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A Desolation Called Peace

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A Desolation Called Peace is the second book in Teixcalaan duology, which began with A Memory Called Empire. It picks up two months after the first book ended. Mahit Dzmare, the ambassador to the Teixcalaan Empire has returned home after stopping the empire from annexing her space station. But instead of being hailed as a saviour, she’s being treated with suspicion by the rulers of the Station who know something must be wrong with her implant that hosts the memories of her predecessor. Just as the situation is becoming untenable, Three Seagrass, her former cultural liaison at the empire and a current intelligence officer, comes to take her away.

The empire is at war with an utterly alien enemy that they can’t communicate with and don’t understand. Mahit and Three Seagrass are tasked with learning their language so that the war can be stopped before it spreads to the heart of the empire. But how do you learn a language that makes you sick? How do you win a war when there are factions within the empire who have their own agendas? And is it genocide if you don’t define the enemy as people?

This is a more mature book than the first—and that wasn’t bad either. It’s also more science fictiony with spaceships, first contacts, and incomprehensible aliens. The political intrigue and philosophising about cultural differences is replaced with questions about language and definitions of people.

There were more point of view characters, and it worked well; the pacing was better and chapters had good cliff-hanger endings, forcing me to read on to find out what happened to that character. Mahit had a smaller role to play in the overall story, but her personal progress remained interesting. Three Seagrass was given her own POV chapters, often side by side with Mahit’s. Their romance advanced too, but as it was a bit toxic, I wasn’t very invested in it. Then there was Nine Hibiscus, the commander of the fleet, whose POV served as a window to the war. But the most interesting new point of view character was Eight Antidote, the clone of the previous emperor. He’s only eleven, but mature beyond his years. Prodded by the new emperor, he takes interest in the war, and ends up playing a pivotal role in it.

The book has a satisfying ending suitable for a duology. But it’s open enough that there’s room for more books too, should the author wish to continue with the world. She’s created a complex universe with great characters, and it would be a pity if it ended here.
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My spoiler-free video review:
Discussion video (with spoilers, posted 3/10):

 I had already pre-ordered A Desolation Called Peace, and it was one of my most anticipated releases of 2021. While A Desolation Called Peace is not quite as much of a tightly-plotted masterpiece as a A Memory Called Empire was, I enjoyed the additional POV characters and expanded scope. Arkady Martine continues to show incredible depth of ideas, worldbuilding, and character. I'm finding her books to be densely philosophical and profound in a way I really enjoy. I appreciated A Memory Called Empire even more on reread and I suspect I'll feel the same way about A Desolation Called Peace.
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As with the first book in this series, I tore through A Desolation Called Peace. I love this series' meditation on politics, empire, colonialism, language, and power, and was not disappointed by the further exploration of those themes in this sequel. I was happy to spend more time with the characters and meet new ones, and to spend time in the morally grey spaces that they inhabit.
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I would like to thank the author and publisher for providing me with an electronic review copy of this book.

"A Desolation Called Peace" by Hugo award winning author Arkady Martine is the second book in her Teixcalaan series. I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in this series and had very high expectations for this one. I was delighted that this book was also fantastic. It has everything that was exciting about the first novel and more. Since many of the characters continue to play meaningful and intricate roles, I would suggest a new reader checkout the first novel first.  (Well, I also recommend the first novel just because it is a darn good book... :-) In this novel, we join the possibly discredited diplomat from the independent space station Lsel to the Teixcalaanli Empire as she attempts to handle complicated political intrigue on her space station that could be fatal to her. As this reaches a flashpoint she is suddenly sprung from a tight situation at home by a possibly rogue envoy (and previous possible lover) from the Teixcalaanli Empire's intelligence organization to attempt to diplomatically resolve an empire (and space station) threatening war with the mysterious, deadly, and uncontrollable aliens wreaking mayhem just beyond one of the space station's jumpgates.  Never mind that this is a first contact situation and no one who has met these aliens has survived...  The story rapidly picks up pace, danger, and excitement from this point, switching points of view between the diplomat, the envoy, space station politicians, various military leaders, the Teixcalaanli Emperor and her heir, and others as it rushes towards a rather thought provoking conclusion. Please beware that the intricacy of the political and military situations described will pull the astute reader deeply into this story causing loss of sleep and reduced productivity.

