Cover Image: A Desolation Called Peace

A Desolation Called Peace

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Member Reviews

Was there ever a more perfect opportunity to call a book Five Stars novel?

    "To ravage, to slaughter, to usurp under false titles—this they name empire;
    and where they make a desert, they call it peace.


When the most (in)famous critique of Pax Romana serves as an inspiration for the title of the novel why should I be surprised Arkady Martine threw at me another book full of harsh truths, universal issues and historical events to draw parallels from. You know how A Memory Called Empire was described as a scifi murder mystery, but was actually about "falling in love with the culture that's devouring your own"? The Desolation is as equally byzantine, it’s more than just a First Contact story synopsis makes it appear. It's about communication and the failure of; it’s about love and affection, legacy and perspective, power and oppression. And it’s also a lot about cultural identity or to make it aligned with previous, "where do you belong once you fell in love with culture that's devouring your own.”

The story continues right where we left of: with new alien treat looming on the edges of huge Teixcalaan Empire. Nobody knows anything about them, who they are and what they want. We get to see what Teixcalaan authorities are doing about this through point of view of Nine Hibiscus, newly appointed yaotlek, chief general for this military campaign. She was given the position to make decisions by new Emperor, Her Brilliance Nineteen Adze. The challenges of ruling an Empire is, curiously, not being shown from her perspective, but from the point of view of Eight Antidote, ten years old clone of old emperor who is learning to be like him, or at least trying to fit the role intended for him. As for characters we are more closely familiar with and, undoubtedly, most interested in their fate, they are once again very important cogs in the whole thing. When we start the novel, Mahit Dzmare is back on Lsel Station after the whole Teixcalaan fiasco, knowing one of Councillors gave her faulty imago and probably wants her dead. In the meantime, Three Seagrass, a new shining star of Information Ministry, is bored.
So, in case you ask yourself how on earth will Martine bring this duo right back at the centre of this conflict, just start from there: Three Seagrass is bored. :) Nine Hibiscus, in her eternal wisdom, was thinking outside of (Teixcalaan) box and decided that perhaps better way to save people was to try and engage the aliens and find out what they want. And who better for the job than the third Undersecretary to the Minister of Information Three Seagrass who is educated in work of liaison and communication. Of course, she finds absurd reasons for needing a Lsel ambassador with her on Weight for the Wheel, Teixcalaan flagship, causing several diplomatic incidents in the process, but they might be just the right people for the job.
I was surprised how easy was falling right back into Teixcalaan world. Despite the themes of unknown danger and the tension of war not going according to the idea Teixcalaanlitzlim in their superiority imagined and some genuine horror parts that are the result of coming in contact with something alien, I find this book somehow more engaging, and dare to say, more fun and adventurous to read, but also because it’s more layered, more than just the suspense of First Contact. There are some echoes of Chiang’s The Story of Your Life about importance of language and communication with aliens, but also between characters, and the whole opening chapter that reads like Borg poetry and hints of a well known scifi concept. Add to that further development of Mahit’s symbiotic relationship with Yskandr who talks with her in her mind and occasionally takes control over their body. There is a whole parallel arc about Eight Antidote getting some first-hand experience in political machinations between Ministries who are trying to use him in various ways and his weird relationship with Nineteen Adze who can’t easily shake the fact he is 90% clone of her best friend, former Emperor, but it’s not him. There is an interesting discussion about command responsibility and there are even more interesting tidbits about Teixcalaan conquest tactics. Simply said, characters, new and old, are fantastic and their relationships, power structures and plays raise some universal sociocultural questions and make you think about myriad things.
It’s not a secret Teixcalaan is like an amalgam of every colonial force from human history set in space, but I loved Martine showed the seductive side of it. The culture, the beautiful, the progress, but also the ugly and oppressive. Exposure to Teixcalaan culture opened up Mahit's mind to other ideas and possibilities and her own life as it made her more critical to Lsel Government actions as well. Proving Mahit’s resistance was futile and Martine’s point about Teixcalaan, it was incredibly hard not to be charmed by Three Seagrass in this book. She was always likeable, but being in her head was fun as she truly represent the best Teixcalaan has to offer. But the way she is blind to Mahit’s position due to her privilege was eye-opening to read. On one side, this made me invested in their relationship because they are both loveable and it was a paradoxical seeing communication experts failing so badly in that: communication. But even beyond that, every damn Teixcalaan calls Mahit barbarian, even Three Seagrass does and she simply adores her. But she has no idea. And I will tell you this: barbarian word was mentioned so many times you will be bothered by it and I don’t have doubt in my mind it was intentional. And the funny thing about this is that right in the middle of crisis, with devastating war in horizon and pilots dying, the Teixcalaan who consider Mahit’s looks, smiling with teeth and her sole presence on the ship so uncouth, are the ones engaging in petty power struggle matches, spying and raising old grudges and questioning the reasons and legality of new emperor’s decisions. Their whole approach to this alien threat was to conquer in a single show of superiority, because of course it is, and it was decidedly the most barbaric behaviour in the novel. This is shown through actions, this is a question raised by Mahit and others, but it was not a thing to be resolved even in this imagined, fictional world, because Martine knows better.
The homage to great C.J. Cherryh was pretty obvious considering the first book is all about ambassador from another planet who comes to new place and someone wants to kill her, but for some reason, I find through Desolation so many more connections to her work: Of course, Foreigner, but also Cyteen and The Chanur Saga. I had a pleasure to read this book right on the heels of Martine’s Hugo win and I truly think she did an even better job this time. The writing was phenomenal in book #1, but it was so carefully measured and here, it’s like she let herself be more charming and relaxed and I simply want to read whatever she writes about next, hopefully that novella bout Nineteen Adze because I want to know more about woman who person she killed off finds so charming.
This book has everything, the adventure and politics, the ust and the romance, scary aliens with dangerous ships, the intergalactic wire fraud system, the definite proof cats would adapt and they'd still catch your heart with a loving sweep of claw to your thigh and Martine's propensity to make characters I instantly like sacrifice themselves in stupid heroic fashion.
No, really, was there ever a more perfect opportunity to call a book Five Stars novel?
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The sequel to A Memory Called Empire could be nothing less but perfect, in my opinion. 

This series is filled with political intrigue, some casual attempts at sabotage, Sci-fi goodness and incredible, and I mean truly wonderful, writing. From the prologue of this book you can tell how beautiful and captivating the story will be, and Arkady Martine did some amazing work once more. Like, I cannot image having this much talent.

I know this series can be quite intimidating, seeing that it's very politics heavy, but I promise you that it's very worth it. I urge you to pick up the first book, you won't regret it. And if you're returning to this series, you'll love the sequel, too!
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A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine is one of my favorite books, so of course A Desolation Called Peace was one of my most anticipated books for 2021. I’m happy to say that it lived up to expectations.

