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Teixcalaan #2

A Desolation Called Peace

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An alien armada lurks on the edges of Teixcalaanli space. No one can communicate with it, no one can destroy it, and Fleet Captain Nine Hibiscus is running out of options.

In a desperate attempt at diplomacy with the mysterious invaders, the fleet captain has sent for a diplomatic envoy. Now Mahit Dzmare and Three Seagrass—still reeling from the recent upheaval in the Empire—face the impossible task of trying to communicate with a hostile entity.

Whether they succeed or fail could change the fate of Teixcalaan forever.

496 pages, Kindle Edition

First published March 2, 2021

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Arkady Martine

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Profile Image for chai ♡.
321 reviews150k followers
May 4, 2021
“The perfect sequel does not exist.”

A Desolation Called Peace: hold my beer.
Profile Image for carol..
1,501 reviews7,544 followers
March 12, 2021
I am grateful that Martine's A Desolation Called Peace came my way at the end of 2020 instead of during the middle, when I had a full case of Quarantine Brain™. Some authors write books suited to QB: undemanding, fun, predictable, and about as interesting as chocolate pudding. Martine is almost the exact opposite, in the best way possible. Almost every word feels like it has weight, and it's almost impossible to predict where her starry empire will take the reader.

"'What is it made of?' Three Seagrass asked, and then drank it before he could answer her. It tasted like salt. Like--alcoholic salt, and oceans. There weren't any oceans here. It was fascinating, and also awful, and she was never, ever drinking it again."

A Desolation Called Peace follows up on the events of A Memory Called Empire. Mahit has returned to Lsel Station, and Three Seagrass is working for the Emperor's Information Ministry. These two share the narrative with two new characters: Eight Antidote, an eleven year-old who happens to be the former Emperor's clone and current heir; and Nine Hibiscus, the rear admiral of the military force seeking to discover what (who?) has been eating ships at the edge of 'civilization,' right by Lsel Station.

"Mahit had done fine without her on Lsel, had missed her only as much as she'd missed Teixcalaan, which was enormously and with aching frustration."

As each narrative develops, they slowly begin to intertwine. The plotting felt both well done and largely organic. Early on in the story, Nine Hibiscus engages the aliens and her story has an active tension to it. Marit's conflict is more emotionally insidious and challenging, as she and her imago, Yskandr, try to negotiate their way back into Lsel life. Eight Antidote's narrative is an intriguing counterpoint to the adults; his voice is clear, usually not wrought with emotion, and his role as student helps the reader orient themselves to the complexities of the situations and conflicts as well:
"He'd have to remember not to make [that mistake], when he was Emperor. Loyalty wasn't transitive. It didn't move up and down the chain of command smoothly. It could get cut off, or rerouted. Especially if someone else powerful was intervening in the movement of information."

It explores cultural identity, communication, treason, first contact, war crimes, the nature of memory and identity, the nature of experience and self, and love between people of different cultures. And it does this without long, wall o'texts that make readers' eyes start to roll back in their heads. It does it in beautiful, evocative ways, with action and emotion. To say, I 'liked it' is an understatement: it was one of the best books I read in 2020. It's definitely earned a spot on my bookshelf.

"And he could figure out the rest later. He wasn't stupid. He read all kinds of poems."

A note on story order: The story was meant to be told as a duology, so it might be worth trying to read them both reasonably close together. Should you read the first before the second? Yes. Can you get by without it? Probably, but you are going to miss out on some of the complex cultural and interpersonal dynamics of the characters that make the story so rich.

Many thanks to NetGalley and Tor Publicity for an advance e-book for review. The book is scheduled for release on March 2021. Quotes are subject to change and only included to give a flavor of the evocative and lovely writing.

Even more thanks are due to Nataliya and Elena, buddy readers extraordinaire, particularly for help with creation of our dramatis personae. 
Profile Image for Nataliya.
710 reviews11.3k followers
September 3, 2022
“Bodies die, or suffer, or are imprisoned. Memory lasts.”
When your brilliant and polished first novel - intelligent, original, and engrossingly clever - is a clear crown jewel of Hugo Awards, you have big shoes to fill with the follow-up. Even if they are your own award-winning shoes. Arkady Martine makes it seem like easy work, though. (It must be that History PhD of hers).
“Mahit was too many people, since she’d overlaid her damaged imago with the imago of the same man twenty years farther on down the line. She’d had a while to think about it. She was almost used to how it felt, the fault lines between the three of them grinding together like planetary tectonics.”

Yet again she gives us a weighty erudite story of culture and expectations and identity, with a dose of politics and first contact and the painful question of preserving your selfhood versus sacrificing it for a greater cause. What constitutes home, and can you ever truly return home when a part of you will always be changed by your love and respect for another culture and world? How far can you go in protecting your identity - cultural and political - and how far is too far? Where do assimilation and isolationism find precarious balance? Can a mantle of presumed cultural superiority be ever truly shed when it’s ingrained into the actual identity of your world? Is being a traitor or a visionary just a matter of viewpoint? How do you hold on to yourself — and should you, really? And who determines where exactly one’s loyalty should lie, not to mention what loyalty actually is? Do we even stop to think about the nature of loyalty even when we build worlds around the concept?
“Loyalty wasn’t transitive. It didn’t move up and down the chain of command smoothly. It could get cut off, or rerouted. Especially if someone else powerful was intervening in the movement of information.”

So what are you but a product of the place and forces that made you and therefore demand that unquestioning loyalty? When should you question and when should you listen? When do you preserve and when do you sacrifice? And when should you venture out across borders or build protective fences? What’s patriotism and what’s jingoism? And when do you start questioning those things that are deeply ingrained into the whole fabric of yourself and your worldview?
“We’re both exiles, she’d thought, right then, and had hated herself for thinking it. She’d been gone a few weeks. She had no right to the name. She was home. She wasn’t, and she knew it.”