In short, this was an awesome novel, I absolutely look forward to the third novel!
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A wonderful follow up to A MEMORY CALLED EMPIRE - who knew political chess could make for such a page turner? This book has not only edge of your seat action, but also thoughtful exploration of what makes someone human.
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I love being surprised by sequels that exceed my expectations set by the first book. I was so curious where we would go after A Memory Called Empire - I almost wouldn't have been surprised to learn it was a standalone as things were (mainly) wrapped up and our leads all off on different roads (which made me even more intrigued to how a sequel would bring them back together or not!) 

The first thing I noted with A Desolation Called Peace was that we got four POVs - which blew my mind, I loved it. I think it helped fill some gaps I didn't even realize were missing from AMCE and an appropriate move since we are now focused on Lsel, The City, and the war. It really help round out the plot and what was happening. I personally loved the pacing of AMCE but think jumping between character POVs helped increase the pacing and tension of ADCP. Also, just how interesting the characters we got were - I loved being in their heads/situations. I feel like I rarely see POV-style changes in the middle of the series so kudos. 

That being said,  I enjoyed this book more than the first (I'm still surprised because I loved AMCE) and that is partly due to the characters and the slightly increased pacing. But also, just how intrigued I was by this new challenge of first-contact-scenario and building off AMCE's concept of "how far does "you"/"we" extend?" I loved Mahit but she was always an "other", a "barbarian" in the Teixcalaan mindset no matter what she did. But now, taking that a step further to "human" versus "person-hood" was very compelling to me. 

ADCP takes the groundwork from AMCE and just goes a step further. I really hope we get more books in this series (I'd also like to formally request a prequel with Twelve Azalea; I love him, I miss him, I think we would all love to read about his shenanigans)
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More like a 3.5, but I’m lowering it. A Desolation Called Peace (Desilation) was a step up from A Memory Called Empire (Memory), but it still has many flaws in regards of pacing and characterization. 
The first book was a huge let down: a promising political plot was completely thrown away in favor of a boring treasure-hunt. The main characters of Memory (Mahit and Three Seagrass) remained insipid and tedious, and in Desolation their plot line is the least thrilling of the three crafted by the author. I honestly think Martine should have just removed their story, because it added nothing to the plot and - logistically speaking - their involvement in the first contact with alien was not justified. Both Mahit and Seagrass are fledgling diplomats, it seems ridiculous to give them such an important task when there are people more experienced than those two (or, at least, I hope there are!).

The other plot line’s — Nine Hibiscus’ and Eight Antidote’s — won me over. While we readers already knew Antidote (and I personally suspected what type of character he’d eventually become), Hibiscus popped up only in the this book, and let me tell you: what a pleasant addition. She was may favorite POV of the three, and her story was the most interesting. Antidote was as even more compelling, but in my opinion, to fully develop a connection with the readers, Martine ought to write more chapters about him.
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A Memory Called Empire absolutely blew me away, and this book is no different. It continues the first book’s exploration of identify, memory and society, with the addition of a completely alien species and the need to avert total war. So, you know, no pressure, Mahit.

“She thought of Eleven Lathe, her poetic model, her hero, writing Dispatches from the Numinous Frontier out alone amongst his aliens, the Ebrekti. Could she do worse? Certainly, but perhaps not much worse—and then, gleeful and bitter, she thought, Fuck you, watch me try, in Twelve Azalea’s eternally silenced voice.”

The story picks up a few months after the events of A Memory Called Empire, with Mahit back on Lsel Station. I initially had some trepidation that the book started with a character other than her, but as the plot unfolded, I forgot about that completely. Unlike the first book, which was solely from Mahit’s point of view, this one also has Three Seagrass, now part of the Information Ministry; Nine Hibiscus, the new yaotlek tasked with dealing with the alien threat on Teixcalaan’s borders; and Eight Antidote, the eleven year old heir to the throne. Each character is dealing with separate and immediate problems. Nine Hibiscus needs to figure out how to stop the alien invaders while simultaneously dealing with a possible insurrection within her fleet. Three Seagrass, still reeling from the death of her best friend, answers Nine Hibiscus’ request for an Information Ministry specialist to come try to communicate with the aliens. Mahit doesn’t want the Stationers to find out about her highly illegal and possibly-still-sabotaged imago, and is dealing with the double (triple) vertigo of no longer feeling at home on the Station. And Eight Antidote, no longer a baby according to himself, is trying to find his new place in the palace with Nineteen Adze as emperor.