That’s it, that’s the review.

Just kidding!

AJ's Favorite Books
A Desolation Called Peace
Arkady Martine
$26.99 $24.83

The Plot
A Desolation Called Peace picks up shortly after the events of A Memory Called Empire. I don’t want to spoil the events of Book 1 if you haven’t already read it, so to keep things in vague terms, both Ambassador Mahit Dzmare and Three Seagrass are trying to figure themselves out after the events of the first book.

In the meantime, we meet Fleet Captain Nine Hibiscus, who is leading a force against the terrifying enemy that the Empire finds itself at war with.

And heir to the Empire Eight Antidote is trying to figure out what’s going on in the scary adult world of politics.

Where A Memory Called Empire was a murder mystery that was also a meditation on memory, identity, and what it means to love your colonizer, A Desolation Called Peace builds on those themes and adds themes about personhood and war and loyalty. Sadly there’s no murder mystery this time around, but there is still the mystery of what is up with the creepy alien enemy, and all of the imperial political intrigue.

Getting to Know the Empire
I feel like this book gave me a deeper understanding of the Teixcalaanli Empire, as I got to see things from both a military point of view and spend some time inside the Imperial palace, as well as having Three Seagrass’s viewpoint as a diplomat, and Mahit’s view as an outsider.

At the same time, we also spend more time on the Station and start to get some idea of the political goings-on there.

It’s so easy to both love and hate Teixcalaan. Martine has done such a good job of creating a complex society. Too often, fictional kingdoms and empires are painted as “good” or “bad”, but here we have someplace that feels real, a place full of complicated human beings, a place of beautiful art and culture, and yet also a place that believes anyone who is not part of the empire is not truly human.

And so it is easy to understand why Mahit has always dreamed of traveling to the Empire and being part of the culture there, and how at the same time, Powers That Be at the Station are terrified of being absorbed into the Empire and stripped of their own culture.

While reading A Desolation Called Peace I also found myself really thinking about Teixcalaanli naming conventions, so I was really happy to see that there’s an entire blog post about the relevance of the different numerals and nouns, and a fun generator to come up with your own name (mine is 25 Needle, share yours in the comments!).

I Want More!
I don’t know if the Teixcalaan series is intended to be a trilogy or something longer, but there’s definitely more story to be told. Certain things have been resolved by the end of A Desolation Called Peace, but there’s still unresolved issues in the meta-story and I feel like there’s at least one more book needed to wrap things up with Mahit and Three Seagrass, if nothing else. But I also wouldn’t be mad if sometime down the road we get more stories set in this universe with other characters.

Thank You, NetGalley and Tor
I reviewed A Memory Called Empire back when I was writing for another book blog with a much larger audience. I was pretty happy to find an email in my inbox offering me an ARC of A Desolation Called Peace so I could follow up on my initial review. I might have felt guilty for a moment, claiming a free copy of the book to review on this, my newly-established book blog, but on the other hand, I also have a pre-order placed, so I’m still paying for the book. I just got to read it a little early!

Big thank you to NetGalley and Tor for making my wait for this wonderful book a little shorter.

If you’ve also been eagerly awaiting A Desolation Called Peace, your wait is almost over! It comes out tomorrow, so place your pre-order now if you haven’t already.
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This is the second book in the Teixcalaan series and starts just a scant few months after the ending of book 1.

Possible Triggers:
Violence | Suicide | Death
There is (some) language so if you don’t like ANY in your books be warned.
1 sexytime scene - I thought it was tasteful.  

This story continues following some of the characters from book 1: Mahit Dzmare, Three Seagrass, Eight Antidote, and a host of other secondary/minor characters. It follows multiple points of view. I'm going to just take a few moments to excited-rant about some of my favorite characters in this installment of the series. 

Three Seagrass: Ahhhh i adore how much this character is so delighted and wondrous of all the things she learns and experiences. You were right there experiencing her highest highs and lowest lows throughout the story and it was intoxicating. It's hard not to be just as excited as she is when she learns something new and fascinating to puzzle over. I really enjoyed how she worked around the  problems thrown at her in the book and resolved them the ways she knew best. I also really enjoyed her continued dynamic with Mahit: their evolving friendship and awesome teamwork was something that was most appealing about the story. Can you have a favorite character to learn new things? I think she’s it.

Eight Antidote: I didn’t think I would be as invested in an 11 year old character as I was. I am so happy that this character was developed so much and really hope (if there is a book 3) that the trend continues in that book. Such strong opinions, convictions, and desires for such a young (sometimes ridiculously serious) person.  

Twenty Cicada: Was such a freaking cool character. I would love to learn more about his religion just because it was so very interesting how it was worked in with who he is as a person. Also, WOW, talk about choosing to do the hard right things. I want to be like him when i grow up.

+ Court politics, station politics, SHIP politics. ALL OF THE POLITICS~!!! I appreciate all of the politics not being TOO convoluted for me to keep up with. It made the sheer amount a joy to read instead of a nightmarish slog. 
+ Those interludes man. Many of them had the most gut punching revelations that had me screaming at my book XD Make sure you pay attention during them - holy heck. 
+ The pacing at the end was positively breakneck speed. I really really really cannot express enough gratitude to the author for not ending this book on a cliffhanger (I think I would have cried). 

- This book had a completely different feel than the last one. I went in thinking that there was going to be more mystery sprinkled in and there was absolutely none of that. This isn't a negative in and of itself, just something to note. I was a bit sad the trend wasn’t continued in the second installment, but despite that i didn’t think it detracted from my enjoyment.
- The pacing in the book was a little weird. I wouldn’t say it was slow, the speed was pretty consistent until the end, but for certain it seemed like maybe things were not progressing as much until you got to whichever interlude pertained to the intrigue from the chapters before and all the sudden a slamming click of “OHHHHH, oh daaayum” caught you up all at once. Maybe  explaining it like a yo-yo is a better analogy? I did not dislike this at all, but I also really hope that people stick it out when it only seems to be going slowly. The reveals are very much worth it.

Final Thoughts:
Arkady Maritne has a gift for making you feel what the characters are feeling; every hard decision, conflict of interest, spark of joy, glow of pride, and abject horror was a gut punch of feelings. I was upset for characters I didn't even particularly like when they were upset about things. The characters are where it is AT in this book. I   absolutely 100% recommend this book to anyone who enjoys Sci-fi and heavy politics - this book totally brings  to mind ‘Game of Thrones’, but with less characters to hate and more characters to admire, and in space!
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A Desolation Called Peace follows A Memory Called Empire as the second in Arkady Martine's complex and totally fascinating Teixcalaan space opera series.