In A Memory Called Empire, we were introduced to the tenuous coexistence of galaxy-spanning Teixcalaan Empire - where “empire” and “world” are the same word, and barbarian equals non-human; where poetry can be weaponized and political intrigues mow down anyone and anything — and Lsel Station — a comparatively tiny mining space station with 30,000 people and its own carefully preserved culture and technology, a speck compared to the ever-expanding Empire, the underdog that’s willing to go far to survive. One thing that Lsel has is the technology to create imagos - memory imprints that are designed to meld into the personality of the wearer and preserve the experiences of preceding generations of knowledge.
“That Dzmare is a disruptive person. Whether she means to be or not.”

And we met Mahit Dzmare, an ambassador from Lsel to Teixcalaan, who has always been beyond enthralled by Teixcalaanli culture and whose integration with the imago of her predecessor goes through… well… let’s just say a few glitches. She unwillingly took on the wasp nest of political intrigue, and shattered more than she signed up for.
“She hadn’t been doing nothing. She’d been trying to recover her balance, her sense of herself, the shape of a life—any life—that could encompass both Lsel Station and Teixcalaan, two Yskandrs and one of her and whoever they were going to be.”

In this book, Martine broadens the scope of this world. We are out of fascinatingly suffocating confines of a planet-spanning city — and into equally suffocating and fascinating confines of a space station and space fleet and war, all while still seeing the vipers nests of political intrigues and saber-rattling jingoism from several sides at once. Added to it is the first contact with something alien indeed.

I loved the smart yet decidedly non-condescending and non-preachy look at identity and communication. I loved that nothing was simplified to the easily digestible good vs bad, right vs wrong, us vs them. I loved that the world shown is messy and complicated and therefore alive. The characters are intricately developed and are beautifully nuanced. The interactions are complex, the decisions are painful, the morals are muddled by fights between opposing loyalties, nine of which is clear-cut. Choices have consequences, and some are impossible to recover from.
“As she said it, she realized she was apologizing. [...] For assuming she would come with her, of course she would—and not thinking that when the Empire asked, even in the person of a friend, a maybe-lover, there really was no way for a barbarian to say no and keep being the kind of barbarian the Empire thought of as a person.”

This duology reads like a seasoned SF classic, to end up on a shelf next to Le Guin and Lem — with the scope of both of them but, dare I say (sacrilege!) with more readability and less academic distance. It’s excellently crafted and intelligent and yet deeply emotional and complex, and is firmly and instantly among my absolute favorites.

It’s the story that made me really *think*, and that’s a treat.

5 stars.
————

My review of the first novel, A Memory Called Empire: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

——————

My Hugo and Nebula Awards Reading Project 2022
Profile Image for K.J. Charles.
Author 58 books7,641 followers
Read
March 18, 2021
Good grief. I'm just going to sit here feeling stunned for a bit. Good grief, that was a book.

There is *so much* in this. Character and culture, language, politics and colonialism and morality, love and friendship and relationships that are neither, a whole set up with no clear easy answers. All while being a heart-thumping story of an apparently meaningless and unavoidable war.

And after all that intricate plotting and immense complexity of thought and characterization, the very last page of the book just ... presents the entire point of this two-volume thousand-page epic distilled to a single sentence. What. How the.

Excellent. Absolutely excellent, in the full meaning of the word.
Profile Image for Lila.
833 reviews9 followers
March 2, 2021
Was there ever a more perfect opportunity to call a book Five Stars novel?

"To ravage, to slaughter, to usurp under false titles—this they name empire;
and where they make a desert, they call it peace.

—TACITUS (QUOTING CALGACUS), AGRICOLA 30


When the most (in)famous critique of Pax Romana serves as an inspiration for the title of the novel why should I be surprised Arkady Martine threw at me another book full of harsh truths, universal issues and historical events to draw parallels from. You know how A Memory Called Empire was described as a scifi murder mystery, but was actually about "falling in love with the culture that's devouring your own"? The Desolation is as equally byzantine, it’s more than just a First Contact story synopsis makes it appear. It's about communication and the failure of; it’s about love and affection, legacy and perspective, power and oppression. And it’s also a lot about cultural identity or to make it aligned with previous, "where do you belong once you fell in love with culture that's devouring your own.”

