Cover Image: A Desolation Called Peace

A Desolation Called Peace

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Member Reviews

I loved loved loved A Memory Called Empire when it came out.  It was stunning and wonderful and I didn’t want it to end.  It was everything I wanted in a space opera - politics and romance and space stations and aliens beyond the edge of known space.  It brought back all of those good Babylon 5 feels.  I was thrilled when it won the Hugo (in a very tough, competitive year) and I was dying to read the sequel.   I was thrilled when Tor and NetGalley gave me an eARC in exchange for an honest review.  But I was afraid.  Could it possibly live up to my personal expectations? 


Yes it did.


The author really opened up the universe by adding in other point of view characters, so it’s not just Ambassador Dzmare, but also Three Seagrass, the 90% imperial clone Eight Antidote, and a new character.  Those mysterious alien threats from beyond known space? It’s all about them! It’s a marvelous First Contact story, it’s a love story, it’s a political story, it’s a military story, it’s ALL I want from space opera, basically all I want from science fiction. It’s a practically perfect book and the worst part about it was that it ended and I don’t know when/if there will be a followup.  This book will be on my Hugo ballot for sure.
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Damn, but Arkady Martine really knows how to write compelling sci-fi. A Desolation Called Peace is a sequel which continues to expand on the depth and scope of the first book. Martine's world (universe?) is wonderfully realised, and much as I enjoyed this I am left wanting more! 

I honestly don't know what to say that isn't me just gushing about everything I loved, but that would just include... well, everything. Initially I gave this four stars (because it took me a long time to get through; I think I was actually savouring it), but after a little thought I'm bumping up my rating to a full five stars.
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I received an ebook for review from NetGalley, my opinions are my own.

The first volume of Teixcalaan made me think: this is fan service, but I'm that fan, so I don't mind. The second volume is still full of homage - there's some Star Trek, some classic tropes (think: Ender's Game) that meant the conclusion was pretty much set from the start, some awesome character moments - but the whole thing just didn't quite come together for me the way I wanted it to. I loved Twenty Cicada, but overall, the plot didn't grab me and even despite the length, the relationships between characters who weren't Yskandr and Mahit seemed never quite developed as much as I wanted them to.

There's still plenty to enjoy if you liked book one, but if you were on the fence, I don't think the second book improves on the first, despite the interesting aliens and new characters.
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Ahhhhhhhhhhh. Five perfect stars. I love this series so much. I didn't think it could improve on Memory, but somehow it did. I've flagged this for mild spoilers, but I will try not to go too far.

I loved that we got multiple POVs in this. And not just Mahit and Three Seagrass either. I was particularly enamoured of Eight Antidote's sections. I love him. He just wants to find his place as possible emperor while still being a kid at heart. 💙

This is definitely a more military aspect to the series than Memory. Both are fast-paced in their own way (I'm still blown away that the first book takes place over the course of just a week), but where the first is political intrigue and murder mystery, this is the empire going to war. Don't worry, we still have PLENTY of politics though. 

Talking of politics, oh wow. This series is utterly stunning in how well the politics are portrayed. One of my favourite aspects is that we see people's intentions (largely duck serenely gliding on water while desperate kicking under the water 😂) but also other's interpretations of them (omg this very deliberate action means ALL THE THINGS). It felt so very real. And shows so clearly that what you see someone do well doesn't mean that they are as confident or deliberate as they seem.

The aliens were AMAZING (though damnit fungi, why is it always fungi) and I loved that they managed to figure out how to converse even though both sides are clearly going "who are these non-people and what do they want". And I really enjoyed all the realisations (especially those back on the planet) about who they were and how they perceived things.

Once again, Arkady Martine manages to blow me away with how many layers every action in the book has. 

I also loved that we get more with Mahit and Reed's relationship - it's not just jumping in at the deep end, it's frustration and uncertainty as well as longing. It's knowing that you can't always survive on lust alone.