This 2nd in the series sends young human ambassador Mahit Dzmare and aristocratic Teixcalaanli imperial officer Three Seagrass to make first contact with a very dangerous alien armada.
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The first book in this series, A Memory Called Empire, was one of my favorite books of last year.  This space opera explored colonialism, and how cultures see other societies, often as less than.  It also looked at what it means to be a person, as the main character, Ambassador Mahit, has the memories of her predecessor, Yskandr. embedded into her brain.  Is she Mahit, or is she Yskandr, or somehow both?  If memories can live on, is a person really dead?

Author Arkady Martine explores this further in A Desolation Called Peace.  With poetic language as a key component to the plot, there are new species of life, more wonderful characters, and a plot that kept me guessing.  This was a wonderful book.

What I Liked:


One of the themes of the book is communication.  How do species communicate with each other?  Is it only through spoken language?  Can it be done in other ways?  Is one way superior to another?  As the Teixacalaanli Empire encounters a new threat, it has to confront the ideas of how communication works. If a species communicates, in whatever form it does, can they be recognized as people?  Since the Empire always sees themselves as superior (and any other species as "barbarians"), this is a challenge.  

But the book also uses poetry, a form of language that Teixicalaanlis revere, to create haunting imagery.  Just the names of the Teixicalaanlis, from Three Seagreass, to Nine Hibiscus, evoke such beautiful depictions.  Pay special attention to the title of the book, A Desolation Called Peace.  The beginning of the novel begins with what this means.  When both sides destroy everything, then there is nothing left but peace.  It is both terrifying, and sadly how some wars resolve.


Besides Mahit, and Three Seagrass, we learn much more about Eight Antidote, the eleven year-old clone of the deceased emperor, Six Direction.  Many of the chapters are from his point of view.  This is really a smart device, that lets us see how a new perspective, albeit from within the Teixicalaanli society, can be catalyst for fresh solutions.  

There are also several new military characters, like Nine Hibiscus, her second in command Twenty Cicada, and the ambitious Sixteen Moonrise.  There are strong bonds forged from years of shared experiences, to petty rivalries that all feed the story.  Their characters bring out the human costs of war, and the choices soldiers have to live with once a war is over.


I loved that many of the relationships from the first book continue on in A Desolation Called Peace.  We get to see how the feelings between Mahit and Three Seagrass are more complex than we can imagine.  Is Mahit Three Seagrass's "pet", as many refer to her as?  Is Three Seagrass drawn to Mahit mainly because she is an exotic foreigner?  We also see the very complex relationship that Mahit has with Yskandr (both old and young versions).  Will they be constantly an echo in her head, or can they all integrate?  Does Mahit even want that?  And I loved the relationship between Eight Antidote and the current emperor, Nineteen Adze.  Eight Antidote is the heir of Nineteen Adze, so they are much like a parent and a child.  But Nineteen Adze alway is aware of the burdens Eight Antidote will bear when he ascends to the throne.  With this in mind, she never treats him as a child.  She is a patient teacher and mentor for Eight Antidote, showing him how politics work.  Even when she was being ruthless, I liked that she never was impatient with her young heir.


The story follows the start of a war (one that Mahit kind of started in the first book), that Mahit's people hope will keep the Teixicalaanlis busy so they won't be conquered themselves.  Clever.  But the new enemy is powerful enough that the Stationers (Mahit's people) may be caught in the crossfire, anyway.  

When Three Seagrass is sent to try and negotiate with this new life-form, she brings in Mahit to help.  But why would a Teixicalaanli bring in a "barbarian"?  The actual motivation for Three Seagrass is that she really misses Mahit.  But who will believe that a Teixicalaanli would want to spend time with a "barbarian"?  There's got to be a secret reason!  Could it have something to do with Yskandr's closeness to the Emperor?  It's what makes all sides suspicious of Mahit.

With all the various factions so jaded, Eight Antidote lives up to his name, as he is a fresh set of eyes on the situation.  

The story moves from the battlefield to the Palace through time and space, in such an urgent manner, that I couldn't put the book down.  It was thoroughly entertaining, and thought-provoking.
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Disclaimer: I received an advance copy from Tor in exchange for an honest review.

A Memory Called Empire was one of my favorite books of 2019, so I was thrilled to get an early look at A Desolation Called Peace. Without hesitation, I can say that Arkady Martine has built on an amazing debut novel and delivered an excellent follow-up. Even though Memory worked well as a stand-alone, Desolation is very much a second book. It takes the characters and setting that we are already comfortable with and uses it to dig deeper into the questions of cultural imperialism and autonomy that were central to Memory, while making full use of the rich sci-fi setting and using the truly alien in a much more direct way. For anyone who enjoyed the rich prose, tense atmosphere, and intricate political maneuvers of the first book, this one will not disappoint. For anyone who wanted a closer look into the emotional lives of the main characters (especially Three Seagrass, who was held at some remove until the end of Memory), this book is for you as well. Like the first, it's a beautifully-written space opera, full of big ideas, gorgeous prose, and complex characters interacting with each other in a detailed and believable world. Surely one of the best books I'll read all year, and I read it in January!

Now that the “review” part is covered, a few looser thoughts. These will be full of spoilers, so read no further if you want to remain un-spoiled (and I do recommend that you do, if only for the experience of seeing the book unspool for the first time). There will also be discussion of the Baru Cormorant books by Seth Dickinson, and some mild mention of Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee. Memory was a book that featured a core set of characters. Initially it was only Mahit and Three Seagrass; in the middle section, Twelve Azalea joined the cast. Other characters, like Emperor Six Direction, Nineteen Adze, and the surgeon who fixes Mahit’s imago, swirl around that core, entering and exiting the narrative according to the gravity of our main cast. While Desolation has more “main characters”—in particular, Eight Antidote, Nine Hibiscus, and Twenty Cicada join Mahit and Three Seagrass—its central unit is the dyad. Martine pairs characters who balance each other like two strands of a helix; rather than being in opposition, they highlight each other’s facets and draw parallels. Early in the novel, Nine Hibiscus and Twenty Cicada dance around issues of what it means to be a “perfect Teixcalaanlitzim.” Twenty Cicada is explicitly described as the very model of a second-in-command, but of course his beliefs about homeostasis eventually make him the perfect bridge to a wholly alien way of thinking as well. Nine Hibiscus, the beloved yaotlek, is deeply unorthodox and politically problematic, but in an entirely different way. Equally as compelling are the discussions between Eight Antidote and Nineteen Adze. The former is compellingly written as an intelligent, well-shepherded child, but a child nonetheless, while the latter walks the line between cool political operator (never has “the edgeshine of a knife” been more appropriate than when she recounts her wartime decisions) and something much more fragile. 

