Ambassador Mahit Dzmare arrives in Teixcalaan to find that her predecessor, from the same mining station (Lsel Station), has died. Although his death is put down to an accident, Mahit suspects foul play and she must uncover the truth before she becomes the next victim. At the core of A Memory Called Empire is a murder mystery but it is also heavily focused around the politics of the world.

Arkady Martine gives us an impressive sci-fi debut, with intricate worldbuilding and a compelling plot. Court intrigue and political manoeuvring play a large role and Martine writes these elements very well. You never fully know who to trust and the way Martine slowly unveils information creates a wonderfully suspenseful atmosphere. It does take a little while for the story to get going but stick with it as it does pick up after a couple of chapters. Once I was fully invested, I didn’t want to put it down.

The characters are all well written with complex personalities and good development. I must admit I wasn’t fully invested in Mahit at the beginning, but the way Martine develops her throughout the 464 pages means you will be by the end of the book. Martine also did a great job developing the relationships. In particular, the relationship between Mahit, Three Seagrass and Twelve Azalea. The names of the characters are unlike anything I’ve come across before. I’m interested in seeing how these characters will be developed in the sequel.

The plot was compelling throughout, although at times the pacing was a little uneven, but it didn’t detract too much from my overall reading experience. Martine does a fantastic job at weaving the threads of the story together. The mixture of mystery and political intrigue was so enjoyable to read, and the growing feeling of suspense was really well done.

The main strength of the book was the worldbuilding. Martine has created an incredibly detailed world. Every element, from the culture to history to technology, is so well written. It’s clear, the author put a lot of time and effort into creating it. While I think the worldbuilding is incredible, I also think that intricacies may be too dense for some. There is a lot of detail included, especially with the language, so if you are looking for a fast-paced, action packed sci-fi story, then this isn’t the book for you. Personally, I find languages and the origins of words to be interesting, so I really enjoyed it. I think it’s going to be a great book to reread, because you’ll always be finding something new you missed the first time through.

There is a glossary of all the people, places and things at the end of the book, which is useful to check back with if needed. For those interested there is also a section focused on the ‘pronunciation and writing of the Teixcalaanli language’. There is so much potential in this world, and I’m glad we get a sequel to see more of it. If you like strong worldbuilding, then you should definitely check this book out. 

Overall, I really enjoyed A Memory Called Empire. I did find myself skim reading at times, but I still think this is an impressive debut and well worth a read, especially if you love science fiction. It is unlike any sci-fi book I’ve read before. It’s best to take your time with it so you can take in all the details. I am definitely interested to see what the author has in store for book two, A Desolation Called Peace, which is set to come out from Tor Books some time in 2020.


By Pippa

I am a 20-something book lover who’s been reading fantasy for most of my life. I love to escape into these fantastical worlds and think nothings better than spreading the love for my favourites. I’m currently deciding what I want to do with my life, but it will most likely be working with animals in some way. I’ve also been running a bookish blog for a few years now. You can find me on Twitter @philippamary_94.

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