I just want mooooooore. So much more. I assume there will be at least one more book because it is left open (way more than the first one was, which could have stood alone). I think that it surely has to revolve around Lsel Station finally and see what the fallout of everything Mahit and Yskandr do in the first two books is. Or at least I hope we get that :D
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Long awaited, finally here. Slightly confusing prelude, but then it moved quickly into territory that felt familiar. Mahit is there and Three Seagrass shows up fairly quickly as well. Notable additions are Eight Antidote, the 11-year old heir apparent to the throne of Teixcalaan and clone of the deceased emperor and Nine Hibiscus, the yaotlek or rear admiral, leading the forces against the incomprehensible aliens invading the edges of known space.

We are exploring personal identity, cultural differences, politics, war crimes and the principle of proportionality, communication, first contact, concepts of self and collectivity and are scraping the edges of aztec culture.

This dragged tremendously for me. The writing is great, but it is just to wordy for my current disposition. I skimmed a lot from the middle onwards, otherwise I would never have finished this and would have eventually abandoned it. 

I like the author‘s dry sense of humour and tongue-in-cheek writing. The plot is fabulous, if somewhat smothered in the wordy navel-gazing and philosophical musings. The exploration of what constitutes a person, the workings of collective though processes, the thoughts on politics — great stuff. I just wish there would have been as much exploration of the plot. Which is good as it is, but could be so much more interesting, if it had received as much attention.

I liked the different POVs, Nine Hibiscus was a great addition. The chapters with Eight Antidote obviously were very important for the overall plot, but the little kite went on my nerves a bit with the aforementioned navel-gazing. I am assuming that the lack of attention to his safety and him running wild and doing improbable things for an 11-year old are intended as educational tools by his peer(s).

Some technical aspect that already seemed anachronistic in the first book popped up here again. Namely the infofiche sticks and lack of electronic mail or information exchange. I understand the concept of only hard matter moving through jump gates. Although I have no clue if it makes sense scientifically. Still, wouldn‘t it be a more organic development to send data by faster means from and to the jump gates? 

And then there is the loss of imago lines. A central driver of the story is Mahit‘s dilemma of not wanting her imago backed up on Lsel Station. Simultaneously the loss of imago lines, when pilots are lost, is lamented. Surely Mahit‘s consciousness wouldn‘t be the only one that gets backed-up on a regular basis?

I am so glad I am finally done, it was too overblown for me. I like my stories to be less contemplative and more action-driven. Planned as a duology, it feels as if a third book might be somewhere out there. At this point I am not sure if I would pick it up. ThirtyOne Adaptation signing off.

I received this free e-copy from Tor and NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review, thank you!
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Arkady Martine is writing exactly the kind of science fiction I love- nuanced, detailed, filled with political intrigue, and exploring interesting ideas. With A Memory Called Empire, I had some quibbles with the pacing, but it's a book that really stuck with me. For me A Desolation Called Peace completely addressed those issues of pacing, partly by expanding to multiple points of view.

In the first book, we see everything through the eyes of Mahit, a young ambassador to the colonial seat of Teixcalaanli power. Here we get several other perspectives and it paints a fascinating picture of competing powers and priorities involved in a decision with far-reaching repurcussions. This is partly a first-contact story as the characters encounter a new alien species and Martine uses that as a way to further explore different modes of personhood and interconnected identities. As the political elements of the story unfold, we continue from the first book in unpacking the complexities of empire and whether a ruler can afford to have a strict system of ethics. What do you value and how do you decide when to make war and when to broker peace? I'm not sure we get clear answers (which shouldn't be terribly surprising given the topics) but I think Martine asks really interesting questions and creates characters who might give very different answers.

A side plot in this story is a romance between Mahit who is considered a "barbarian" because she is not Teixcalaanli, and Three Seagrass who was a major player in book 1. What I find interesting in their relationship is how Martine problematizes interracial relationships where the "exotic" is fetishized, and also explores how unequal power dynamics can be an issue as well. I really appreciated how she handled all of that in a way that allows for the messiness of human emotion.