Nineteen Adze is a character that stands out to me in this novel, and the series as a whole. She invites comparison to the protagonist of another favorite series of mine, Seth Dickinson’s Masquerade. Like the titular Baru Cormorant of those novels, Nineteen Adze does not shy away from hard choices; indeed, she seems to believe that some choices must be hard. Both on the personal level (consenting to Yskandr’s murder; almost allowing Mahit to die) and on the galactic one (wiping out one planet and countenancing xenocide) she is reminiscent of Baru’s belief that there is no way out. But where Baru is clearly a protagonist, and the audience is placed in her head and behind her eyes as she looks out on the world and acts, our perspective on Nineteen Adze is reversed. In Memory, she is an antagonist we come to understand and warm to—though she keeps Mahit prisoner at first, we are shown her reasons, and her willingness to step back from the precipice of her previous choices. In Desolation, the “good side” of Nineteen Adze comes through mostly in the chapter epigrams, which reveal a woman alone and adrift without the anchors she had built her life around—Yskandr and Six Direction. However, our main view of her is through Eight Antidote’s eyes, where she plays the role of a slightly more benevolent Big Brother. When Eight Antidote confronts her about the decision to bomb the aliens, we are squarely on his side, mirroring all the times we are on Baru’s side as she re-breaks what is left of her heart by condemning another principle to destruction. Our feelings about Nineteen Adze as readers are like Mahit’s—driven more by memory and understanding of who she was (in other moments, set apart from the text) than the experience of her in the moment.

Going back to dyads, Mahit and Three Seagrass are still the core of the novel, even if they are less central in terms of time “on screen.” While we spent a good amount of time in Mahit’s head, Three Seagrass was a mystery for almost the entirety of Memory, as alluring and inscrutable as Teixcalaan itself. Well, wonder no longer! Secrets laid bare! Emotional fruit picked! We get to experience the full range of Three Seagrass, from her satisfied confidence as she once again puts herself in the center of the action, to the sharpness, confusion, and anger of not knowing what she has done wrong, to the love that she is able to find and admit for Mahit and for people beyond Teixcalaan. The emotional content in Memory was mostly introspective—there was a lot to say about one’s place in the world, and the experience of watching oneself change, but not much in the way of interpersonal interactions. Of course, any book built on dyads cannot shy away from the feelings two people have for each other, and Martine does wonderfully in writing a rich variety of emotional scenes between our two leads. The fight between Mahit and Three Seagrass is a gut-punch, a chapter that leaves you with the sick feeling of having lost something vital and not knowing how to get it back (it was the last chapter I read before pausing for the night when I first got the book, and what a decision that was). Their slow journey back to mutual understanding, to a willingness to move forward as a couple but also to recognize each other as individuals, is a joy to read. This is not Baru’s world, where even if love is not doomed it hardly has the space to flourish until hundreds of pages of pain have been passed through and inscribed on the characters’ flesh. It is a world where, even within the space of a single novel, there is room to find, admit, and face one’s flaws, and to get a second chance not in the abstract but with the very person you had wronged in the beginning. The story of Mahit and Three Seagrass is a story of first contact gone right; of a fatal attraction that was able to overcome its fatality; of the complicated, messy, challenging, ever-present work of navigating another person’s world.

Finally, a note on plot. In Chapter Two, we are told how Nine Hibiscus won a battle by doing nothing and trusting that her enemy was in fact her friend. We don’t know it at the time, but Martine has just given away the ending of the book! Twenty Cicada, Nine Hbiscus’s most trusted ally, “infiltrates” the “enemy,” and when the aliens are poised to attack they are revealed to be allies. Crisis is averted, and the ultimate price need not be paid. This is a wonderful bit of parallelism, and something it took me two readings to pick up on. As well, the ending for Mahit, in which she once again turns down the opportunity to parlay her triumph into prestige and inclusion in the heart of Teixcalaan, is of course a direct parallel to the ending of Memory. However, the valence has changed. The ending of Memory was on the bitter side of bittersweet. Even if Mahit had kept Lsel safe, she—and we as readers—had learned that there is no home to go back to. Mahit was not the person she was at the start of the book; she was not a person at all, in the eyes of the people she most ardently admired; she was too corrupted to be believed, in the eyes of those she had trusted without question. Mahit turned down Texicalaan because if she didn’t, then there would be nothing left of her. Now, at the end of Desolation, Mahit’s refusal is because she sees a better option, a way to preserve herself and to continue the journey that she can now imagine. She doesn’t refuse Teixcalaan because she’s not good enough, or would not be seen as good enough. She doesn’t refuse for fear of what she might become. She refuses because she knows what she might become, and wants to leave space for that personal growth, rather than taking the path that she now understands will still be there for her in the future.

I haven’t even said anything about the concept of self and how it is explored through the aliens, Shardsight, or Yskandr’s growing presence in Mahit’s head (and the parallels that has to Ninefox Gambit, as was the case in Memory). I haven’t said anything about poetry, which plays a subtler role here. I haven’t drawn out the Baru Cormorant parallel and talked about Nine Hibiscus and Sixteen Moonrise as two facets of my favorite minor character from that series, the doomed Traitor-Admiral Juris Ormsment (oh! what a terrible thing, to be bound to duty, to stand before an unfair world and be unable to make it right). I haven’t even pulled all of the fantastic quotes that show how Martine’s command of prose has grown, how she continues to balance rich descriptions with cutting phrases, how her spaceship names are a perfect metonymy for the civilization she’s built. There’s just too much for me to say about this book, and some of it inevitably has to wait for another day. The preview chapters of this book that have been released online are a tour de force; the rest of the novel takes that outstanding beginning and runs with it. I hope this review has convinced you to read it again, to read both of these books again, to read everything I have mentioned again, because it really is a joy to be able to experience a writer like this at the peak of her craft.

Five out of five stars, three out of three seagrasses, eight out of eight antidotes.
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Okay, so third time's the charm! 

If you've seen my previous pained, diplomatic attempts to review ARCs, I haven’t had the best luck with them but I straight up ADORED A Desolation Called Peace. I loved the the first one, A Memory Called Empire (which won a Hugo?? Did I know this?), but this was even better.

You know when you're enjoying something for its own sake, not just to see how it ends, but for the sheer appreciation of it? When consuming even the slowest, most insignificant parts just makes you happy to be reading about those characters in that world written by that writer? That’s how this was for me. As with Memory, it does indeed start off slow and dense, setting up the board and pieces, but Desolation has the benefit of jumping into a known world, with the characters and dynamics almost the same as when we left them. Except the month that’s passed since has not gone so well for...pretty much anyone, and once again Mahit’s finding herself at a flashpoint. Teixcalaan is now officially at war with the mysterious aliens eating up huge swathes of space and they happen to be almost at the doorstep of Lsel Station, where Mahit’s trying to dodge Councilors suspicious about what exactly went down back in Teixcalaan.

This is very much a sequel, you could maybe read it without knowledge of the first book, it alludes to it often enough, but this world requires such a steep learning curve, and really, I don’t know why you’d want to miss out on the beauty of Memory! The callbacks are more for someone like me, who hadn’t had the time to reread it before starting Desolation. I’d often have trouble remembering who was who or what exactly went down until some character or the narrator helpfully clarified. But even so, I'd actually still recommend a reread of Memory before starting this one.