“The self that experienced and the self that evaluated, wondered, Is this when I feel real? Is this when I feel like a civilized person?
And the self that sounded like Yskandr, dark and amused: Is this when I forget what being a Stationer feels like? How about now? Now? Are we still Mahit Dzmare?”

The four points of view weave around each other: the Teixcalaanli fleet commander devoted to her empire, the Teixcalaanli woman who can’t help setting her teeth against a new problem, the woman who’s not even sure who she is any longer except she’s not Teixcalaanli and not a Stationer, and the child learning how to become an emperor. It was immensely satisfying and a masterful way to show various sides of the conflict, how each of the characters was trying to do their best (or what they think of as best) to in a sea of impossibly hard choices. I thought I was fully prepared for how agonizing the viewpoints of Three Seagrass and Mahit would be, especially in regards to each other (I was not), but I was unexpectedly completely swamped by Eight Antidote’s mix of intelligence, audacity and the last vestiges of childlike naivety. And then there’s Nine Hibiscus, who’s trying to deal with an insurrection and murderous rampaging aliens and now an Information Ministry spook and her pet barbarian, not to mention an infestation of cats in the air ducts. She’s clever and loyal and so Teixcalaanli it’s a stark contrast to the others.

“[Exile isn’t something self-imposed.]
He was wrong about that, Mahit thought, exile happened in the heart and the mind long before it happened to the body that moved in space, across borders[.]”

What Mahit is dealing with on the personal level – the possibility of a relationship with Three Seagrass – is the same thing that Lsel Station is dealing with: assimilation versus isolation. Lsel Station is, in some ways, no better than the empire. There are factions that want to pretend that the Empire never found them, but that’s an impossibility, especially to Mahit, whose life has been formed around Teixcalaanli literature. Even with that – and all the self awareness of being in love with a culture that’s trying to devour your own – Mahit is a barbarian to the Teixcalaanlitzlim, even to Three Seagrass, and barely qualifies as human to others. But the mysterious aliens are even worse, and it’s a political brangle as to whether they’ll try to communicate with them, as Nine Hibiscus intends, or just continue trying to destroy them. It’s hard not to see the parallels to Lsel and Mahit, and it’s done so expertly. The writing veers from terrifying to lyrical to hilarious (Yskandr, of course), effortlessly picking up threads from the previous book and expanding on them. It’s dense but in an immensely, immersively satisfying way, and the pacing was perfect.

“Language is not so transparent, but we are sometimes known, even so. If we are lucky.”

Nothing like ripping your heart out with one of the last lines of the book. I really hope this isn’t the end of the series, and I especially want more of the graphic novel from Lsel Station that’s quoted at the beginning of some of the chapters. Whatever this author chooses to do in the future, I will be following her closely.

I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
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Does the phrase - Politically charged war space opera - make you moist? Well do I have the series for you. 

If you were to ask me what my least favorite sci fi trope is I could easily tell you its Space Operas. The only thing that makes Space Operas worse is the idea of adding politics. Why am I reading the 2nd book in this series then? Arkady Martine's writing is so incredibly beautiful I cant stay away.
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Rating: 4.5 stars

I was so excited when I heard that A Memory Called Empire was getting a sequel and I was not disappointed!!

A Desolation Called Peace picks up directly after the (catastrophic) events of A Memory Called Empire. Mahit Dzmare is back on Lsel, aliens are attacking Teixcalaan’s fleet full force, and Three Seagrass has landed herself a job at making first contact with the human murdering aliens.

First of all, I really loved the whole first contact vibe that the book had going on. It reminded me a lot of Arrival (a great movie) and as always, I love Arkady Martine’s creativity in how she wrote about the Alien’s “language” and different forms of communication.

Another great thing about this sequel was all the new POVs! A good amount of the book is told from Three Seagrass’s perspective, which I felt gave a lot more insight into her relationship with Mahit. Another new POV we get in this book is Eight Antidote! I was really excited about this because I really wanted to see more of him in book one.

The book switches POVs a lot throughout which I felt worked with the fast-paced atmosphere of the book. I enjoyed all the new POVs that were introduced, each new POV another testament to Arkady Martine’s skill at characterization.