This is definitely a slower-paced, methodical approach to science fiction that is more concerned with characters and ideas than with action, so it's not going to work for everyone, but I really loved it. This has become one of my favorite science fiction series and I hope we get more in this vein from Martine in the future. I received an advance copy of this book for review via NetGalley. All opinions are my own.
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<i>A Desolation Called Peace</i> is a great follow up to <i>A  Memory Called Empire</i>. There are more aliens and it’s gayer, so what’s not to love? I was really drawn to the humanity of the characters in <i>A  Memory Called Empire</i> and the poetry of the Teixcalaanlitzlim so when I heard there was another one coming out I picked it up with no hesitation. If memory serves, there is a lot less poetry in this one but the characters were just as dynamic, dealing with their own personal struggles as well as the alien threat. Once again, the whole novel takes place in a whorl wind few days, deals with complex issues while maintaining a light space opera vibe, and centers the characters of Mahit Dzmare and Three Seagrass. I can’t wait what to see what the next installment will hold.
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Published by Tor Books on March 2, 2021

Science fiction novels that emphasize diplomacy over war are less common than military science fiction, but they aren’t rare. C.J. Cherryh and Keith Laumer once dominated the field, but a new generation of writers has made diplomacy a strong theme in their work. Richard Baker’s Breaker of Empire series tends to give equal weight to fighting and negotiating, while Arkady Martine’s Tiexcalaan series tips that balance decidedly in favor of exploring political relationships. The series’ second entry, A Desolation Called Peace, moves the focus from the threat of war among humans to the fact of war with aliens whose behavior seems particularly ruthless. Why the aliens are attacking is difficult for humans to understand because, whenever the aliens make sounds that might be an attempt at communication, humans feel the urge to vomit.

As we learned in Arkady Martine’s excellent A Memory Called Empire, Mahit Dzmare is an ambassador to Tiexcalaan from Lsel Station. Mahit has been implanted with an imago that carries the memories of her predecessor. By the end of the first novel, Mahit has a second imago, the first having been sabotaged. Now she is up to date on the memories her predecessor formed before his death. Some of those memories reveal that her predecessor didn’t behave exactly as an ambassador should, or at least not as Lsel Station expected. Now Mahit is back on Lsel and is worried that the Councilor of Heritage will learn of the second implant and arrange for her to die on the operating table when it is disconnected from her brain.

While Mahit ponders her fate, Three Seagrass, a bureaucrat from Tiexcalaan whose job includes diplomacy, travels to Lsel on her way to the fleet flagship, where she has been tasked with establishing communications with aliens who have wiped out a Tiexcalaan colony. The aliens travel in ships that seem to appear from nowhere and ooze a substance that disintegrates opposing ships, which fleet pilots find particularly creepy. Their anxiety is magnified by a new technology that lets them communicate with other without a time lag, a technology that even the emperor doesn’t know about.

Three Seagrass decides to bring Mahit on her diplomatic mission because Mahit is good with languages, communication, and diplomacy. Besides, Three Seagrass kissed Mahit in the previous novel and would like to do it again, even if Mahit is regarded as a barbarian by polite society on Tiexcalaan. Who says barbarians can’t be sexy?

The problem with establishing communication with aliens is always interesting. Mahit and Three Seagrass approach the challenge in logical ways (using mime and drawings while trying to make sense of the vomit-inducing sounds), but their diplomacy often takes a back seat to other political issues that drive the story. Once is a conflict between Nine Hibiscus, who is prosecuting the war for the Emperor as the fleet captain, and the commander of one of the legions, Sixteen Moonrise, who is determined to take more aggressive action than Nine Hibiscus is willing to authorize.

Another conflict is unfolding on Tiexcalaan between the current emperor and Eight Antidote, a 90% clone of the former emperor who will one day inherit the title. At the moment he’s only eleven so he still has some growing to do, but he’s an exceptionally bright and mature kid. Eight Antidote is spying for the emperor and he isn’t happy with the emperor’s response to some of the information he’s acquired. He’s particularly unhappy about a plan to annihilate an alien world on the theory that boy, that’ll teach ‘em. Warmongers are just as troublesome in the future as they have always been.

The story moves in ways that are complex and fascinating. Martine makes it easy to suspend disbelief as she imagines aliens who are hostile only because they don’t understand humans any more than humans understand them. The story’s ending is satisfying while opening the door to the next chapter of the series.

Martine writes with a keen understanding of human nature, no doubt acquired during her alternate gig as an historian. She gives her characters full personalities. She builds tension as her characters take dangerous steps to avoid the dangers of war. And she writes with a sophisticated prose style of literary quality. More than that I can’t ask.