Unlike Memory, we get a variety of character perspectives this time, Stationers and Teixcalaanli, although Mahit is still heavily present throughout, often the subject of the other characters’ thoughts (and sometimes hate). It’s always hard to balance multiple POVs, you run the risk of breaking momentum when jumping away from intense scenes to something much slower, but I think the advantages won out. This wasn't an introduction to the world, or a whodunit mystery, where we went in with one character and needed information handed out piecemeal, learning everything the same time Mahit did. This was a study of brokering peace with aliens while politics on every side hamstrung the negotiators. The more information and perspectives, the better, even when--especially when different factions interpreted the same events completely differently.

Most of the additional character perspectives come from characters we already met in Memory, now being able to see more in-depth into their actions and motivations, with the delightful side effect of knowing what they thought about Mahit back when everything first went down. Another reason you can't and shouldn't want to read this without Memory, the two make up a complete story together (though I'm hoping someone convinces Arkady Martine to not leave this as just a duology).

The richer perspectives also make up for where in Memory, I kind of felt that while Mahit was SO strong, Three Seagrass almost suffered a bit in comparison? Along for the ride, conveniently always what Mahit needed her to be. Not to say I didn't love her but there's way more personality and agency here. The romance is also more...layered? I remember, when Memory came out, I put it in the same mental box as The Priory of the Orange Tree (both long, well-written, mainstream sff with f/f, published around the same time) but liked the romance in Priory more, feeling that while what we got in Memory was nice, it was more a bonus than integral to the story. I liked its handling better here.

The increase in character perspectives and watching a war fought in real time means we get a nice and personal look at some really frustrating moments, too! Because we get the full picture we see not only the inflexible, paranoid nationalism and xenophobia no matter where it comes from, but how straight up dumb and wrong it is, suspicions and speculations already directly contradicted in other character POVs.

As with the Memory, while all this, the prose, the world, the plot, the characters, they’re all great, the specific understanding of colonization and how it affects people, the colonized and colonizers, that is what this series will be remembered for. There are many quotable moments but this is what I immediately pasted to my friend:

What a clear encapsulation of the whole concept! That second line especially, “There’s no room for me to mean yes, even if I want to.” That’s at the root of ALL these conversations we have about--about choice, right? And why, no matter how benevolent or kindly even the nicest person in power is, this will always be there.

To wrap this up, it’s a joy to read, the prose remains gorgeous, with, similar to Teixcalaanli art, repeating themes, similar phrases across different character POVs, but also these organically introduced concepts that end up being such delicious parallels. When you realize... It’s just super fun to read, especially once everything starts in earnest. It just starts to flow faster and easier, more character- and action-based, while remaining so thoughtful and intelligent.

I don’t recommend it universally, y’all know I never do that, it’s just not going to be for some people: it’s hard scifi, mixed with the unfamiliar linguistic and cultural traditions of worlds that share little with ours. But I’m gonna do what I do, just say how much I loved it. If you like some of what I do and anything mentioned above, I would say you’re missing out if you don’t catch this series. Book 2 officially comes out on March 2nd, this Tuesday.

ETA: I forgot to mention this earlier but I’m REALLY grateful that we get actual adult fiction books like this that aren’t steeped in grimdark violence and sex to justify not being YA.
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A DESOLATION CALLED PEACE takes the intrigue and exploration of belonging, language, and assimilation found in A MEMORY CALLED EMPIRE and tosses it into a war zone. I love this series' focus on language and culture, taken from a new angle now there are aliens to talk to. It's one of those series that wants a slow re-read to analyse how a whole world of literature has been created for characters to refer to and use as weapons against one another - masterful world building that needs to be analysed.

There are more POVs than what I can recall of MEMORY. Instead of primarily being Mahit's, there is also Three Seagrass (returning from the first book) working with Mahit to negotiate as the two try to work out the nature of their relationship, the fleet commander Nine Hibiscus trying to reduce casualties and work out how this war can be won, and Eight Antidote, the imperial heir getting stuck into politics and unearthing secrets of bickering ministries.

Having more POVs allows this story more immediate scope as it's not following one character around. Instead of being a tight political thriller with lots of information missing from the reader, there is instead a much wider story where the reader knows more, but isn't sure how it will play out as there are so many players to consider. The politics is still strong (whoo) but it's woven around a war, with the different parties having their own desired outcomes. Plus there's an alien first contact storyline that is reminiscent of ARRIVAL (how do you talk to aliens who you do not share a common language with?)

This bouncing around between storylines also separates it from the first book, giving it a faster paced, more frantic feel than the slow build of beauty and unease in MEMORY. It <em>feels</em> more like a world at war, everyone having to make snapshot decisions and balance the conflicting desires around them so that they operate as efficiently as possible.
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You might have noticed me gushing about the first book in this series sometime last year. A Memory Called Empire, it was such a great start to a series. It blew my mind multiple times and it was just what I needed at the time, I think. I was a bit too excited for the sequel and just as afraid of it. Mostly because I was wondering whether A Desolation Called Peace will be able to grip me the way A Memory Called Empire did with its continuous reveals and shocks. It did better! It hit me where it hurts the most. Character growth and just mostly character focused book in general. That really helped me, I think. I wasn’t sure if I could take any more hits like the first one. Not that there aren’t surprises in store for the readers but you know, this time around, it’s better.

The way the last book left off, there were more questions and fates hanging in balance than solutions or answers. Overall, I think this book managed to capture my attention while I was reading and even when I wasn’t reading it. The way the first book ended and now this one too! I need answers, I am just impatient and greedy that way but please, just gimme the next installment already. I want to know so much more that’s been given to me. Listen, this is a heck of a ride with explosions and shocking turns aplenty, it is also something I would love to see in a TV show because it has that big a scope or maybe even a movie because the bigger budget would probably help. In short, it’s entertaining as heck, it’s action packed and I loved it.
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A Desolation Called Peace is an exquisite and de luxe sequel, that definitely lives up the hype that its prequel received. Intricate, sophisticated and entertaining – this follow-up to A Memory Called Empire is definitely the superior one of the two books in the Teixcalaan series. Crafted with adequate amounts of mystery and fun, along with its definitive portrayal of xenophobia, colonialism and cultural chauvinism, this book is simply elegant to the core.

The grandeur of these books can only be appreciated by a few. The craft of storytelling is close to perfect here, and the writing is too beautiful to be forgotten. This is an amazing space opera that should not be missed this March.

Lsel Ambassador Mahit Dzmare and her cultural liaison Three Seagrass unite again as a mysterious alien race lurks around the Teixcalaani space. Out of options, the empire recruits the pair in their last bid to communicate with the dangerous enemy. Meanwhile, Mahit tries to break out of political ambitions and intimidations of the leaders of her station.