I really enjoyed this sequel, and I hope that we’ll get another chance to explore the wonderful world that Arkady Martine has built up in her first two books.
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Following straight on from the events of the first book (A Memory called Peace), the stakes are raised in this second installment of the Teixcalaan Duology. I loved this book even more than the first.
A desolation called peace introduces us to multiple POVs in addition to Mahit Dzmare, forming an even richer and complex internal dialogues of cultural differences, loyalties and internal conflicts. Whilst still very political heavy in nature, the plot follows our main characters as they engage in battle and first contact with the "aliens", which raises the urgency and intrigue of the plotline.

I love that we see this engagement from multi perspectives of: 
- the war commander Nine Hibiscus as she navigate this war and the difficult decisions she has to make; 
- Three Seagrass and Mahit Dzmare as they come to terms about their feelings after the first book whilst working together again; and 
- Eight Antidote, the heir apparent of the Empire, as he grows and learn how politics work behind the scenes, and making a big decision on how he perceives the Peace his predecessor wanted was to be achieved.
Whilst his appearances were fleeting, I also loved Twenty Ciacada's character. The depth of loyalty between him and Nine Hibiscus was so beautiful. 

The Teixcalaan world is so rich in the different cultures, and I feel that there is so much to take from this book about acceptance of differences between not just people that are like you, but also people that are not like you. Most Teixcalaans believe if you arent human and part of the Empire, you are a barbarian. So whilst the first book introduced us to Mahit the Barbarian, we now also have an unknown alien into the mix. I feel so much for these character's internal conflicts of loyalty to their own belief's, their people and their culture. I also really appreciated the learn more before shooting them aspect of first contact with aliens, as so many action space operas are always the opposite with "shot first, ask questions later" (which is getting a bit too overused). 

This book is beautifully written and I find it a bit a of a brain teaser sometimes which is quite enjoyable. Such an amazing book - I can not praise it enough!

Review also posted on Goodreads, Instagram and
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A Memory Called Empire grabbed me from the first page with its mix of diplomatic and political intrigue and fascinating worldbuilding. However, although I ultimately liked it, I struggled a bit with the sequel.

Maybe I should have re-read Memory before tackling the follow-up. As it was, I was a bit lost at first trying to recall some of the details that shape the narrative. Eventually the action takes on its own internal momentum, and I was better able to lose myself in the story, but it took a while.

In the previous novel, the reader is immersed in Mahit’s struggles because the story is told from her perspective. In contrast, Desolation has four main narrators: Mahit, her former Teixcalaanli liaison Three Seagrass, the young imperial heir Eight Antidote, and Nine Hibiscus, a commander in the Teixcalaanli fleet. I enjoyed returning to Mahit’s fractured consciousness, and Three Seagrass is an absolute delight. The others are important to the plot, but they were less interesting to me as people, and I think that diluted my enjoyment of the story somewhat.

The book is also less focused. In Memory, Mahit attempts to negotiate the complexities of the intrigues she finds herself enmeshed in while dealing with a damaged psyche and a serving as a diplomatic envoy in a culture that doesn’t really view her as a person. The frictions between the Empire and Mahit’s home station, as well as the internal politics of the station and even more so the Empire, still drive much of the action here. Desolation is also a first contact novel, though, and that part of the narrative appealed to me more, especially in the ways Martine cleverly ties it back to questions of what constitutes personhood.

Once the first contact aspect of the story really took center stage, with the characters desperately attempting to navigate between diplomacy and war, I was hooked. The aliens themselves are fascinating, and I think the short chapters told from their perspective are wonderfully other.

Another plus for me was the development of the relationship between Mahit and Three Seagrass. The potential romance hinted at in Memory becomes a reality, although readers are left unsure at the end whether they can truly reconcile the tensions that come with being a person and a barbarian. The conclusion leaves open the possibility for another book, so maybe we’ll find out?

Fingers crossed! I’ll definitely be reading if there’s more.

A copy of this novel was provided for review through NetGalley; all opinions expressed are my own.
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"The motion of a swift is an impenetrable language; as incomprehensible to me as the thoughts of a flower when it opens its petals at dawn, without memory or mind. A coherent logic and a dance, but not one I can shape within myself. All my attempts are approximation." Eleven Lathe

Imagine a first contact scenario where it is impossible to communicate. The two ways of thinking and communicating are so foreign as to be impenetrable. It it's a bird, that may not be a huge problem, birds do not have the ability to dissolve our warships or our people. Imagine a scenario where each side has the ability to damage the other, at least in the short term, but not enough is known to make a long term prediction. What do you do?