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A wonderful follow-up novel to A Memory Called Empire, and an excellent continuation of the story of Mahit, Three Segrass, Teixcalaan and Lsel Station. There are detailed cultures and species to immerse the reader without getting dry or confusing. There's a whole cast of crafty characters always a step if not more ahead of me. There's court intrigue overlapping with first alien contact and personal, moral qualms. It all meshes together into a story that's engrossing from start to finish. I can't recommend it enough
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A stunning follow-up to a debut novel. Martine delivers a book just as exciting as the first one, with excellent world-building and pacing.
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Very well written, but I had a couple of issues with this sequel. 

First, the aliens were really puzzling. The otherness of the 'aliens' was such that to the end of the story I still didn't really have a clear idea of them. 

Second, too many POVs for me to keep track of. The main character was not as important as in the first book and this didn't work so well for me since I felt that the narrative was not so cohesive as in "A Memory Called Empire". Many POVs may work for a longer series like Game of thrones, but for only one book with extremely complex aliens it was too much information and all those different characters appearing distracted me too much from the narrative.

I might reread this book eventually and my rating might improve upon better understanding. This time I was in doubt between rating it three or four stars, my final rating was actually 3,5 but on Goodreads half stars are not possible. 

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for giving me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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Adri has already written about A Desolation Called Peace at greater length and with greater insight, but this is a novel which deserves additional attention because, frankly, it lives up to all of the hype and anticipation following Arkady Martine's stellar and Hugo Award winning debut, A Memory Called Empire.

This is a first contact novel, though in a wildly explosive manner. Like A Memory Called Empire, politics are at the forefront. Watching Nine Hibiscus navigate military politics is a treat, but my favorite bits of the novel are following Eight Antidote, the eleven year old and "90% clone" of the former emperor as he gains experience and involves himself into politics while still trying to learn and grow. It is utterly charming and precocious and uncanny and every moment of Eight Antidote's page time is perfect. As is so much of this novel. Anyone who loved the first novel will love A Desolation Called Peace. The Teixcalaan empire is larger in this novel, the scope of their reach is expansive and the empire is no longer just one capital city / planet. This is such a cool novel. A Desolation Called Peace is can't miss science fiction.
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I received an ARC from Netgalley in exchange of a review. All opinions my own. 

CW: violence, death

I do loved the first one but this one was as amazing if not better. Definitely a series that you would not like to miss. As a heads up, this review will have spoilers of the first book because it would be nearly impossible not to, but if you haven’t read it yet, please do so, and then come back for more.

This second book continues the plot pretty much where the first one left it and it only takes a few pages to take off. If I thought I was going to have an easy and calm start I would have been wrong since I was thrown back into the story from the first chapters. It felt like it had a very good rhythm as the details that I had forgotten fell back into my brain with the exact amount of reminding the reader where they left it and where the plot is going. At all times I was looking forward to continue reading and I did no control myself in the slightest so the book was finished in no time, but also the last third of the book was absolutely frenetic. 

One of the things I absolutely loved of the first one was the aspect of cultural exchange highlighting the language and traditions between two, or more, civilizations and how this is used in warfare, politics and interplanetary conflicts. The importance and development of those aspects is amazing and not only adds depth to the plot and characters but brings them alive and nearly out of the page. In the same sense, as the plot expands, we get more characters and their point of views, without it being too much, and therefore the different perspectives help build that momentum to keep the action going.

In this sense, I found all the character and their plots interesting as I was looking forward to read about them at all times. But specially I have developed a soft bone for Eight Antidote [he/him] as not only he is a well built character but, because of reasons, he is so unpredictable. We will always be wondering what will he do and why, as his decisions affect to pretty much everyone. Knowing his background only makes his actions better. But overall, the characters is one of the strongest points in this series for me. If you don’t have good characters, the reader may not be as concern as it should about the whole war thing, but when you care and worry about those going to war… That’s when things get difficult for the one reading. 

One of the things that amaze me the most are space battles in writing. Too much of it and I will get bored and start reading diagonally to see when the action starts, too few of it and it feels like the author just evades the topic by getting the easy way out. For my liking Martine absolutely nails it maintaining the dynamics without resulting in a never-ending enumeration of things that are happening with weird words mostly made up. 