The story continues right where we left of: with new alien threat looming on the edges of huge Teixcalaan Empire. Nobody knows anything about them, who they are and what they want. We get to see what Teixcalaan authorities are doing about this through point of view of Nine Hibiscus, newly appointed yaotlek, chief general for this military campaign. She was given the position to make decisions by new Emperor, Her Brilliance Nineteen Adze. The challenges of ruling an Empire is, curiously, not being shown from her perspective, but from the point of view of Eight Antidote, ten years old clone of old emperor who is learning to be like him, or at least trying to fit the role intended for him. As for characters we are more closely familiar with and, undoubtedly, most interested in their fate, they are once again very important cogs in the whole thing. When we start the novel, Mahit Dzmare is back on Lsel Station after the whole Teixcalaan fiasco, knowing one of Councillors gave her faulty imago and probably wants her dead. In the meantime, Three Seagrass, a new shining star of Information Ministry, is bored.
So, in case you ask yourself how on earth will Martine bring this duo right back at the centre of this conflict, just start from there: Three Seagrass is bored. :) Nine Hibiscus, in her eternal wisdom, was thinking outside of (Teixcalaan) box and decided that perhaps better way to save people was to try and engage the aliens and find out what they want. And who better for the job than the third Undersecretary to the Minister of Information Three Seagrass who is educated in work of liaison and communication. Of course, she finds absurd reasons for needing a Lsel ambassador with her on Weight for the Wheel, Teixcalaan flagship, causing several diplomatic incidents in the process, but they might be just the right people for the job.
I was surprised how easy was falling right back into Teixcalaan world. Despite the themes of unknown danger and the tension of war not going according to the idea Teixcalaanlitzlim in their superiority imagined and some genuine horror parts that are the result of coming in contact with something alien, I find this book somehow more engaging, and dare to say, more fun and adventurous to read, but also because it’s more layered, more than just the suspense of First Contact. There are some echoes of Chiang’s The Story of Your Life about importance of language and communication with aliens, but also between characters, and the whole opening chapter that reads like Borg poetry and hints of a well known scifi concept. Add to that further development of Mahit’s symbiotic relationship with Yskandr who talks with her in her mind and occasionally takes control over their body. There is a whole parallel arc about Eight Antidote getting some first-hand experience in political machinations between Ministries who are trying to use him in various ways and his weird relationship with Nineteen Adze who can’t easily shake the fact he is 90% clone of her best friend, former Emperor, but it’s not him. There is an interesting discussion about command responsibility and there are even more interesting tidbits about Teixcalaan conquest tactics. Simply said, characters, new and old, are fantastic and their relationships, power structures and plays raise some universal sociocultural questions and make you think about myriad things.
It’s not a secret Teixcalaan is like an amalgam of every colonial force from human history set in space, but I loved Martine showed the seductive side of it. The culture, the beautiful, the progress, but also the ugly and oppressive. Exposure to Teixcalaan culture opened up Mahit's mind to other ideas and possibilities and her own life as it made her more critical to Lsel Government actions as well. Proving Mahit’s resistance was futile and Martine’s point about Teixcalaan, it was incredibly hard not to be charmed by Three Seagrass in this book. She was always likeable, but being in her head was fun as she truly represent the best Teixcalaan has to offer. But the way she is blind to Mahit’s position due to her privilege was eye-opening to read. On one side, this made me invested in their relationship because they are both loveable and it was a paradoxical seeing communication experts failing so badly in that: communication. But even beyond that, every damn Teixcalaan calls Mahit barbarian, even Three Seagrass does and she simply adores her. But she has no idea. And I will tell you this: barbarian word was mentioned so many times you will be bothered by it and I don’t have doubt in my mind it was intentional. And the funny thing about this is that right in the middle of crisis, with devastating war in horizon and pilots dying, the Teixcalaan who consider Mahit’s looks, smiling with teeth and her sole presence on the ship so uncouth, are the ones engaging in petty power struggle matches, spying and raising old grudges and questioning the reasons and legality of new emperor’s decisions. Their whole approach to this alien threat was to conquer in a single show of superiority, because of course it is, and it was decidedly the most barbaric behaviour in the novel. This is shown through actions, this is a question raised by Mahit and others, but it was not a thing to be resolved even in this imagined, fictional world, because Martine knows better.
The homage to great C.J. Cherryh was pretty obvious considering the first book is all about ambassador from another planet who comes to new place and someone wants to kill her, but for some reason, I find through Desolation so many more connections to her work: Of course, Foreigner, but also Cyteen and The Chanur Saga. I had a pleasure to read this book right on the heels of Martine’s Hugo win and I truly think she did an even better job this time. The writing was phenomenal in book #1, but it was so carefully measured and here, it’s like she let herself be more charming and relaxed and I simply want to read whatever she writes about next, hopefully that novella bout Nineteen Adze because I want to know more about woman who person she killed off finds so charming.
This book has everything, the adventure and politics, the ust and the romance, scary aliens with dangerous ships, the intergalactic wire fraud system, the definite proof cats would adapt and they'd still catch your heart with a loving sweep of claw to your thigh and Martine's propensity to make characters I instantly like sacrifice themselves in stupid heroic fashion.
No, really, was there ever a more perfect opportunity to call a book Five Stars novel?


Thank you to publisher for providing me a free copy of this book. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

***************************************************
An Anguish Called Waiting... for this novel.

********************
You can read Prelude and first chapter on io9.

That's one helluva opening.
Profile Image for jade.
489 reviews276 followers
March 22, 2021
“but what better way to draw a monstrous thing to its death than to use its functions against itself? teixcalaan wants; its trust is rooted in wanting; it is in this way you and i will destroy it.”
in a memory called empire, we meet ambassador mahit dzmare as she tries to complete the momentous task of finding out who killed her predecessor AND try to keep her home, space station lsel, from being annexed by intergalactic empire teixcalaan.

along the way, she makes many enemies at court, rediscovers alliances crafted by her predecessor yskandr, and builds a bantery bond with her cultural liaison three seagrass (who is small but very, very stubborn).

an exploration of colonialism and identity more so than a political thriller, but with plenty of sharp-edged dialogue and social intrigue, a memory called empire was my favorite read of 2020 and one of my favorite books of all time.

and arkady martine TOPPED THAT with a desolation called peace.

no joke. where memory is dipped in teixcalaanli gold, an intimate portrayal of someone whose very identity is colonized by something she deeply loves, desolation offers a shifting kaleidoscope of perspectives that vastly expands the worldbuilding. we get to see some of the different cultures eaten up by the teixcalaanli empire, and we get to deal with the aftermath of knowing you can never be free once teixcalaan has its hooks in you.

it expertly fills in all the gaps left behind by memory, and in doing so it further tightens the thumbscrews of the devastating effects of imperialism; of labelling anyone other than you disdainfully as somehow lesser, and of wielding the long arm of violence just a little too enthusiastically.

description
© cover art by Jaime Jones

WARNING: spoilers from here on in for the main events from memory.

taking place a mere three months after a gigantic shift of political power in teixcalaan, we find our main cast struggling with the aftermath. especially now that there’s a destructive, mysterious foreign power on lsel station’s doorstep at the very edges of teixcalaanli space.

time for first contact.

