RogerBW's Blog

A Desolation Called Peace, Arkady Martine 25 November 2021

2021 science fiction, second in a projected series. The huge Teixcalaanli Empire is going to war, thanks largely to the actions of Mahit Dzmare, Ambassador from the independent polity of Lsel Station. But of course a war that might end with extinction that isn't going to stop everyone from playing politics…

This book feels as though Martine took what I disliked about the first book and ruthlessly stripped it away. (I do hope she didn't actually do that! My tastes are specific enough that catering to them is usually a way to lose money.) In particular, the imago-machines are largely relegated to the background (affecting the way Mahit thinks and behaves) rather than having major plot points turning on exactly how they work.

And we get lots more of Three Seagrass, my favourite character from the first book, who starts things off by spotting a request from the fleet for an interpreter to try to make sense of the weird alien communication (assuming that's what it is) and assigning herself to the job. Not that she knows a lot about it, but neither does anyone else, and at least it'll let her see Mahit again…

"The Ambassador is a linguist and translator," said Three Seagrass. "I'm the spook." She paused, entirely for effect. "We're here to help."

The adjutant, Twenty Cicada, made an entirely remarkable noise, like he'd drowned a laugh and swallowed its corpse. Three Seagrass either neglected to notice or neglected to care.

There are multiple viewpoints: Mahit and Three Seagrass, but also Nine Hibiscus the yaotlek (something like an admiral, but much less politically secure) in charge of the war fleet, and Eight Antidote, eleven-year-old heir to the Empire who rather to his surprise has retained that position after the accession of a new Emperor.

He got up. Showered—facing away from the cameras, as usual—dressed. One of his spywork outfits: grey on grey. He almost looked like a normal kid. Almost. Kids maybe wore colors. He didn't really know.

This time we get to see a bit more of the society of Lsel, and the implications of its tininess: when one of the leaders goes and does something, that's one-sixth of the executive tied up on that one task. (But also, because they're autocratic in their own domains, there's even less restraint on them than there is on the Emperor, because at least there are societally recognised methods for overthrowing the Emperor – while Lsel, which has been a space habitat longer than it's been a polity, is much more focused on doing the thing you're told right now and maybe sorting out problems later.) The factions most definitely don't settle neatly into good guys and bad guys; rather, there's the group who want this and the group who want that, and some of those wants may be compatible, especially if you're prepared to grind up some of the little people along the way.

Darj Tarats had beaten her to the best seat at the bar. Seeing him—aged and cadaverous to Yskandr's eyes, familiarly skeletal to her own memory, the burnt-clean shell of a man who'd spent the decades of his early working life in an asteroid mine, and then had become a politician, who had been a philosopher of ruining-empire and quiet revolution all that time—made Mahit's stomach flip over, a quick nauseating spike, and then settle into shimmering alert. Alive to the possibility of disaster.

And of course at the core of it there's that SF standard a first-contact story with enigmatic aliens (one of the answers about them is revealed to the reader in a prologue, which I think is unfortunate, but the implications of what could have been just a generic SF element are thought about in a way that most authors wouldn't bother with), as well as a solid narrative about relationships across power gradients.

For me, definitely an improvement on the already pretty-good A Memory Called Empire (and you should certainly read that first).

[Buy this at Amazon] and help support the blog. ["As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases."]

Previous in series: A Memory Called Empire | Series: Teixcalaan

Comments on this post are now closed. If you have particular grounds for adding a late comment, comment on a more recent post quoting the URL of this one.

Tags 1920s 1930s 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s 2000s 2010s 3d printing action advent of code aeronautics aikakirja anecdote animation anime army astronomy audio audio tech aviation base commerce battletech beer boardgaming book of the week bookmonth chain of command children chris chronicle church of no redeeming virtues cold war comedy computing contemporary cornish smuggler cosmic encounter coup covid-19 crime crystal cthulhu eternal cycling dead of winter doctor who documentary drama driving drone ecchi economics en garde espionage essen 2015 essen 2016 essen 2017 essen 2018 essen 2019 essen 2022 essen 2023 existential risk falklands war fandom fanfic fantasy feminism film firefly first world war flash point flight simulation food garmin drive gazebo genesys geocaching geodata gin gkp gurps gurps 101 gus harpoon historical history horror hugo 2014 hugo 2015 hugo 2016 hugo 2017 hugo 2018 hugo 2019 hugo 2020 hugo 2021 hugo 2022 hugo 2023 hugo 2024 hugo-nebula reread in brief avoid instrumented life javascript julian simpson julie enfield kickstarter kotlin learn to play leaving earth linux liquor lovecraftiana lua mecha men with beards mpd museum music mystery naval noir non-fiction one for the brow opera parody paul temple perl perl weekly challenge photography podcast politics postscript powers prediction privacy project woolsack pyracantha python quantum rail raku ranting raspberry pi reading reading boardgames social real life restaurant reviews romance rpg a day rpgs ruby rust scala science fiction scythe second world war security shipwreck simutrans smartphone south atlantic war squaddies stationery steampunk stuarts suburbia superheroes suspense television the resistance the weekly challenge thirsty meeples thriller tin soldier torg toys trailers travel type 26 type 31 type 45 vietnam war war wargaming weather wives and sweethearts writing about writing x-wing young adult
Special All book reviews, All film reviews
Produced by aikakirja v0.1