Considering the way the story is going, I am looking forward for more of it. More of the characters, more of the story and a resolution. As I mentioned earlier, for me this is one of those SF series that you have to read as soon as possible, before anyone tell you about it!
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I’m struggling with this review.. I really loved the overall story, but lots of the details just wouldn’t go in my head haha. And I have no idea why!

I think one of my biggest struggles with this book, and with the first book, is the naming of the characters! I do think it is very interesting to use ‘different’ kind of names then that we are used to, but because of the number-adjective combination, I just kept being so confused by who was who. There was one character called Nine something and another Nineteen something and I kept switching them around.. And they really were different characters haha!

I really like Mahit and Three Seagrass, especially their relation development! In the beginning of the book I wasn’t too impressed by Eight Antidote, but he turned out to be my favourite character at the end, and from the halfway point of the book his plot line also became the most interesting!

I think being confused by the characters influenced my understanding of some of the plot parts.. Since the overall plot I absolutely loved! There were just quite some details I either didn’t get or was too confused by who we were talking about..

I really enjoyed the writing and I would definitely check out what Martine will write next!

I do really recommend this duology (?), especially if you’re more into sci-fi then I am!
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A Desolation Called Peace has some new characters, and is told through multiple perspectives. We follow a new character, Fleet Captain Nine Hibiscus, who encounters a new alien species; Mahit Dzmare as she tries to figure out how to live back home; Three Seagrass at her new job; Eight Anecote; and a little from Nineteen Adze herself. 

Our story takes off when Nine Hibiscus and he’s crew encounter a new alien species that they are unable to communicate with. The characters in the story are all dealing with this new possible threat.  This is a story of first contact, and the choices people face when they encounter the unknown. 

A Desolation Called Peace is a gripping tale, with powerful themes. I enjoyed seeing Eight Anecdote, the previous emperors clone, attempt at asserting himself into the politics of the Empire he will eventually rule. I did not enjoy that quite a bit of the story was fixed on a conflict between Mahit and Three Seagrass- it got boring quick, especially since the conflict was based around the same issues that occurred between the two characters in the first book. I get that Mahit doesn’t like that Three Seagrass  views her as a barbarian. I got it in the last book. 

Overall, this a an exciting SciFi novel, and I will definitely pick up the next one. 

I received this novel from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
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A million stars, an infinity of stars. Somehow this book is just as good -- maybe even better, in some small ways -- than its predecessor. A thrilling exploration of first contact, a deeper celebration of language in all its quirks, a buzzing web of intrigue, a plot that Does Not Stop. Swoon x1000.
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A genre of science fiction that is extremely hard to write well is cultural science fiction. Arkady Martine does so masterfully. In the first book of the series, Martine took us on a whirlwind tour of the culture of Teixcalaan and a tiny bit of Lsel. On this adventure, Martine takes us not only deeper into those two cultures, but introduces yet another unique culture to interact with. 
The story begins with Mahit returned to her home station of Lsel where she quickly becomes embroiled in problems because of her damaged and replaced imago. Meanwhile, the war she began between Teixcalaan, under the leadership of Nine Hibiscus, and a mysterious alien culture has begun to heat up. Three Seagrass is drawn in when Nine Hibiscus requests an envoy from the Information Ministry to translate Allen speech and she chooses herself to make the journey. The remainder of the book is an exciting mix of politics (both at the front and back at the Imperial City with Eight Antidote the 11 year old Imperial heir) and relationships of all forms. 
This book was extremely well written and well paced. The characters had distinct personalities, motivations, and understandable actions. Everyone, every technology, every event was replete with past, with history, with culture... it was obvious that nothing in her book exists in isolation, but always in connection. 
If you want a book that makes you think, that makes you put on another person's skin ro walk around, I honestly cannot recommend this book highly enough. If I had to find one fault in the book, it would be that the level of cultural immersion makes it a difficult book to pick-up and put down at a moment's notice. It reads much better if you can devote time to show yourself to become lost in the world Martine has created. You will not be disappointed if you do. 

Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for the opportunity to read a pre-release copy of this book.
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A worthy follow-up that demands and rewards the reader's attention

A Memory Called Empire was a highlight of 2019: a politically intricate, engaging space opera set in an empire which considers itself the heart of civilisation, exploring the concept of cultural hegemony and concepts of belonging from the perspective of an outsider, Mahit Dzmare, who has spent her entire life wishing to assimilate but finds herself ill prepared for the reality. There's also the small matter of Mahit's predecessor - the former ambassador to Teixcalaan - dying in super mysterious circumstances, and the resulting combination of upheaval and culture clash makes for an outstanding novel, which you should really go and read for yourself if you haven't already (seriously, go do that before reading this sequel review, otherwise I will not be held responsible for what happens next).
A Desolation Called Peace deals in large part with the biggest outstanding plot point from its predecessor: the arrival of an unknown alien fleet on the outskirts of Teixcalaanli space, close to Mahit's home of Lsel station. In doing so, it shifts the focus of action away from The Jewel of the World, Teixcalaan's ostentatiously named capital, and onto the fleet of ships tasked with uncovering the nature of the threat and neutralising it, finding out what happened to the Texcalaanli colonies which went dark in these areas as they go. (Readers of the genre may surmise that whatever happened to those colonies wasn't good, and it's not a spoiler to say you'd be right!) The commander - or yaotlek - of that small fleet is Nine Hibiscus, who is dealing with a vastly underpowered delegation for the size of the mission she has been sent on, as well as open dissent from 50% of the ships under her command due to political infighting between her own Ministry and the Ministry of Information back on Teixcalaan. Trying to understand an enemy which appears to be able to attack without warning, and with intense coordination, and whose only language is some sort of nausea-inducing theremin screech, she calls for diplomatic backup, only to be provided with Three Seagrass - Mahit's former cultural liaison and love interest - and, breaking all reasonable protocol, Mahit herself.

Through the book's prelude and early interludes, the reader gets a sense of the alien's concept of the world, and of their ideas about what does and does not constitute a conscious, fully matured person, far earlier than the characters do. A Desolation Called Peace's opening paragraph begins by laying out a concept of thought and communication that is at direct odds with the use of language: "to think as a person, and not as a wantful voice, not as a blank-eyed hungering beast, not as a child thinks, with only its own self and the cries of its mouth for company." Through these opening pages, we get a semi-comprehensible picture of what the contact between the humans and this alien group looked like from their perspective, as well as an immediate understanding of a consciousness that seems in every way at odds with Teixcalaan: a culture which places linguistic traditions at the absolute centre of what it means to be a civlised Teixcalaanlim, where laws are written in poetic forms, and where mind-altering technology (like the imagos of Lsel station, which pass down technical knowledge and fragments of personality from one generation to the next) is taboo except in a few rare circumstances.

Despite having a good grasp on what the humans are going to discover about their counterparts, it's still fun to watch this first contact play out, especially because its surrounded by so much of the fallout from the first book. Mahit begins her journey back on Lsel Station, struggling with a malfunctioning imago with the personality of her ambassadorial predecessor and trying to figure out where she fits in between the competing factions of Lsel and the continued draw of Teixcalaan, despite the heartbreak and trauma of her prior visit. Three Seagrass - whose perspective we now see firsthand, rather than the tight focus on Mahit in the previous book - has also been deeply affected by Mahit's departure, and when she is sent to the front, her decision to collect a disgraced "barbarian" ambassador along the way is clearly driven by something other than practical need. Having Three Seagrass' point of view keeps her on the right side of sympathetic even as we see her work through her immense prejudices against Mahit's background (in one pivotal scene, she offhandedly asks Mahit to hand over her jacket so that she can clean vomit off the floor with it, assuming that her Stationer clothes would be better for the task than a Teixcalaanli uniform). It takes Three Seagrass and Mahit the better part of half a book to reunite and make their way over to the centre of the action, but it's a moment that's well worth waiting for, as the dynamics between them and the wrench that Mahit's presence throws into the workings of the fleet get things moving very nicely.