Another great installment in the Teixcalaan saga. These characters have such depth that it is a joy to spend time with them and watch them interact. The door seems to be open for another adventure with Mahit and I can't wait.
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A Desolation Called Peace is the sophomore instalment in the Teixcalaan series and follow-up to Martine’s debut, A Memory Called Empire (AMCE). It contains beautiful prose and complex worldbuilding that will immerse readers in a dazzling story of alien contact and colonisation. The book takes place shortly after the events of A Memory Called Empire. The Empire faces the pressure of internal government tensions and a deadly alien armada lurks on the edges of Teixcalaanli space. No one can communicate with it, no one can destroy it, and Fleet Captain Nine Hibiscus is running out of options. As the newly appointed yaotlek, she sends six fleets to the front lines to encounter the coming alien menaces that lurk just beyond a nearby jumpgate. When Nine Hibiscus requests a trained diplomatic envoy to aid in alien relations, Mahit Dzmare’s former liaison and love interest, Three Seagrass takes up the post and stops by Lsel Station to convinces Mahit to join her to help her translate the messages they have received from the aliens in a last-ditch attempt to prevent an all-out war. But there are factions on Lsel and in Teixcalaan who would benefit from an endless war and who work to undermine their negotiations. Now Mahit, who returned to her native and fiercely independent Lsel Station three months ago and is still ascertaining whether she belongs there, and Three Seagrass, who —still reeling from the recent upheaval in the Empire—face the impossible task of trying to communicate with a hostile entity without inadvertently triggering the destruction of themselves and the Empire. 

Their failure will guarantee millions of deaths in an endless war. Their success might prevent Teixcalaan’s destruction—and allow the Empire to continue its rapacious expansion. Or it might create something far stranger. This is a riveting and compulsively readable sequel and Martine has somehow, inexplicably, crafted an exciting, fast-paced narrative that is even better than AMCE. The richly-detailed and creative world-building pulls you in and immerses you and the multiple perspectives add depth to the narrative as each character is rendered in exquisite detail. It's an elaborate, complex powerhouse saga with a diverse cast that I felt totally invested in. With several plot threads progressing simultaneously there was the worry that it may become confusing or convoluted but Martine’s masterful precision plotting allows a seamless slipping between each one with clarity and consummate ease. Written in a believable manner, Martine explores diplomacy, conspiracy and first contact and she utilises the unsettling alien beings to bring in themes of cultural violence, cultural assimilation, interpersonal relationships, self-identity, diplomatic strategy, and colonisation but also wider and highly ubiquitous political, social and economic issues that very much reflect, in an allegorical fashion, the problems we face as earth inhabiting humans. A captivating, scintillating and absorbing sophomore instalment, this is a must-read for those who enjoyed AMCE. It's a real treat of a sci-fi novel and I can see it winning multiple awards. Utterly exceptional and one of the finest, most intelligent space operas in years. Highly recommended.
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This sequel picks up three months after the end of book one. A new alien species is encroaching on the empire, and Mahit and Three Seagrass must work together to make an attempt at diplomacy while wading through many different levels of politics and their own feelings toward each other. Throughout, Mahit continues to struggle with her identity, while Three Seagrass continues to struggle to understand Mahit. 

In this sequel, we have a few different points of view as well as a couple of interludes. This really makes it possible to understand the nuances of what is happening in the city vs. out in space. And adds a lot of dimension. I also really liked the new characters.

Overall, it's a slow read, likely because we spend a lot of the story in the minds of the characters as they are thinking during periods without much action. It's contemplative. Regardless, the concept, world, and story are fascinating. I'm glad that I'm getting to continue to see this world, but I definitely like my books to be a little more fast paced. 

Thank you to Netgalley and Torbooks for the advanced e-arc in exchange for an honest review!
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After solving her predecessor’s murder, averting a coup, and using diplomatic technicalities to dissuade the conquest of her people, Ambassador Mahit Dzmare has returned home to Lsel Station. But being home doesn’t make Mahit’s life any easier; she knows if any of the Councilors that lead the station discover her defective imago machine, that it allows her to communicate with her predecessor’s thoughts instead of simply melding his memories into hers as intended, she’ll be benched – or worse. So when Three Seagrass shows up requisitioning Mahit’s services, she’s almost relieved at the chance to leave. But Three Seagrass is dragging Mahit to the frontlines of a war with an unknown alien enemy, one that doesn’t communicate in any kind of language Mahit knows. Mahit and Three Seagrass have a limited window to find a way to communicate and negotiate a peace before political pressures from the heart of the Teixcalaan Empire force the Fleet Commander Nine Hibiscus to wage the kind of war that leaves entire planets a desolate wasteland.

