A Memory Called Empire

Something about Arkady Martine's A Memory Called Empire piqued my curiosity and I purchased the digital edition when it was on sale earlier this year. Given some of the rave reviews, I was expecting a richly detailed work in terms of culture, plot, and characterization.

Alas, this novel failed to deliver on basically all fronts. And even though things took a turn for the better toward the end, overall this turned out to be an underwhelming space opera work.

Here's the blurb:

Ambassador Mahit Dzmare arrives in the center of the multi-system Teixcalaanli Empire only to discover that her predecessor, the previous ambassador from their small but fiercely independent mining Station, has died. But no one will admit that his death wasn't an accident—or that Mahit might be next to die, during a time of political instability in the highest echelons of the imperial court.

Now, Mahit must discover who is behind the murder, rescue herself, and save her Station from Teixcalaan's unceasing expansion—all while navigating an alien culture that is all too seductive, engaging in intrigues of her own, and hiding a deadly technological secret—one that might spell the end of her Station and her way of life—or rescue it from annihilation.

A fascinating space opera debut novel, Arkady Martine's A Memory Called Empire is an interstellar mystery adventure.

Everyone has heard of the "Show, don't tell" rule. It's a technique used to allow the reader to experience the story through action, words, thoughts, senses, and feelings rather than through the author's exposition, summarization, and description. It feels as though Arkady Martine and her editor forgot all about this rule, or simply elected to throw it out the window. Indeed, it appears that about 90% of the plot unfolds through conversations between the characters. Info-dumps and lengthy explanations make up a good chunk of the dialogue in this novel, which sinks A Memory Called Empire early on and prevents the book from ever truly gaining any sort of momentum. Through these conversations, the author tells us all about what seems to be a rich alien culture, with complex political intrigue, and a looming war that could change everything. Unfortunately, Martine fails to "show" readers these concepts and plot twists time and time again. This, more than anything, will likely make or break this novel for readers. Space opera aficionados who relish great worldbuilding, lots of action, and three-dimensional characters will probably have a hard time getting into A Memory Called Empire. I know I did.

The forever expanding Teixcalaanli Empire considers itself to be pinnacle of intellect, the arts, and culture. I was expecting this alien civilization to really come alive through the pages of this book. And it does, to a certain extent. But the worldbuilding is mostly revealed through the dialogue and not the plot itself. I definitely could have done without all the poetry, that goes without saying. The imago technology was interesting, especially once you realize that this it at the heart of the political intrigue. But as was the case with a lot of other cool concepts and ideas, I felt that Martine neglected to elaborate on them.

Mahit Dzmare, new ambassador for Lsel Station, is the main protagonist. Like readers, she is mostly ignorant of what's going on and learns everything by small increments as the story progresses. I'm not sure if it has to do with faulty execution, or if Mahit simply isn't interesting enough to carry this tale on her shoulders, yet it was often a chore to follow her. Plot point are discussed, sometimes ad nauseam, by Mahit and two early companions, Three Seagrass and Twelve Azalea. The supporting cast is also a bit lackluster, with the exception of Nineteen Adze. Some of them grow on you, but it takes forever for the author to flesh them out. As such, I felt that the characterization was definitely subpar compared to that of quality space opera offerings by writers such as Corey, Reynolds, Hamilton, and McDonald.

The pace is absolutely atrocious. There is no way to sugarcoat this. We learn so little throughout the first 75% of the novel that I often found myself bored out of my mind. The fact that most of the plot is revealed through those aforementioned conversations doesn't help matters in the least. It takes a very long time for things to finally start to make sense. Thankfully, once you do understand what's going on and what the stakes are, A Memory Called Empire becomes a much better read. Sadly, it's a case of too little, too late. A part of me would like to read the sequel and find out what happens next. However, I'm not sure I can go through another such work.

Arkady Martine's writing is excellent and when she wants she can create an arresting imagery. Once she unveils the plot and the political intrigue which are at the heart of A Memory Called Empire, it's obvious that there is more to this novel/series than meets the eye. If the author can understand that she needs to show more than just tell readers, chances are she could elevate this series to another level. Time will tell if the next installment can do that. . .

The final verdict: 6.5/10

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1 commentaires:

Oregon Dan said...

Makes you wonder how many of those Amazon reviews are legit. Unfortunately I fall for this often as well, book reviews 4.7 out of 5 stars and sounds amazing, so I buy....and it sucks. Hate that.