mahit avoided annexation and civil war through announcing a new enemy; now, she finds herself back on lsel station. but is it still her home; is she still welcome? and is she still herself, covered with two layers of yskandr -- possibly sabotaged by one of her own leaders, no less?

three seagrass has been promoted to undersecretary in the city, but she hasn’t written a poem in months and the dishes are piling up in her apartment. she misses mahit more than she likes to admit. so when a post opens up on the frontier requesting services from her ministery and a linguistics expert, she doesn’t hesitate for a second.

eight antidote, the eleven-year-old sole heir to the throne of teixcalaan, tries to understand what happened to his predecessor while he attends his classes. meanwhile, various ministers and even the current emperor use him as a pawn for their spy games -- which he finds distasteful enough to start developing his own moral compass.

nine hibiscus is a yaotlek on the frontier; a former fleet captain now commanding legions. she’s the one facing the actual alien threat near the furthest jumpgate in teixcalaanli space, as well as dealing with betrayal from within her newly-commanded fleet of spaceships.

where memory shows you the world only through mahit’s eyes, brief interludes and quotes from various in-world sources at the start of each chapter excluded, desolation switches POVs between the characters named above. and so we get to see the full viciousness of teixcalaanli military up close, as well as how teixcalaanli characters truly perceive any non-natives.

and boy, that hits hard.

having tentatively started a relationship, mahit and three seagrass face more than ever the massive rift that lies between them. mahit, struggling with being seen for who she truly is; and three seagrass, who keeps calling her barbarian, who keeps making every compliment sound like a discriminatory insult.

yskandr’s musings, here, are so interesting and heartrending. his experiences with nineteen adze and six direction echo so much of what mahit feels going into a relationship with three seagrass. growing closer and closer together, and slowly settling into becoming a new person, mahit and yskandr have many conversations inside their head that i found utterly compelling.
“to hear that there was nothing of how you loved one another that was clean.

‘a man pretends,’ yskandr murmured. ‘a barbarian pretends that civilization might grow in the small hours of the night, between two people.’

mahit imagined it, civilization — humanity — blooming like tiny flowers, caught between mouths in the dark, lips that kissed and talked and built.”
they talk about love and seduction and spying and identity, and how neither of them were ever free -- could ever be free -- of the looming jaws and bonemarrow-deep infiltrations of teixcalaan.

we also see the interesting relationship that nine hibiscus, a new addition to the cast, has with the second-in-command of her flagship. twenty-cicada, nickname swarm, originally a neltoclim native who has NOT abandoned his cultural and religious practices, but is still an irreplaceable part of the teixcalaanli military machine.

the character work here is exquisite.

i think desolation is plotted and paced a bit better (more tightly, i’d say) than memory, but the focus remains the characters, what they represent, and how they all function within the larger scope of the empire.

next to twenty cicada’s neltoclim background, we also see much more of lsel station. you get a bigger sense of what mahit actually left behind; we see the beauty of stationer art and poetry, and i found myself instantly baffled how teixcalaan could ever look down on it.

we see the council members who were only present in communiques and interludes take centerstage, as well as their struggle to remain free of teixcalaan’s grasp and just how far they are willing to go in order to do so.

and the narrative stretches the concept of identity further apart.

through examples of cultures other than teixcalaanli; through technology and biology and the wonders of the universe.

first, there was only the imago machine: the stationer invention through which they pass and preserve the knowledge of their lines. the forbidden technology that yskandr used to buy their freedom with.

but is the AI that keeps a constant eye on eight antidote as he explores the city not unlike a hivemind, either? or what about the technology that nine hibiscus’ fighter pilots use to work together as a team in deep space? is being part of something as terrifyingly large as the empire itself not also to be part of a collective; to be expected to act like one? and in such a situation, can you ever truly act individually?

are you still allowed to?

all of the characters face deeply moral and ethical issues throughout the book, often without a clear answer. issues that call upon conflicting, ever-shifting parts of their own identity, in a beautifully evocative echo of the themes already present in book one.

description
© cover art by Jaime Jones

there are so many things to love about the writing.

as you might’ve seen by the quotes i’ve shared already, martine’s prose can be exquisite and lush. it can be sharp as a knife; raw as the ache of truth. and she applies it perfectly to anything: descriptions of architecture, budding romances, casual dismissals, and first contact.

she even managed to write a short, steamy sex scene that was hauntingly beautiful and perfect. and yes, musings about identity included.
(… it didn’t matter at all, she wanted to never think of anything again, except for desire, except for triumph, except for being wanted —)

distant, as desire-choked as she felt: ‘that’s the way we fall — being wanted.’
but i think my favorite part about the writing might be the dialogue.

desolation is, like its predecessor, dense; it has less explanations of teixcalaanli worldbuilding this time around, of course, but it’s still dense. and that’s literally the only criticism you’ll see from me, by the way.

and so i found myself looking forward to the verbal exchanges between characters even more. imagine that feeling you have getting all hyped up and tense when you can sense a cool action scene is coming. an epic battle with cool visual effects or a beautifully choreographed fight.

well, that’s the dialogue in this book for you. i literally could not wait when i knew one character was getting geared up to verbally sock another in the jaw (or possibly get cornered themselves and then have to talk their way out of it all over again).

martine is so good at laying bare every little twitch, every little sneaky maneuver, every parry-and-riposte; these are social duels between people very much versed in poetry and literature. and it’s just -- it’s the best damn intrigue i’ve ever read.

as someone who was already sort of blown away by book one in this duology, martine showed me just how much more vast her literary universe is. desolation offers a thorough look at the looming grandness of the empire even beyond its planet-spanning city, only to remind me that an empire is nothing more than the sum of its people -- and those people are the ones that are truly grand. those people are the ones that can make a difference.

even if sometimes, they can never be truly free.