I’ll make this simple: If you enjoyed A MEMORY CALLED EMPIRE, you’re going to enjoy A DESOLATION CALLED PEACE. It’s the kind of space opera that’s full of conflicting agendas and unknown dangers, where the government ministers back home can be just as dangerous as the aliens firing on your ship. While Mahit and Three Seagrass hope to find a way to stop the war, there are multiple factions who have their own agendas, and Mahit and Three Seagrass feel the ripple effects of those factions, even if those they never interact directly with. It’s a chain reaction political drama, with multiple storylines affecting each other from across the galaxy.

Mahit and Three Seagrass return as POVs in A DESOLATION CALLED EMPIRE, and I especially appreciated how Three Seagrass’s sections were handled. Although Three Seagrass has fallen in love with Mahit, she mentally keeps caveating some of of Mahit’s accomplishments with turns of phrases like “for a barbarian.” It’s the kind of subtle trap a person raised in an elitist and racist empire can fall into without realizing it. She looks down on Mahit without being consciously aware of it, and the book forces her to confront that awful reality. Nobody is perfect, but you can’t fix your flaws if you aren’t even aware you have them.

Joining Mahit and Three Seagrass are new POVs Nine Hibiscus, leader of the forces engaged in fighting the unknown alien enemy, and Eight Antidote, the eleven-year-old heir to the throne. Nine Hibiscus is a woman who would love nothing more than to smash her enemy into a thousand pieces, but she’s also aware enough of political situations to know that there’s something fishy about how the war is being handled. I enjoyed her chapters a lot as she tries to lead while navigating the politics within her own fleet. Meanwhile Eight Antidote provides insight into the political situation at the heart of the empire. As Eight Antidote sits in on meetings for his own edification, he also struggles to understand the political agendas of the different government leaders, including of the current Emperor Regent who’s raising him.

As with the last book, the importance of language in reflecting a culture’s values is woven into the overall story. But language takes a bit of a step back to contemplate war. What sacrifices are acceptable to preserve a people, or simply a way of life? Can you justify stoking the flames of war if it leaves your neighbor weaker and unable to attack you? But for all its philosophizing, A DESOLATION CALLED PEACE doesn’t sacrifice pace or action, deftly weaving its thoughtfulness into the story.

I do have one complaint about A DESOLATION CALLED PEACE, and that’s that things fall into place at the end just a little too neatly. Different people come to the same realizations about the nature of the alien at nearly the same time, despite being on opposite ends of the galaxy and with different data in front of them. In the grand scheme of the book, it’s a small flaw and didn’t hamper the otherwise delightful time I had.

A DESOLATION CALLED PEACE is an absolutely fantastic follow up to A MEMORY CALLED EMPIRE. The political machinations ricochet off each other from across the galaxy. It’s mesmerizing (and somewhat disconcerting) watching a handful of people trying to divert a catastrophe so that it happens in a way that is most beneficial to them, while another handful of people try to stop the catastrophe from happening at all. Martine has penned another contemplative-yet-never-slow space opera. The ending leaves a tantalizing hook for another installment, and I hope to see another book in this world in the future!
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Excellent second installment to this series. A space opera political drama with relatable characters and a damn good queer love story! Arkady Martine is a sharp wit writer who dives deep into topics of self identification & the devastation of colonization, The world build is complex and satisfying.
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Read an ARC from NetGalley
Content warning: vomiting, death, attempted genocide

The sequel to A Memory Called Empire picks up right where the previous entry left off: with Mahit Dzmare returning to Lsel Station. However, we are treated to a few new POV characters in the form of Nine Hibiscus and her fleet waging war on aliens they can’t communicate with who fight back with novel weaponry.

Taking a few pages out of Arrival (2016), the second half of Teixcalaan’s story moves away from a single location mystery and brings that political intrigue to space and beyond. As hypnotic as the first and ties up many loose ends in its satisfying conclusion.

I won’t give too much away, but wow does Martine level up the stakes and add more connections to the intricate political web of Teixcalaan. Mahit, Three Seagrass, Eight Antidote, and more return, but we get some insight into the Empire’s military structure. I can’t give away too much, but the way it builds off the entire discussion of identity and immortality through the imago implants is outstanding. Most of my binge-reading of this one was looking for how all the threads connect. And also how the new invaders play into the incredible foundation. I won’t go into specifics, but it is so satisfying when you get there.