Mahit Dzmare: the main protagonist is trying to figure out a way through all the politics around her.
Three Seagrass: Mahit’s only solace and romance.
Nineteen Adze: the imperial highness, facing a new threat in her Empire.
Nine Hibiscus: yaotlek, the Empire’s fleet commander, face-to-face with an unimaginable enemy.
Eight Antidote: the eleven-year-old heir to the throne.

The plot is appreciable. The chapter-length felt a tad too long sometimes, but it doesn’t affect the story much. The ending is tear-jerking. The overall length of the story is sufficient. 

A division of the story into smaller chapters might have helped the book more. I’d love to see a more thorough exploration of each character’s emotions and life-journey in the future. I’d also like to see more of their past lives being discussed in the next installments. The telling-not-showing style of the author is sometimes tiring and difficult to follow.

An amazing follow-up, which will definitely please the readers of A Memory Called Empire.

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

A big thanks to Netgalley and Macmillan-Tor/Forge for sharing this ARC with me in exchange for an honest review.
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I enjoy these books—the space-opera adventure of them, and the themes of identity, culture, and society that they explore. I do get the sense, as they go on, that the author is much more amenable to the idea of "empire" and "emperors", both galactic and otherwise, than I am. I found some of the narrators/perspectives in this one much less interesting and immersive than others—I found the way the child Eight Antidote was written to be really distracting and frustrating.
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I'll be honest and say I'm a picky scifi reader. I don't try to be that way but alas, here we are. The only benefit is that when I find something I like, my enthusiasm is off the charts. A Memory Called Empire started me on that path for this series, but A Desolation Called Peace sealed the deal.

What's there to love? First, Martine manages a story that's both mesmerizingly otherworldly while holding on to an essential human core. For example, random pop culture comments by characters  are delightfully outside the reader's frame of reference while still sparking familiarity at the way people react to music, drama, poetry, etc. It sparks with creativity without literally alienating the reader.

This is also a high-action book focused on politics, intrigue, and the beginnings of war. Rapid fire POV changes that can be clunky with poor handling were a benefit to this story. It contributed to the constant motion of the plot while also adding more layers and connection points to all the spying and maneuvering going on. It both illuminated the situation while also keeping things just enough out of reach that my interest was always piqued, trying to puzzle out motives and strategies and endgames.

While the expanded perspectives were a positive, I also was happy to return to Mahit's mind from the first book. Her internal struggle between home and empire is deep and complex. As she tries to determine her own loyalties and balance moral compass with what makes her happy, her interpersonal life is just as tangled as the big picture intrigues. The balance between these two scales of drama also contributed to my high investment.

In my opinion, this space opera has it all. 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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~kittens in the vents
~indie comics
~aliens that are really definitely Not Human At All
~bored at work??? sign up for First Contact!
~sneaky imperial heirs
~Disruptive Persons

I think it was really stupid of me to request an arc of A Desolation Called Peace. I clearly did not think it through, because I did not realise that after reading an arc I would have to review it, and how on earth – or off it! – do you talk about Arkady Martine’s writing? The English language fails me utterly. I want the holographic drawing board Mahit and Three Seagrass use with the aliens so I can try and just draw my feelings, instead of needing to use words.

I would draw fireworks and exclamation points and a book made of stars, and I would draw them all REALLY BIG, and just maybe I might be able to make you understand a fragment of how amazing this book is.

It’s not – not exactly – the story that makes it special. On a superficial level, this is a first-contact story, and if I sketched out Act One and Act Two and so on for you it might sound – familiar. Recognisable. The shape of it is something we’ve seen before. We know how to hold it in our hands, in our heads.

But Martine has taken this shape we know, and opened it up for us like a geode, and there is just so much inside. Beneath the surface. The shape is familiar but what’s inside it isn’t, and what’s inside it is so beautiful and deep and raw and true. There are so many layers. There are so many facets, and each one is real and each one is different and no one can see them all.

(Except us, because we’re reading this story and not living it. Because Martine shows us each one, carefully, pointing each one out with gentle subtlety so we won’t miss it.)

Even more so than the previous book, A Memory of Empire, this installment, A Desolation Called Peace, is about different ways of being a person. Empire was heavily concerned with the struggle of coming from a colonised culture (or a culture under threat of colonisation), and the difficulty of loving, admiring, wanting to be one of the colonisers. And that’s still here in Peace, because Mahit is still here and that is something she’s probably always going to struggle with.

Maybe it would be better to put it like this: Empire asked, what is a human? The Teixcalaanli divide between human and barbarian – aka, anyone who is not of Teixcalaan – is an intrinsic aspect of Teixcalaanli culture, and therefore was always going to be a major part of Empire‘s story.

But A Desolation Called Peace is asking something even bigger. Here, Martine asks: what is a person?

The most obvious example of this is the first-contact aspect of the story, the introduction of absolutely-very-definitely-not-human aliens: beings who have a very different culture, a very different understanding of personhood, than any of the human cultures we’ve yet met in this series. But this isn’t the only example Martine asks the reader to think about. Another, touched on in the previous book, is the concept of imago-lines, the Lsel Station tradition (tradition does not seem like the right word, but I’m not sure what a better one would be) whereby the memories and personality of a predecessor are implanted into a new, adult person, with the goal of the old and new personalities merging and no knowledge or experience ever being lost. Is Yskander, Mahit’s imago, a person? What does it mean if he is; what does it mean if he’s not? What does that make Mahit? What does that make the end-goal Mahit, who is a product of her original self and Yskander? All of which is incredibly disturbing to the handful of Teixcalaanli who know about the imago technology.

What about the Shards, the space equivalent of fighter-jet pilots, who can, thanks to new technology, communicate in ways that both aids and cripples them in battle? What about the Sunlit, the Teixcalaanli police we met in Empire, who are created (or run?) by a similar technology?

What about Eight Antidote, the Imperial Heir who is only eleven years old? We caught a glimpse or two of him in the previous book, but here, he’s not only a PoV character but a major one, albeit one most of the other characters aren’t aware of. And I do think the question – what is a person? – applies to him as well. Far too many people – adults – dismiss the opinions and feelings of children. Children are often treated as though they are not real people, not really people yet. In fact, there are fascinating parallels to be drawn between the aliens’ ideas of personhood – of the process of becoming a person, and therefore their view of their young – and the way human children are treated, and I wish I could write an essay about that but it would involve far too many spoilers.

My point is, carefully woven into the breathtakingly beautiful prose and the emotions and the urgency and the nuclear option – woven throughout that is the quiet question: what is a person? And you don’t have to think about it if you don’t want to! A reader could simply sit down and enjoy Peace as an epic sci fi novel, one with aliens and spaceships and a do we kill them or will they kill us? plotline. Martine does not demand that you answer – try and answer – the question this book poses. It is allowed, and it is easy, to let yourself to be entertained, to be sucked in to this incredible galaxy wrought out of stunning prose and an incredible imagination. If you want to sink into a story as you would a warm bath, you absolutely can do that with this book.

