On Wednesday I finally finished A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine.
This book has been sitting on my shelf and taunting me since I picked it up soon after it’s release all the way back in April. It has watched me each time I’ve walked past my shelves and picked up a different book.
I thought I was too tired to get started into a book full of political intrigue and world building. Turns out, I wasn’t too tired to start, instead this book kept me up well past bedtime, keeping me turning pages, especially as I neared the end.
With rich world building, a well developed plot, and just the smallest dash of romance, A Memory Called Empire had me hooked. Arkady Martine crafted a world with depth, sometimes almost tangible in it’s detail. I enjoyed learning about the culture of Teixcalaan through the eyes of someone foreign, but wanting to belong.
Mahit – as a fish out of water, regardless of how well prepared she thinks she is – is the perfect frame to view Teixcalaan through as a reader. We uncovered Teixcalaan together, experiencing the culture for the first time together. This frame was an interesting way to view the world building, one that was less alienating than others I have seen.
The plot was strong and well developed, with excellent pacing that kept me turning pages. Despite there being an upcoming sequel slated for early 2020, the plot arc played out fully and completely. While there are still some questions that will have to wait for the sequel, A Memory Called Empire could be read as a standalone. The story felt complete. There was no terrible cliffhanger to force me to read the sequel. Instead, Arkady Martine’s well developed world and loveable characters drew me in so masterfully that I want to read the sequel without the pressure of a cliffhanger.
I would be remit if I didn’t mention that the reason I picked up A Memory Called Empire in the first place was because it was on a list of upcoming speculative fiction with queer female leads. This isn’t a romance. This isn’t a book about Mahit’s sexuality. This is one of my favourite sights in speculative fiction, incidental queerness. Somehow, between all of the action and world building there is still time for a small, but meaningful, romantic subplot, but it wasn’t the drive of story. Was it necessary? No. Did it help to develop the character and make them even more realistic? Definitely!
It was wonderful to watch as Mahit quietly developed a crush amid all of the events of the book. The small moments where her feelings started to shin through were wonderfully relatable. I read a lot of speculative fiction with queer female leads, but there was something special in how Arkady Martine framed Mahit’s sexuality/romantic arc that resonated so well with my own experience; I recognized myself in Mahit’s feelings before she even had the chance to recognize them as feelings for herself.
Overall, A memory Called Empire was a joy to read and I look forward to one day getting my hands on A Desolation Called Peace.