The depiction of Mahit communicating with two Yskanders also feels very compelling to me. The way thoughts flowed between dialogue and interior only further engulfs the reader in the dreaminess of this otherwise heavy narrative about the cost of Empire. Her chemistry with Three Seagrass is the same delight as it was in the book before. I just love them so much, between the seamless cultural exchanges, banter, and flirting, every moment they spend together soothes the tension of the disaster afoot.

Eight Antidote is such a fantastic addition to the points of view. A bit precocious, but I found myself wanting to protect him until the very end. Even though some characters didn’t interact for much of the book, it all feels coherent. Form meets function. Oh, and the title, I think, hints at the ethical core of the book. Martine really nails the landing with this one, and I can’t wait to see what she’ll bring next.
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A Desolation Called Peace makes half or more of the sci-fi works I’ve read over the last few years seem woefully incompetent. Arkady Martine’s second book is the sequel to the Hugo award-winning A Memory Called Empire. Memory introduced us readers to Martine’s masterfully crafted culture of Teixcalaan, which draws from many real-world empires and people to create something fresh and unique—central concepts of the Teixcalaanlitzlim such as civilized people versus barbarians and the political importance of poetry are borrowed from the Roman and Byzantine empire; the naming conventions of Teixcalaan’s citizens is drawn from the Mixtec people of Oaxaca; and the cultural dominance of this empire should be familiar to anyone who has experience with American cultural imperialism. So…everyone.

I’m not a hundred percent certain, and my copy of Empire is back home so I can’t check, but one aspect in which Desolation breaks the mold set by its predecessor is, it has four very different and well-defined point of view characters, whose unique sets of circumstances show varying elements of Teixcalaanli culture; Mahit and Three Seagrass are our main characters returning from Memory, and the two of them continue the conversation about cultural colonization, civilization versus barbarism, personhood. They are our first two  point-of-view characters; by the nature of the relationship defined throughout Empire, their perspectives are entwined. Now, the most important thing you need to know about those two characters is—I ship them eternally and if you don’t, you are a bad person. Bad, bad, bad.

Mahit is still that outsider looking in, in love with the culture of the Empire and horrified by that love, hungry to be accepted as equal to the Teixcalaanlitzim, yet disdaining of the notion that she is any less of a person for her belonging to an out-group. Wiser and with a thicker skin thanks to the events in Memory, Mahit nonetheless exhibits a raw vulnerability that left me speechless and in tatters.

Three Seagrass, whose nickname is Reed, cracked me up. Together with Mahit, the two of them are like saltpeter and sulfur; all they lack is a little charcoal, and Martine offers them plenty in the face of a first contact scenario that’s as heavy on politics, linguistics and tension as Memory, yet offering plenty of levity, too, laugh-out-loud moments that are true to these characters, and evisceratingly hilarious. Every conversation between Mahit and Reed is heavy with implication, heady with (sexual) tension, weighed by secrets and hidden meaning. Plenty to love about these two, the envoy and her pet, the poet and the ambassador, as they take on a first contact scenario that’ll demand every effort from the both of them.

The poetry of Teixcalaan takes a backseat as we are given a glimpse of the Empire’s warriors, facing an invisible foe. Yaotlek Nine Hibiscus leads a legion of six flagships against this enemy of the Empire’s—the title of yaotlek is a sort of admiral, or supreme Navy commander. At any rate, six flagships are an entirely lackluster force against this nebulous alien threat from the depths of unknown space. In Nine Hibiscus, we see once more the Teixcalaanli obsession with the past, in the perfect figure she strikes, in the loyalty she awakens, in the way she thrives whenever she’s in charge of a crisis. Her second is Twenty Cicada, nicknamed Swarm—an unusual name for an unusual character, and a member of a minority religion within the Empire.

Imperial heir Eight Antidote is our fourth PoV character, and he is an absolute treat. An eleven-year-old who feels fully the weight of expectations resting on him, Cure–as he is called by one of his teachers—has the perfect vantage point to offer an unguarded glimpse at the inner workings of empire at the highest level. So much of his PoV section was heartfelt and funny and intriguing – Teixcalaan and the Jewel of the World are seen through another lens entirely. The absolute highlights for me were the conversations Cure had with Nineteen Adze and the Minister of War Three Azimuth; these interactions serve to shape Antidote’s moral identity, which is a pretty nifty thing to have, as far as future emperors are concerned.

