it quite as much as book one, I definitely loved the scope and broadening of the world. The interactions between Mahit and Three Seagrass never fail to delight and it was fascinating to see new characters introduced here that instantly took up residence in my heart (Swarm is a prime example. Overall, this has been a fantastic and incredibly thought provoking duology and I would recommend it to anyone with a love for space opera. Fabulous!
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.
I made the mistake of requesting this title before reading the first book in the series. I ended up DNFing the first book a couple chapter in because I wasn't enjoying the writing style. Therefore, I will not be reading A Desolation Called Peace.
I struggle with how to rage this book. I enjoyed it and I appreciated the widened scope of the series and having additional pov characters to follow. My issue is that the expansion of the world, coupled with the storyline of this novel feel more like the second book in a trilogy or larger series rather than the conclusion to a duology. That being said I look forward to whatever this author does next.
I enjoyed this sequel so much! It was lovely returning back to the brilliant Teixcalaanli Empire. Martine is fantastic at crafting such a rich and detailed world with complex and genuine characters. Themes such as colonialism and politics were explored and deftly handled. Overall, this was a great sequel and I'm excited to see what Martine will come up with next!
This is a rare case where I enjoyed the sequel even more than the first book! I loved returning to the lives of Mahit and Three Seagrass, and the space opera elements of the Teixcalaan series were even more poignant in this book. I love an exploration of language, and being able to see the interactions between the alien species and our protagonists was fascinating, especially through conversations of war. I also found the interludes so beautiful!
A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine follows A Memory Called Empire, in which Mahit Dzmare travels from her home space station to the center of the mighty Teixcalaanli Empire. In this installment, Mahit is back on Lsel Station and facing danger from her own government. Meanwhile, a threat from the last book reunites Mahit with Three Seagrass, in a plot running parallel with imperial heir Eight Antidote’s lessons in government and the decisions facing a newly-promoted military commander, Nine Hibiscus. There’s more exploration of colonialism from the perspectives of both colonizers and colonized, and delightfully complex and interesting characters. I liked it!
One of the most interesting questions in A Memory Called Empire is whether or not protagonist Mahit Dzmare will turn her back on her native Lsel Station. Will she embrace and adopt the colonial culture of the Teixcalaanli Empire?
This isn’t a simple decision for Dzmare; not only had she been fascinated with the colonial superpower in her formative years — she had fallen for Three Seagrass, an Imperial bureaucrat. This exploration of a cultural identity is a tender, heartbreaking, and moving series of decisions that reveal the integrity of Dzmare’s character, and perhaps Martine as an author.
For us, this was why Martine deserved the Hugo Award she received for A Memory Called Empire. But it is a source of confusion when assessing the sequel A Desolation Called Peace.
Martine is a fine writer who crafts characters you want to root for and we think readers who want to spend more time in the company of Dizmar, Seagrass, Yskandr Aghavn, and Nineteen Adze will enjoy the book thoroughly. This is a well-written, engaging space opera adventure novel.
The problem is that bringing these characters together again (and returning Mahit Dzmare to the centre of the action) requires no small degree of contrivance. Whether or not a reader finds this construction believable and satisfying will depend on how they understood the relationships in the preceding novel.
This sequel picks the action up just weeks after the end of the first book, with Mahit having returned to her home station to find that she is no longer welcome there. Meanwhile the Empire has become embroiled in a war against an unknowable and mysterious alien race. Three Seagrass strategizes to reunite with Dzmare and drag her into the front-lines of the intergalactic conflict.
Some readers might find the first 150 pages of A Desolation Called Peace serves to undo the resolution of the first book. For example, the will-they-won’t-they romance is restored to uncertainty as if the characters were in a sitcom that needed to return everything to the status quo at the end of every episode. When looking at A Desolation Called Peace through this lens, if feels as though the nuance and meaningfulness of the previous book has been diluted. The final decision that Mahit made at the end of A Memory Called Empire seemed retconned to be not so final. The heartbreaking ending of her romance with Three Seagrass is suddenly not so heartbreaking.
It’s worth noting that some of the best parts of A Desolation Called Peace feature characters who were not present or not prominent in the previous novel: Fleet Captain Nine Hibiscus and Imperial heir Eight Antidote. In these sections, the world of the Teixcalaanli seems as fresh and vibrant as it did in the first novel. The ways in which Imperial power structures and monoculture are corrosive to even those who are in positions of privilege are explored with nuance, and it is shown how internecine factionalism can tear down even those who excel within the system.