There are other characters - both returning and new - who also contribute to the tapestry that is A Desolation Called Peace's central plot. Eight Antidote, the 11-year-old 90% clone of the former emperor who is now the assumed heir to the current holder of the title, provides a fourth point of view which initially felt rather forced, especially as Eight Antidote is a very precocious eleven-year-old and having him narrate things from the perspective of his eleven-year-old baby-emperor ego makes it hard to connect with him. As the politics of the fleet and the hub coincide, though, and Eight Antidote goes beyond figuring out the puzzle of what's happening around him for its own sake and begins genuinely grappling with the moral questions behind it, his actions become far more interesting and integral to the plot. Also of note is Nine Hibiscus' adjutant, Twenty Cicada, a high ranking fleet member described, normally in the same sentence, as both the perfect Teixcalaanlim and as a cultural oddity. Twenty Cicada grew up on a colonised planet which still maintains a cultural belief in homeostasis, and characters constantly pick up on small elements of his appearance and behaviour - up to and including his name, which shouldn't have an animal in it to be a "real" Teixcalaanli name - which mark him as different. His differences start out as a neat reminder that the empire is not the homogenous thing we saw through Mahit's eyes in A Memory Called Empire, and becomes something rather more important as events in the fleet unfold, making him an intriguing character who, by the end, might have even surmounted the book's disaster lesbians to become my favourite.

Like its predecessor, A Desolation Called Peace isn't an easy read, especially for its first half. Perspectives change, regularly, mid-chapter, schemes and counter-schemes are described and enacted in intricate detail, and while the prose itself has lovely moments (particularly the prelude and interludes), it doesn't attempt to directly replicate the specific charms and poetic turns of Teixcalaanli, which are rendered in a way which, while still poetic in meaning, makes it clear that the English text is a translation of something that scans and sounds very different in the original. It adds up to something which keeps its audience at a slight distance, even as the characters exude their own charms and progress through plot points which are, at turns, horrifying, hilarious and engaging. If you can spend the time with it, though, A Desolation Called Peace promises the same engaging, thoughtful science fiction as its predecessor, in a context new enough to make it fresh while building on the commentary set up in A Memory Called Empire. Thoroughly worthwhile.
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A Memory Called Empire was one of my favourite books of 2020, so to say I was excited for A Desolation Called Peace is an understatement. A Desolation picks up a few months after the first book, with Mahit wandering around on Lsel and desperately trying to come to terms with the personal consequences of her integration with Yskander, as well as the potential political risks if anyone finds out. Meanwhile, elsewhere in the Empire, aliens are lurking – and someone is needed to translate a language that may be untranslatable by humans.

It’s hard to say too much about the plot without spoilers, but if you’ve read A Memory Called Empire you know what to expect: lots of political machinations, relatively limited action (perhaps even less in this book; this is definitely a space opera without the pew pew guns). This duology is ultimately a thematic one, and Martine hits all the same high notes in the sequel as she did in book one. A Desolation Called Peace continues the discussion about memory (both personal and institutional) and collective consciousness, first through the hilarious attempts of Mahit to come to terms with having Yskander always in her mind, as well as through the idea that aliens may communicate and share ideas in a way that is completely well, alien, to us. I won’t say much because of spoilers but it involves fungus. So gross, but so cool. There is also an ongoing discussion – following on from the themes of the first book – about cultural imperalism and assimiliation, and how far people are prepared to go in the pursuit of either joining an empire, or expanding it. Mahit is lost here, no longer at the heart of the Teixcalaan empire but also a stranger on her home planet, and the sense of longing and grief for a culture she was never reallly welcomed into is palpable. Interesting, too, is how this plays out in her relationship in Three Seagrass: how can you love someone who loves you as you are (or as they think you are), but who is also entangled in a culture that requires you to become someone else? Fascinating stuff.

As for the characters, this book expands from Mahit’s single POV to also include Three Seagrass, Eight Antidote (the child heir to the throne we met in book one) and Nine Hibiscus, a yaotlek commander overseeing interaction with the aliens who’ve recently popped up to say hello. Of course, everyone has their own political agenda, formed through various combinations of personal ambition, political nous and access to information (or misinformation). The expanded POVs were both a strength and a weakness of this book; while I enjoyed seeing more of the Empire than would have been possible through Mahit’s eyes alone, the POVs themselves were uneven. Mahit and Three Seagrass were a lot of fun – Three Seagrass’s eternally peppy personality shines through clearly in the text – and Eight Antitode was a fascinating cautionary tale of a child forced to grow up too soon, but I found Nine Hibiscus’ sections to be pretty flat and never really felt like I had a good handle on her character. All of the new POV characters are also as endlessly self-analytical and thinky as Mahit, and while I love the deep ruminations that come from that, it did sometimes become exhausting to be stuck so deep in everyone’s heads.