I would go remiss if I didn’t speak of the personal importance of this book and its predecessor to me. Like Mahit, I am a student of a culture that is not my own; the distance is not as great, of course, but it is there nonetheless. I’m not English, I’m not American, and yet I think in English more than I think in my own native Bulgarian; I know dozens of poems by Keats and Blake and Milton, but I barely remember the last time I read a poem in Bulgarian. In my apartment in Sweden, I do not own a single paperback in my own language – and if not for Arkady Martine’s books, this might not have even occurred to me as strange. But the truth of the matter is, I’ve been colonized. Every single one of my friends, people I slip in conversation in fluent English with—what does that speak of but just this type of cultural colonization?

To quote Martine, “Propaganda’s fascinating when it’s inside your own mind.”

Or even:

Mahit thought in Teixcalaanli, in imperial-style metaphor and overdetermination. She’d had this whole conversation in their language.
Deliberately, she thought in Stationer, We’re not free.
And in the same language, Yskandr agreed. <There’s no such fucking thing.>
More than any other work, more than any other thing in my life, this series has inspired me to pursue a master’s degree in cultural studies—fingers crossed I’ll be accepted.

By the end of this novel, traditions—central tenets of the Teixcalaanli culture, no less—will be uprooted. Differing visions of Empire will violently clash against one another, revealing both rot and things worth preserving. You will be endlessly surprised—as I was when I read Memory, and again, when I read this one.

Desolation is a novel without villains, without clearly demarcated good guys and bad guys, merely people with differing ideologies, modes of communication, conceptions of selfhood and personhood. Those same questions of conflicting loyalties and of civilization, are once again at the fore of Martine’s narrative, but are turned to the exploration of different angles, of belonging and cultural dissemination. Granted, when I say there are no villains, I separate between narrative and my own strong dislike of certain characters. I won’t give much away, but I will say, die in a fire, old man!

A few funny tidbits added familiarity to what can, at times, be a distant speculative world. The binging, in particular: the Teixcalaanli civilization has as much a sweet tooth as we do about binging content—though their strict preference is in the way of period dramas—Hello, of course it is, they come from a culture obsessed with the glories of the past and in capturing those glories in poetic and literal repetition.

I can’t recommend this enough if you’re ever looking for something more cerebral, tense and rich on those questions of cultural heterogeneity that are so interesting from the view of someone whose own culture has been displaced, skewered more than halfway out of orbit in a significant way by an all-pervasive, domineering culture.
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202103-A-Desolation-Called-Peace-195x300.jpgA Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine | 02 Mar 2021|Macmillan-Tor/Forge

Arkady Martine returns with a sequel to her debut novel, A Memory Called Empire, which deservedly won the 2020 Hugo. Thanks to Mahit Dzmare, Lsel Station has fended off the encroachment of the Teixcalaanli Empire despite the buggy memory implant she was given with an out-of-date copy of the previous Ambassador’s memory. Now back on Lsel (with a head crowded with multiple versions of her predecessor), she has to decide what she’ll do next, and how she can escape from the clutches of the Councilor for Heritage, who sabotaged her implant in the first place.

Fortunately for her, there’s a war brewing on the other side of the gate, and in the last book, she was instrumental in getting the empire to go fight it. Both the humans and aliens are bewildered by their inability to comprehend each other, but when a Teixcalaanli scout ship makes it back with a recording of something that must be, and cannot be language, the fleet commander sees a chance for negotiation and sends for an interpreter from the Ministry of Information. Answering the call is Three Seagrass, elevated from her former position (essentially aide de camp to the Lsel Ambassador when she was in the capital) and going crazy in an office. Getting out to a first–contact situation, even if it’s in the middle of a war, seems like a good idea, especially when she knows where to snag the best linguist/diplomat along the way.

Mahit is only too happy to make her exit from Lsel, rather than wind up on a dissecting table at the hands of whoever sabotaged her memory implant in the first place. If you thought that since this was Three Seagrass’ mission their dynamic would have reversed, with Mahit carrying water for the Teixcalaanlian, you’re not taking into account the barbarian stationer’s capacity for disruption.

It’s a very different conflict from the first book, but it’s at least as good. At present, this is the second book of a duology, but there’s plenty left to work with if the author decides to return to this space.
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