and i love how the narrative doesn’t flinch away from showing us the flaws of its characters, either; the messiness that comes along with revolution and trying to shed old thoughts and finding the new.
“it felt good to say. to be vicious in her own despair, to display the wound of her desire in full: no, i will not be teixcalaanli, i am incapable, i know, let me hold the bleeding lips of this injury open for you to see the raw hurt inside. to say, i would never compare myself to one of you, with full consciousness that she would, and had, and could not stop.”
conclusion: reading this book hurt, and it did so in the best of ways.

it makes you think and it makes you feel, and it has so many beautiful little echoes back to its predecessor. it carries its themes forward, holds them up to you in its starry palms, like the glint of blood in a sacrificial bowl.

i could define it for you more easily; i could say it’s a great space opera epic. court intrigue amongst the stars. a first contact narrative. some pew-pew but mostly politics. and a romance that manages to be great without ever taking up too many pages.

but i could also say it’s all about the yearning and the not-having. to be something, but not. to reach, and to sometimes be lucky enough to find someone to hold your hand on the other side.

read this. to me, it’s transcendent. modern SF at its very finest.

“everyone dies. except memory.”

5.0 stars.
Profile Image for Alienor ✘ French Frowner ✘.
828 reviews3,675 followers
March 2, 2021


RELEASED TODAY!

Who has never thought about what would happen if we made first contact with aliens? Well. Me? I really haven't ? *blinks slowly* Wait - before you decide I'm a lost cause and also, so boring: I've changed my mind! 

If you've read A Memory Called Empire - and if you haven't: why are you reading this review instead of doing just that already? Huh? - I have good news for you : A Desolation Called Peace is everything the first book was, but better. The stakes have been raised, peace is hanging by a thread, and oh, yes, absolutely, I loved every second of it.

Once again, I only had to read the first sentence for the magic to begin. I was instantly drawn into this world, fascinated - I really ought to stop saying that I never love science-fiction novels, because these books are right there, making a liar out of me. First of all, I need to get this out so please, do let me :  I adore the writing so muchIt's so evocative and precise, every word chosen with care and purpose. Reading this novel felt like savoring a rare and fine meal, delightful, really. It's not a book that you gulp down, you'll need breaks - at least I did - but that's okay (I'm writing that sentence in my note app at 72%, just so you know). Not all books are meant to be read in one sitting, not to this reader anyway. 



But what A Desolation Called Peace does best is putting its characters in such situations that they're stretched thin between conflicting authorities, forcing them to be more clever, more prudent - to have agency. It's brilliant, really.

Yaotlek- commander in chief - Nine Hibiscus needs to focus on the immediate threat - aliens dissolving ships will be that for you - but there's no such thing as clarity of mind when other people dare to have their own agendas, you know?
Mahit, back at Lsel station, realizes that politics followed her home, and tries to survive what seems to be an endless war with Texcallaan, with Lsel, with Three Seagrass, with herself. Her need to belong somewhere has never felt so potent - and so beyond reach.
Eight Antidote, the eleven year old heir, spied child made spy, slowly learns to fight back. I didn't expect to care for him so ferociously, yet by the end of the book, he was perhaps the character I treasured the most.
Oh. You know this secondary character you can't help but root for even though their scenes are way too short? Well, in A Desolation Called Peace, that's Twenty Cicada for you. You're welcome.



A Desolation Called Peace is constructed with alternative points of view and I fount it fitting. Don't get me wrong, I loved being in Mahit's mind in the first book, it gave me the occasion to truly connect with her and Iskandr, but the shift operated here allows the story to unfurl freely in a way that one POV wouldn't have made possible. The POV changes occur in the middle of chapters, but it's never confusing but rather, it helps maintain and even increase the tension. 

This sequels expands a theme already very present in the first book, which is:



How does one survive an empire that devours, that calls itself world without looking back - what does it means to be, in and outside of such Empire? 

But as I said earlier, A Desolation Called Peace is more. It expands its themes quite beautifully, with for example, but not limited to : 

▪ first contact with creatures we're not ready to call people yet (will we ever) ;
▪ war & its crimes, have you heard of them ;
▪ the infinite and excruciating whirls of loyalty - or is that treason?
▪ can you love someone without fully understanding them? (yes)
▪ what is language, anyway? 
▪ let's agree that algorithms are sneaky, terrifying concepts as a whole, okay? okay. 

And last but not least, A Desolation Called Peace shares with A Memory Called Empire a strong last third, all the threads coming together wonderfully ; we the reader cannot ignore that so many contradictory agendas may lead us to countless unpredictable pathways, and it doesn't disappoint (I dare your eyes not to widen at least once).



Bottom line : I adored A Desolation Called Peace very much, and after years never reading science-fiction, I need to catch up. Any recs? 

CW : blood, gore, violence, death, PTSD

ARC provided by the publisher—Tor Books—in exchange for an honest review (thank you!). The quotes in this review are subject to change upon publication.

For more of my reviews, please visit:
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 5 books3,847 followers
June 25, 2021
It may be just me... but I think that this second book is superior to the first. Let's just ignore the awards the first one earned and focus on the story, the action, and the stakes. We see more of Mahat, but there are a number of new, potentially more interesting characters that pretty much take over my enjoyment here.

Between the emperor's 12-year-old clone or the warrior or the Imago expert (consuming imprints of memories that both help and hinder) and a whole WAR that was made more interesting by attempts at communication that are complicated by both the Teixcalaan empire's weaponized poetry and the RATHER alien aliens.

I should mention that I am seeing a LOT of mushrooms in literature lately, and this one is no exception.


Honestly? I really did have a better time in this book. Maybe it is because there was a better balance between thinking and talking about the action and actually EXPERIENCING it.

That being said, read these for the poetry of the writing, the careful placement of words, and the often surprising imagery. Read it for the worldbuilding. Also, read it for the complexified characters that must live, survive, and love within some rather odd constraints.