But fundamentally, the events of the second book no longer seem to be Mahit Dizmare’s story; she’s written to be the main character, but the story is no longer her own. Rather it seems like a story that was taking place in one corner of the galaxy far from anywhere that an Ambassador from Lsel Station should be. The continued focus on Dzmare seemed incongruous.
In many ways, A Desolation Called Peace succeeds: It’s engaging, sweet, often interesting, and fun. But it also has trouble connecting with and growing from the original story.
I received a free eARC from the author/publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
[This review will be posted on my blog on 13 August 2021]
I recently read and reviewed the first book in this series, A Memory Called Empire, and I lavished it with praise. I'm always a little bit hesitant to read sequels because I don't want to be disappointed. But with A Desolation Called Peace, Martine has knocked it out of the park again.
From the outset it's clear that Desolation is a vastly different book to Memory. Not only do we have multiple points of view, the setting is very different, and the stakes are higher still. Instead of a 'barbarian' being thrust into the cutthroat politics of empire, we have a first contact situation with a species who are so far from personhood that communication seems impossible.
A Desolation Called Peace is, like its predecessor, very much a character driven novel. All of the characters are nuanced and have great depth, including the side characters. Some of the old names and faces make an appearance, but there are plenty of new characters too. I think adding more narrators was a fantastic decision, because we get to see the unfolding war on multiple fronts, and from multiple perspectives. Our main characters are as follows:
Mahit Dzmare: Lsel Ambassador to Teixcalaan, who has come home to Lsel Station with not one, but two imagos of Yskandr Agarvn, which could potentially get her killed.
Three Seagrass: Former cultural liaison to the Lsel Ambassador, and now Third Undersecretary to the Minister of Information, who is bored of her new job, and appoints herself to the much more interesting post of interpreter to an alien species.
Nine Hibiscus: Yaotlek Commander of the Fleet, charged with winning the war against the alien threat, while also having to contend with threats from within the fleet itself. She relies heavily on her second-in-command, ikantlos-prime Twenty Cicada, to be her eyes and ears.
Eight Antidote: The eleven-year-old imperial heir, and 90% clone of the former emperor, Six Direction, who is navigating the politics of the City, and deciding what kind of ruler he wants to become.
For me, Eight Antidote is the breakout star of this book. He's delightfully intelligent, endlessly curious, and he has an innocence about him that is quite refreshing considering the weight of history that all of the older characters carry with them. He is a child playing in a world of adult politics he doesn't always understand.
It was also interesting to see both sides of Mahit and Three Seagrass' relationship, and the difficulties involved in an interracial romance. Especially if one has been completely 'Othered' by the dominant culture. It presents a power imbalance in their relationship, and it colours every word that is said between them. I thought the close friendship between Nine Hibiscus and Twenty Cicada was an interesting counterpoint to Mahit and Three Seagrass. They have a close, unshakable bond, and mutual respect and understanding; whereas Three Seagrass and Mahit are still struggling to lay out the boundaries and parameters of their fraught relationship.
Twenty Cicada himself is a brilliant character. He is known as Swarm, because he seems to be everywhere at once, and he knows absolutely everything. He is able to anticipate Nine Hibiscus' every thought before she even thinks it. What makes him unique among the fleet is that he from a planet that was conquered generations ago, but he still follows the religion of the homeostat-cult, despite being a fully integrated citizen. He is a near-perfect example of a citizen of Teixcalaan, yet he is able to hold on to part of his identity and heritage in a quiet act of rebellion, that is almost completely accepted by his peers.
There's still plenty of political intrigue, and moves and countermoves playing out in A Desolation Called Peace. We get to see a bit more of Stationer politics, as well as politics within the military. Watching the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) push and pull between different players is absolutely fascinating.
I think the pacing was excellent. Since we were following four different threads, there was a lot more scope for action. The atmosphere was also a highlight for me, because the threat against the empire is so completely alien, it kept me feeling off-kilter most of the time. Especially when we got interludes from the alien's perspective. They are so different, that it really felt like a hopeless situation. How can you even begin to understand something with such a different outlook and culture? And how can you communicate with creatures that make you physically sick when they speak?
A Desolation Called Peace was a fascinating and nuanced book about war, politics, identity, and personhood. It riffs on the same themes as A Memory Called Empire, but expands on them, and hones in on them at the same time.
I can't recommend this series enough. Fans of science-fiction in general are sure to love this.
I truly enjoyed this book, although I have to say, I didn't find it as compelling as the first in the series.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t really a fan of this book. I found it very confusing, and while I enjoyed the first book in this series, I felt like this one didn’t quite live up to the standards the first novel set.