(Although not if you haven’t read the first book first. Sorry. That’s non-negotiable).

But you can also let Martine’s hands cover yours…and show you how to break open the shape you know, and see the geode inside.

You know. If that’s your thing.
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A Desolation Called Peace is the much-anticipated sequel to A Memory Called Empire, which incidentally is one of my favourite books. This instalment was very different from the first. It expands into four POVs, moving away from the political intrigue of Emperors into the difficulties of first contact. Arkady Martine's writing remains superb and incredibly clever; A Desolation Called Peace asks the question, 'how do you make peace with something that doesn't use language?'.

One of the more stark differences between this book and A Memory Called Empire is the use of multiple perspectives. Mahit is still a main character, alongside Three Seagrass who was her cultural liaison in the first book. Their relationship has changed drastically in their time apart. Although the fondness for each other remains, their cultural tension has also increased. On top of that, we get the voice of Fleet Captain Nine Hibiscus, who has been chosen to lead the fleet in this seemingly impossible war. Finally, the eleven-year-old Eight Antidote makes an appearance, the 90% clone of the previous Emperor of Teixcalaan and current heir. Each perspective was an essential part of the story; these characters, their conflicts, and the information they discover broaden the universe that Arkady Martine has artfully crafted.

First contact stories are always an engaging read, especially so when there's a meeting between two major superpowers. For Mahit's home, Lsel Station, the war between the two empire's might be the only thing keeping them independent. That comes with its own troubles as Three Seagrass drags Mahit off to try and come to a peaceful solution. The book was enthralling as it balanced the desperate desire to fight against brutal aliens, with the understanding that the casualties of such a war would be disastrous. Every time I put this book down I felt my mind reeling with all the possibilities.

Cultural identity and imperialism remain a vital feature of the series, but A Desolation Called Peace's most exciting theme is that of collective identity. This was partially explored in A Memory Called Empire alongside Mahit's embargo machine, but it plays a much bigger role here. Not only is Mahit and Yskandr's combined self given more page time in this novel, but the very first chapter in the perspective of the alien threat uses the pronoun 'we'. I don't want to delve too much into this, as it's a delight to explore for yourself, but trust me when I say it was brilliant. Arkady Martine has created an alien race that's both horrific and intensely interesting.

While this large scale war is a dominant feature of the book, Arkady Martine doesn't neglect the smaller, more intimate conflicts. Mahit and Three Seagrass's relationship is especially fraught, as, despite their fondness for each other, their cultural differences are intensely challenging to navigate. How can a person and a barbarian be in a relationship? Even though Three Seagrass values Mahit, she still views her as something other (that's even part of her attraction), and that's a difficult worldview to change. On the other side of the universe, Eight Antidote is struggling to figure out the motivations of those around him. He's going to be the next Emperor, and that opens many doors, but it also means everyone has an agenda. Nine Hibiscus has the loyalty of her people, but is that enough when other captains begin to question her authority? Was she even sent to this war to win it?

Arkady Martine is a genius when it comes to worldbuilding and linguistics. This book's wonderfully dense; every page brings something new and exciting into the universe. At the same time, this is where my one disappointment with the book falls. In a universe where queer identity appears to be normalised, the lack of transgender, non-binary, or otherwise gender non-conforming people leaves a gaping hole. I may not have noticed so acutely if the phrases 'female-bodied' and 'male-bodied' weren't used. I don't think this was a malicious choice, but it doesn't make sense. Mahit refers to her clothes as 'female-bodied'; how are clothes female-bodied? This would imply no matter what someone identifies as they would have to wear 'female-bodied' clothes if it matched their assigned sex. I am aware that's likely not what Arkady Martine meant here, but that's what it's inadvertently saying. It left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth for an otherwise near-perfect series. I did notice the use of they/them pronouns for a character who was there for a few pages, which was a good inclusion, but I can't help but wonder how gender works in Teixcalaan if 'female-bodied' clothes and accepted non-binary people can somehow coexist.

This series perfectly combines so much of what I love. The political intrigue, cultural depth, and captivating conflicts are unlike anything I've ever read before. A Desolation Called Peace has cemented Arkady Martine as an author to keep an eye on because, if this is her debut series, I can't wait to see what's next.
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Arkady Martine is a magician. How is this even better than the first book? One of the best space operas on the market right now. RTC.
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TLDR: There was so much I loved about this book, but the ending left me feeling sort of lukewarm. 

In the first book, we only get Mahit’s perspective (a foreign ambassador going into the heart of the empire), but in this book we get multiple perspectives. I loved getting a more holistic view of the world. I’m especially intrigued by Twenty Cicada’s subculture and religion, as well as the alien species we meet. It definitely feels like there are openings here for Martine to write more books in this world, and I would love that.

This story felt more plot-driven and better paced than the first, but I didn’t feel like this book was as thematically rich as A Memory Called Empire. I feel like the characters had to grapple with some big issues (ahem, colonial genocide), but I wasn’t sure what the author was trying to do with the ending. I also struggled a bit to keep the different Stationer councilors separate in my mind, but that might be on me for not reading carefully. 

My recommendation? I definitely think the duology is worthwhile, but I didn’t quite love it as much as I wanted to. This would be great for someone who wants a military low sci-fi, with a good amount of cultural worldbuilding. I would definitely recommend this to people who want to see messy queer relationships depicted in stories. The sapphic rep is own voices, and it shows.
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A Memory Called Empire was one of my favorite books for 2019 and I have been anxiously awaiting its sequel every since I read the first ARC. For fans of book one, A Desolation Called Peace contains everything good about book one (the cultural deep dives, Mahit and Yskander’s snarky conversations, Mahit and Three Seagrass!!), and fixed many of the complaints I had from book one.

If A Memory Called Empire were a love letter to those who fall in love with another people’s culture, A Desolation Called Peace pulls back that gilded curtain to explore Teixcalaan’s dirty secrets. While Teixcalaan’s status as a colonizing state is alluded to in Memory, in Devasation, Mahit is forced to truly confront that reality, and how such a paradigm pertains to her relationships and home station. These conflicts are portrayed in two parts, one through an added layer of depth to her budding relationship with formal cultural aide Three Seagrass, and another through the inner politics between Mahit and her home Lsel Station. In each, Mahit is forced to sift through an understanding of her own self, between the part that feels more at home with Texixcalaani culture than that of her homeworld, and the part that knows that she will always be regarded as a stranger, as a barbarian, no matter how she attempts to ‘integrate’ herself.