This is not a cookie-cutter SF.
Profile Image for Anthony.
Author 4 books1,816 followers
June 9, 2021
This is another fascinating, strange, absorbing work by the fiercely intelligent Arkady Martine. She once again displays some quirks that are perhaps a bit too ubiquitous — a prevalence of both a lot of italics and many parenthetical interruptions — but I also can’t help but admire her commitment to her idiosyncratic style. Her characters are vividly drawn — although sometimes her dialogue feels a bit too hyper articulate, a la Aaron Sorkin — especially, in this installment, the child Emperor-in-waiting Eight Antidote and the second-in-command Swarm. And she is able to dramatize in very convincing fashion the complex, horrible truth that the fates of entire civilizations rest on flawed, lonely individuals and their whims.

I know folks who bounced off of A Memory Called Empire, and I can understand why, but I’m glad to have read these two novels, which I found to be quite satisfying and evocative.
Profile Image for Zitong Ren.
504 reviews152 followers
June 8, 2021
A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine, the sequel to A Memory Called Empire is just as well written as its predecessor. Set against a backdrop of a rich and gorgeously constructed interplanetary Empire, with a cast of well-explored and fleshed out characters, as well Martine’s stellar writing, there is a lot to like here. It was not without some flaws in my view, hence the four-star rating from me, but I do believe that this sequel with delight fans sci-fi and space opera, and you enjoyed the first novel in the series, I almost guarantee that you will like this too.

This novel takes place a little while after the conclusion of A Memory Called Empire, where Mahit Dzmare, the intriguing Ambassador to the Empire to Lsel Station is facing trouble in her home station, while Three Seagrass is acting as the Third Undersecretary to the Ministry of Information. There was also a greater focus on new characters in this novel, which I found to be interesting, such as Eight Antidote, the heir to the throne and Nine Hibiscus, the Yoatlek of a fleet fighting a distant war. I certainly liked both Eight Antidote and Nine Hibiscus and the other side characters around their storylines, although I was less engaged whenever the POV did switch to them, and by far preferred reading about the two characters that I was already familiar with from book 1. They were engaging and well written, but I simply did not have the same connection as I had with Mahit Dzmare and Three Seagrass as they were only introduced half-way through the series.

My primary criticism of this book that I have was that I really wished it moved along a bit faster. I’m not calling it for it to be fast paced or anything, but I think perhaps due to the number of POVs, it did feel that actual plot was moving along at a miniscule pace at times, especially as Martine has this highly poetic writing style. I do think that I would have personally enjoyed for it to have built more tension, especially at the ending, where while it was not anti-climactic by any means, I do think that there could have been a punchier ending.

See, the relationship that is built up and explored between Mahit and Three Seagrass was quite nuanced and done really well in my view. The two of them were able to solve a lot of their longstanding issues and I thought that the resolution these two characters received was both bittersweet and necessary for them. Ultimately, Three Seagrass is the coloniser in this case, and there are still deep prejudices that need to be solved which is why I am quite satisfied with the ending between the two instead of a cheerful happily ever after, because it is clear that even by the end of this series, while a lot of things have been resolved, there is still so much left of them to unravel for them.

I found that the ‘enemy’ in this novel in particular to have been very unique and fascinating to read about. I haven’t consumed vast, vast amount of sci-fi and like I have seen similar ideas being done before, but the way that Martine executed this was fabulous and completed in a way where it felt fresh and original. I also liked that there was this element of mystery to it which I also thought was handled really well and kept the reader wanting to know more about this species of alien and what they were capable of.

To conclude, this was a stunning book which I thoroughly enjoyed and it served as a really solid sequel. 8/10
Profile Image for Peter Tillman.
3,402 reviews301 followers
March 30, 2022
Just finished, at 1 AM. Boy, is it good. Space war! Incomprehensible, disgusting aliens! Here's what their language sounds like, to a human:
"A sharp, ugly noise with the intimation of a headache inside it, that ended in a scream that had taste—a foul, oilslick, tongue-coating taste that made her nauseated."

“You don’t need a translator, you need a winnowing barrage,” Captain Twelve Fusion said. “Whatever made that [noise] shouldn’t exist.”

Best novel of 2021? OK, first I've finished this New Year.... Arkady Martine (aka Dr. AnnaLinden Weller) writes like an angel. I thought her first was amazingly good. This one's even better. Six stars! And I'll be re-reading both books, in due time.

This novel (and its prequel) is a study in what happens if women take on all the hard, important jobs in a complex civilization. Like, will they be nicer to each other? [Mostly yes.] Will they bring their kids to work? [Absolutely!] Can they be as bloody-minded as men, if duty calls for it? [Well. That’s complicated. As it should be.] What do the MEN do? [Um. Mostly they are invisible, here. Certainly not the romantic leads!]*

A sample:
"Three Seagrass took a breath, the kind that expanded all of her narrow chest and belly: breathed not only for oratory but for something even louder. And, exhaling, began to sing.
“Within each cell is a bloom of chemical fire,” she sang, bell-clear alto, a voice for calling lost people home, a carrying voice, meant for distance. “Committed to the earth, we shall burst into a thousand flowers—as many as our breaths in life—and we shall recall our names—our names and the names of our ancestors—and in those names blood blooms also from our palms . . .”
It was the Teixcalaanli funeral poem. The one Mahit had heard arranged in a hundred different ways, spoken or sung—the one she’d read the first time in a textbook in a classroom on the Station, marveling at chemical fire and the idea of flowers made of blood. But she’d never heard it like this. Three Seagrass had made it sound like a war chant. A promise. You spilled our blood, and we will rise."