As expected, this book made me think a lot and for that I am grateful even if this book didn’t quite hit the high notes of A Memory Called Empire for me. I am very excited to see what Arkady Martine writes next. I have heard rumours of a Nineteen Adze novella and while I need it urgently, I’m actually really keen to see her go beyond Teixcalaan because I think her deeply introspective style and rich world-building could be applied in so many fascinating ways.
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Hace un par de años aparecía, sin hacer demasiado ruido inicialmente, A Memory Called Empire. La novela debut de Arkady Martine proponía una trama de intriga política muy bien ejecutada, con una emocionante trama que aunque terminaba en un final satisfactorio dejaba los suficientes hilos abiertos para una segunda parte que pudiera continuar la historia de Mahit Dzmare y el implante que lleva en su cerebro con los recuerdos del anterior embajador de Lsel en Teixcalaan, Yskandr, a quien Mahit sustituía. 

Más de un año después llegaba, primero, la nominación al premio Hugo a mejor novela de ciencia ficción del año. Unos meses después, A Memory Called Empire se hacía con el galardón imponiéndose a nombres del calibre de Seanan McGuire, Kameron Hurley o Charlie Jane Anders, entre otros. Si la nominación ya hizo girar un gran número de focos hacia la novela, el resultado final provocó que mucha gente descubriese una de las novelas más destacadas de 2019 que ahora ve su historia continuada con A Desolation Called Piece. 
Esta segunda parte da todo lo que podíamos esperar y más. No solo vamos a tener todas las tramas políticas que ya vimos en la primera parte. No solo añadiremos una pequeña vuelta de tuerca al uso de las memorias implantadas en los cerebros de algunos personajes de las altas esferas. A todo esto le sumamos una trama orientada a la space opera más pura donde no faltan las naves, combates, planetas y, para rematar todo esto, una historia de primer contacto con la fonética y la lingüística como parte central de la relación. 

Si A Memory Called Empire, la primera entrega, era una novela donde solo teníamos un punto de vista, en A Desolation Called Piece esto se multiplica con varios personajes contando la historia tal y como sucede a su alrededor. Las tramas de todos ellos, aunque inicialmente separadas, se unirán y separarán por momentos, dando un dinamismo a la lectura que se echaba en falta en la primera novela. 

Además de Mahit Dzmare y Three Seagrass en la historia de esta segunda entrega seguimos dos nuevos personajes. Por un lado, Eight Antidote, quien a sus once años es un clon del anterior Emperador y actual heredero. Por otro, Nine Hibiscus, el líder de un escuadrón en busca del misterio que está acabando con numerosas naves en el espacio. Esta última será la trama que terminara por llevar a algunos de estos personajes a tener un primer contacto con unos seres con los que tendrán que descubrir cómo comunicarse mientras analizan su fisionomía al mismo tiempo. Y aunque la manera no sea especialmente revolucionaria ni innovadora en mi caso siempre es un aspecto del primer contacto que me gusta leer y descubrir. Eso sin contar con el giro argumental del último cuarto de novela. 

Las intrigas políticas y el espionaje de alto nivel seguirá presente y ninguno, absolutamente ninguno, de los personajes mostraran su verdadera cara de salida, dando lugar a un juego con el que quienes leímos la primera novela ya estamos familiarizados.

A Desolation Called Piece es una secuela a la altura de la primera entrega. Me atrevería a decir que incluso es más redonda que aquella ya que los pocos defectos de ritmo y punto de vista que comenté en aquel momento aquí han sido subsanados. La historia de esta novela es una completa amalgama de géneros dentro de la ciencia ficción que terminan por formar un volumen notable. Una obra que sin necesidad de ser especialmente novedosa en sus tramas crea, sin embargo, un conjunto muy atractivo. Una de esas historias donde el conjunto es más que la suma de las partes.
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