For most readers even marginally familiar with Sci-Fi tropes, I think the big ‘secret’ behind the alien encounter Mahit and Three Seagrass confront will be very predictable. That being said, Martine adds her unique linguistic-philosophical bent in creating and exploring these aliens that gives a freshness to their depiction. From just the first chapter, with the line “sing we of language”, I knew I was about to read something new and fascinating and I was absolutely not disappointed.

Unexpectedly, A Desolation Called Peace has my new favorite child character in Eight Antidote. Generally, I loath child characters. Often, it seems they exist purely to a) add an unnecessary burden to the protagonist’s actions, b) force the protagonist to reflect on some flaw or fear they once held (or still hold!) in a heart to heart with said child character or c) ask stupid questions as a vehicle for worldbuilding. Throw this on top of my general dislike for children and my extreme dislike of stupid characters, and most child characters in adult books will completely ruin that book for me. That being said, I’m delighted to say that I loved Eight Antidote’s character arc. Martine does an excellent job mixing a strong intelligence as expected a 90% clone of the previous emperor with the naivety and inexperience of an 11-year old Eight Antidote’s growth throughout.

My one letdown with this book is that it’s far too short! Yes it’s a 150K space opera chonker but that’s not enough! The ending felt rather abrupt for its buildup and I honestly believe another 5-10% added on at the very end to wrap up some loose ends and fully conclude relationships would have really helped offer closure. I am absolutely praying that this is just a case of 2nd book syndrome but I’m not even sure if this series is a trilogy or a duology. All my digging points towards duology and I desperately need more content in this universe.

Overall, I rate this book a 5/5. This held everything I loved about A Memory Called Empire, then gave me even more to love. A tight multi-POV cast that never left me bored, a highly nuanced exploration of what it means to exist within a colonizing culture as one being colonized, a rapid pacing that leaves the reader wanting more, and a refreshingly unique take on an age old sci-fi trope. I’m absolutely praying we’ll get to revisit this world one day.

Reivew will be shared to my blog on 26 Feb
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An early frontrunner for best book of 2021, and a more than worthy successor to A MEMORY CALLED EMPIRE. Martine’s sparkling prose helps carry a strong cast—including one surprise favorite POV character—and an even better plot than in the first book.
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A Memory Called Empire is easily one of my favorite debut novels of the last several years. Not a lot of other books captivated me with the levels of palace intrigue Arkady Martine was able to stuff inside it. Not only that, but the book massaged my big brained ego with its exploration of identity in the face of hegemonic culture. Needless to say, I loved the hell out of it. And when I heard there was going to be a sequel, my heart filled with glee. Well, that sequel is about to be released, and I am excited to say it was just as much a blast. A Desolation Called Peace, by Arkady Martine, is a worthy successor, delivering an excellently paced plot full of character, political intrigue and oh so delicious language. 

The book takes place shortly after the events of A Memory Called Empire. Mahit Dzmare has returned to Lsel and has been dodging Heritage, who is in charge of her imago machine, as she’s afraid they’ll discover her secret and wipe out her memory line. Nine Hibiscus is the newly appointed yaotlek, sent to the front lines with six fleets to encounter the coming alien menace. She has some other captains questioning her authority, while many of her pilots are dying without any real progress. So she sends for a diplomat from Information, and Three Seagrass answers the call. As Three Seagrass finds her way to the front, she stops by Lsel Station and convinces Mahit to join her and help her translate the messages they received from the aliens in a last ditch hope to prevent all out war. In the capital, Eight Antidote, heir apparent to the throne, is undergoing his imperial education under the tutelage of interim ruler Nineteen Adze and an array of military advisors. However, he plays the child to gather information that may ultimately decide the fate of the Teixcalaanli Empire and the future of his people. 

If A Memory Called Empire was a foundation shaking earthquake, Desolation is the much feared tsunami. Martine does an excellent job of digging into the themes of the first book, while avoiding repetition and retreading well-worn paths. Instead, she splits the narrative in a more deliberate manner between four different perspectives, allowing her themes to evolve more organically. Individual identity and its relationship to culture still plays a major part, but it’s more immediate and personal aspects are uncovered. First contact between two incredibly hegemonic powers dives into the nature of communication and the ethics of overwhelming force. Training and cultural memory take the forefront through the eyes of Eight Antidote, the heir to be, as they struggle to understand the purpose of empire. There is a plethora of explorations into the human condition, it would take up the review to just dive into a few of them.

The story is incredibly well paced, opening up with the first salvo of Teixcalaanli’s counter attack against a formless alien menace, and only spiraling upwards from there. Each point of view feels like its own unique story, with its own particular role to play. I experienced so much joy and stress while reading about Eight Antidote learning to be an emperor, while Nine Hibiscus is trying to lead a fleet on the verge of mutiny against an alien they know nothing about. Interlaced with those stories is Mahit navigating who she is with two other people in her head, all while Three Seagrass is getting her to help lead a dialogue with the aliens they just encountered. Yet, even though this is all happening at the same time, Martine has no problem keeping you in tune with every aspect. Martine is a watchmaker of the highest order. She meticulously crafts all of these small spinning gears, and forces the reader to watch them spin on their own. You can see the teeth connecting to other gears and you know it’s turning other hidden gear(s), but you don’t know how big or small they are comparatively. Every now and then she gives you a glimpse of the finished watch, but never quite the entirety of the arrayed network of precisely tuned waltzing cogs, that is until she does. And when every little piece comes together, and I mean literally every little piece, and the clock strikes midnight, it’s truly a sight to behold. 

A concern I had leading into Desolation was character. Mahit was such an interesting perspectivedue to the cultural war raging in her brain and the way everyone views her as a tool. I was afraid that stepping outside her would dampen the magic of Memory, but that was not at all the case. While Mahit and Three Seagrass each feel as vivid as they did in Memory, I found myself equally entranced by the other two main characters. Eight Antidote felt like a child who grew up with the sobering knowledge that they would one day be emperor and the responsibility he would have to his people. His escapades while “playing spy” were a delight, while also filled with a foreshadowing tension. Nine Hibiscus comes off as a confident wild card of a general, who plays to win, but only if she has the absolute correct hand. Martine is excellent at showing characters through their actions, while juxtaposing them with how others view them from worlds away. Palace intrigue is on full display here, and she uses it to her full advantage, allowing the reader to question the actions of the characters and hiding their intent. I loved every second of it. 

All in all, if you liked or loved Memory, you’ll likely have similar feelings about Desolation. I didn’t expect to slip into Martine’s use of language like a fish in water after two years, but I did. The plotting feels just as strong, with the end feeling like destiny. The characters are vibrant and their stories feel just as human. The themes don’t feel as blunt as in Memory, but they are still a wonderful shifting kaleidoscope that changes each time you take a deeper look. There aren’t many books that I’d wish my memory erased for a re-read, but these two are definitely on that list.  

Rating: A Desolation Called Peace - 9.5/10
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