I loved Mahit Dzmare and Three Seagrass in the first book, and still do. Wonderfully complex people. They like each other a lot. As Reed puts it, she is "amazed and horrified and utterly delighted, all at once, which was pretty much how Mahit doing anything made her feel, really." And there's a HOT romance, in the girls' tiny stateroom:
“Come on,” she said, when the kiss dissolved from lack of available oxygen, “come on, I’m not going to fuck you standing up—”
“That bed’s tiny.” One of Three Seagrass’s hands had gotten under her shirt, cupped her breast, teased expertly and distractingly at the nipple. “There’s a perfectly good floor right here . . .”
“I’m not that kind of barbarian,” Mahit said, and found herself laughing, too, and pulling away long enough to squirm out of her jacket, pull her shirt over her head. The air of their quarters on bare skin raised shivery gooseflesh down her arms, over her ribs. The air, and Three Seagrass’s eyes on her.
“You’re not,” Three Seagrass said, dark and intent, “but I am.”

Followed by, well. Something completely unexpected (and much less pleasant!), that leads indirectly, maybe, to the solution to the alien conundrum.

I can't recommend this book too highly. Martine/Weller pushes all my buttons, and gets almost everything right. If you like intelligent, character-driven, woman-focused space opera, this is the book for you!

The author is being coy about what comes next, but she left obvious hooks for more books in the Teixcalaan universe. She stopped in a good place for the Empire. But left us on tenterhooks re Mahit and Reed's relationship! Bother. They should get on with living happily ever after! And perhaps they will, in the misty post-book future....

I was very fortunate to score an (unexpected) eARC from Tor via NetGalley. Lucky me! Thank you, Tor.
I deliberately took my time reading the book. Martine writes like an angel. But not quickly, and not much.
--
* But see Nataliya's comment, towards the end, below
May 30, 2022
blogthestorygraphletterboxd tumblrko-fi

“Trust is not an endlessly renewable resource. Loyalty might be. For longer.”


With A Desolation Called Peace Arkady has achieved something quite rare in a sequel. In fact, I liked A Desolation Called Peace so much so that, when I looked back to my review for A Memory Called Empire, I found much of my criticism unfair. In my review, I describe AMCE as a case of ‘great concept, poor execution’ but now I wonder whether I just read it at the wrong time. All of this to say that for those worried that A Desolation Called Peace may suffer from ‘second book syndrome, I say, fear no more. A Desolation Called Peace was an exhilarating and wonderfully inventive read. Arkady’s world-building is phenomenal, the stakes are even higher than in AMCE, and we follow multiple characters, most of whom are plotting against one another. Political scheming abounds within these pages, each character has their agenda, no one is trustworthy or necessarily ‘likeable’. But I liked how bold Arkady is when it came to characterisation. She does not resort to easy ‘evil/good’ dichotomies and repeatedly challenges her characters’ ideas and views.
While much of AMCE was dedicated to introducing us to this world and learning of the Teixcalaanli Empire through Mahit’s Stationer eyes, A Desolation Called Peace provides a ‘first contact’ scenario. Fleet Captain Nine Hibiscus is fighting against a terrifying and unknown enemy, and requests the assistance of someone from the Information Ministry and it is Three Seagrass who takes on the job. Before making her way to the fleet Three Seagrass is reunited with Mahit who is not only struggling to reconcile herself with her imagos (of a young and old Yskandr) and who has more than one enemy at Lsel Station. Mahit’s linguistic skills make her an asset in this ‘first-contact’ situation so she finds herself tagging along with Three Seagrass. The narrative follows Three Seagrass and Mahit, and their feelings for each other, which are complicated by the fact that Three Seagrass views Stationers as ‘barbarians’, Nine Hibiscus, who not only has is engaged in a war against an unknown enemy but is aware that someone is conspiring against her, and 11-year-old Eight Antidote, who is a clone of His Brilliance the Emperor Six Direction and heir-apparent to the Sun-Spear Throne of Teixcalaan. Eleven years old, and is being pulled in different directions at court. I found each storyline to be deeply engaging and, to my surprise, I probably found Twenty Cicadas to be the most in The tension between the characters, who always seem to be assessing each other’s words and actions in an attempt to gauge their motivations and intentions, gives the narrative a fantastic edge.
Another central aspect of this novel is, of course, language. Arkady demonstrates incredible knowledge and originality when it comes to linguistics. The words her characters use have such nuance and meaning that it enhances any exchange they have (so we can just how much words matter in every discussion or conversation they have). Arkady incorporates many other interesting themes in her storylines: the fraught relationship between coloniser and colonised (which complicates any relationship Three Seagrass and Mahit may wish to have with one another), xenophobia (and, in some cases, its opposite), identity (especially with Mahit and Eight Antitode), memory, and ethics.
This novel certainly made me think, and re-think. Arkady has created a stunning world and her prose is as sharp as a knife (or dare I say, even badass?). As I wrote above, I liked this novel so much that it made me re-value my less than warm feelings towards its predecessor (something that happens...very rarely indeed). Perhaps this is because I started learning more about languages or maybe this time around I was able to connect with her story and characters because I read it at the ‘right’ time, but, in any case, I would definitely recommend this to fans of AMCE. The only thing I had trouble with is Teixcalaanli names (part is due to the fact that numbers come to me in my mother tongue and not in English). I read an arc that sadly did not come with a glossary and I had a hard time keeping their names straight. Ideally, I would also have liked to have re-read AMCE before sinking my teeth in A Desolation Called Peace. But, overall, this novel elevated my feelings towards this series and I actually look forward to re-reading it (and I hope that Arkady will write more!).

ARC provided by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Alice.
241 reviews37 followers
May 27, 2022
From an interview with NPR:

“The direct sequel (which will tell you both about the scary ring-ships and what Three Seagrass does next) is titled A Desolation Called Peace, which I thoroughly stole from Tacitus. (I was reading Tacitus in a bar in Prague, long story. But it's the best line. Rome makes a desert and calls it peace.)”

