Release Date: March 26, 2019
Preorder Link: A Memory Called Empire
I’m super disappointed to be giving this only three stars (no three stars isn’t bad- I’d just much rather give it four or five). I’m beginning to question whether it’s me or the books. (Disclaimer: This has been an off year for me. It might actually be me.)
I guess I’ll start at the beginning. One of the first pages said something along the lines of: “This is for all those who have ever fallen in love with a culture that was not their own.”
That one line pretty much sums up the whole book. Mahit (our MC) has spent her whole life training to be an ambassador from her home mining outpost (Lsel) to the Teixcalaani Empire. She loves everything about Teixcalaan, their language, their artwork, their holovision programs, their politics and their way of speaking. So when her opportunity to become ambassador finally comes, she’s over the moon with excitement. The only problem is- the previous ambassador is dead, and no one from Teixcalaan will talk about it.
The plot is sort of a murder mystery. I say sort of because the truth of the matter is that Yskander’s death doesn’t feel like it really has anything to do with the overall outcome. I feel like the other pieces of the plot were going to happen regardless if he had died or not.. so yeah. The more I’m thinking about it, the more the plot sort of falls apart as a whole (I mean- I guess he needed to die so Mahit could become ambassador but that’s about it.)
There are plot threads that are incomplete. I don’t want to call them cliffhangers because I didn’t feel like enough tension was built into those parts for me to feel like I’m eagerly waiting the next installment to find out what happened. To be honest- it just feels like a stand alone with threads that went nowhere or Mahit concluded were not necessary to discover.
The characters were fun. I loved the banter between Three Seagrass and Twelve Azalea. There was a tiny, tiny bit of romance in the book. I almost wished it had more of a focus because I could have totally shipped that pair. Minor romance related spoiler: The ending sort of killed that for me though… It seemed like Three Seagrass and Mahit were just going to go their separate ways which I thought was super sad. Yskander was probably my favorite character in the book although there wasn’t enough of him, and I loved Nineteen Adze. She was presented as a very powerful female character, and I think her story line, and her character, is probably the most interesting and complex in the book.
The tech and the world building were pretty cool. I liked the idea of the Sunlit (like police) being a part of the city and running on algorithms. It was very reminiscent of Leckie’s Imperial Raadch series in that way. I loved the beautiful scenery and imagery that was presented- gardens full of fountains and flowers, statues, and birds fluttering around.
There is another interesting piece concerning the language of Teixcalaan. Some words had double meanings which meant some sentences could be interpreted multiple ways. There’s also a big focus on poetry and drama and sagas told throughout the ages. Poets are very celebrated in this culture.
In the end- there is a lot to like about A Memory Called Empire, I just wish the plot structure had been tighter. I wish it had engaged me more, allowing me to solve the mystery and political intrigue along with Mahit. When I read this I was asking myself- what was the point? Why was this book written? And the answer circles back around to that first line. This is a novel about how one can love their own culture almost as much or more than they love their own and how love of that culture can sometimes make you appreciate your own that much more.
This is labeled as book one, so I’m expecting there to be a sequel (perhaps to wrap up those loose ends). I think I would give it a try. I’m hoping with the debut out of the way, and with me understanding the politics a little better, I would enjoy book two more. It would definitely help if the plot was tightened up a bit.
Thank you to the kind people at Macmillan/Tor and GoodReads who sent me this as part of a giveaway.