Could Arkady Martine be any cooler? I would love to hear this story. Honestly, I’d read her grocery list.

Apparently, this book involves mail fraud, kittens, unwise kissing, and impossible wars. I can’t wait to get my hands on it.
Profile Image for Gabi.
686 reviews116 followers
April 12, 2021
I have the same problem as with the first part: there is marvellous worldbuilding and an interesting story, but the author narrates this in a style that I would describe as talking the plot to death. It is a prose that prevents me from immersing myself into the story. Less description of feelings and motives would have been more.
March 21, 2022


💀 DNF at 69%.

Actual rating: 2.5 stars.

My Kindle insists that I've read 69% of this masterpiece book and the publisher claims that it's only 496 pages long. My GR status seems to indicate I started A Desolation Called Utter Boredom Peace on March 14, which would mean I was at this for 5 miserably pathetic days.

Well my Kindle is obviously drunk, the publisher quite evidently high on premium quality stuff, and my GR account has undoubtedly been hacked by one of my evil nemeses. Because I'm fairly certain I just read 500% of this 2,500-page book (about 12,500 pages, in case you were wondering), which took me about 87,660 hours (aka the last 10 years of my life).



⚠️ Spoiler alert: this sloth's pace is downright earth-shattering compared to that of this book.
⚠️ Spoiler alert #2: I've known anemic barnacles that moved considerably faster than the plot of this book.

Nefarious Last Words (NLW™): this is a Super Extra Unique World (SEUW™) populated by Super Extra Unique Characters (SEUC™). So it's sort of a shame that Martine turned her potentially scrumptious story into a no-fail cure for insomnia 🙄🙄.



· Book 1: A Memory Called Empire ★★★★
Profile Image for DivaDiane.
919 reviews81 followers
April 27, 2021
Thanks to NetGalley for providing the ARC of this book, in exchange for a review.

First, I have to say, that the lack of proper formatting in this ARC, was a real hinderance, slowed my reading down no end, and might have contributed to my diminished love for this sequel of A Memory Called Empire. I don't feel like I can complain too much, because I did get it for free and all, but still. It's a shame.

This book was quite a bit different than Teixcalaan #1. There were multiple POVs, which I did like, especially the Imperial Heir Eight Antidote's POV. We even got a POV of the dangerous aliens Teixcalaan was at war with, as well as the military captain and Three Seagrass and Mahit, the main characters from the first book. I enjoyed them all, but it might have served more to dilute the story than to move it along. (Not to mention that the lack of formatting did not show clearly when we were changing POV. Luckily, Arkady Martine did show us admirably. I still prefer to get a heads-up!) I did miss Nineteen Adze as a character though.

We got a little bit of Mahit's difficulty having a foot in both worlds, but I wish we had gotten more. I felt so seen.

Spoilers ahead, which I will put in spoiler tags, because I can't really talk about what I liked about this book without including some things it's best not to spoil. Just suffice it to say that I really enjoyed how Martine pulled all the various groups together at the end through a very unusual commonality.



I decided to rate it 4 stars, even if my experience with it was less than stellar. I will probably reread both of these one day when I'm at loose ends, because there is a richness that will bear it out.
Profile Image for Bethany (Beautifully Bookish Bethany).
1,892 reviews3,107 followers
April 5, 2021
Arkady Martine is writing exactly the kind of science fiction I love- nuanced, detailed, filled with political intrigue, and exploring interesting ideas. With A Memory Called Empire, I had some quibbles with the pacing, but it's a book that really stuck with me. For me A Desolation Called Peace completely addressed those issues of pacing, partly by expanding to multiple points of view.

In the first book, we see everything through the eyes of Mahit, a young ambassador to the colonial seat of Teixcalaanli power. Here we get several other perspectives and it paints a fascinating picture of competing powers and priorities involved in a decision with far-reaching repurcussions. This is partly a first-contact story as the characters encounter a new alien species and Martine uses that as a way to further explore different modes of personhood and interconnected identities. As the political elements of the story unfold, we continue from the first book in unpacking the complexities of empire and whether a ruler can afford to have a strict system of ethics. What do you value and how do you decide when to make war and when to broker peace? I'm not sure we get clear answers (which shouldn't be terribly surprising given the topics) but I think Martine asks really interesting questions and creates characters who might give very different answers.

A side plot in this story is a romance between Mahit who is considered a "barbarian" because she is not Teixcalaanli, and Three Seagrass who was a major player in book 1. What I find interesting in their relationship is how Martine problematizes interracial relationships where the "exotic" is fetishized, and also explores how unequal power dynamics can be an issue as well. I really appreciated how she handled all of that in a way that allows for the messiness of human emotion.

This is definitely a slower-paced, methodical approach to science fiction that is more concerned with characters and ideas than with action, so it's not going to work for everyone, but I really loved it. This has become one of my favorite science fiction series and I hope we get more in this vein from Martine in the future. I received an advance copy of this book for review via NetGalley. All opinions are my own.
Profile Image for Dave.
2,958 reviews309 followers
December 4, 2020
"A Desolation Called Peace" is ultimately a story about communication between alien cultures, following in the wake of Clarke's 2001 Space Odyssey, Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land and Card's Ender series. It is nevertheless a long and perilous journey to get there. What with unpronounceable civilizations like Teixicalaanli and names of characters such as Nine Hibiscus and Three Seagrass, this novel, like the first one in this series, is a difficult nut to crack. It's dense, rich, thick, and, as a reader, you are plunged into this strange universe without warning. But, persevere. It's worth the early struggle once you finally see the map of where this is going.

Martine reprises many characters from the first book such as Mahit Dzmare and Three Seagrass. All of the characters ultimately make their way in some form to the edge of the galaxy where the Fleet has encountered an alien civilization which acts so different from what is known. It makes little sense why everyone is headed there but there appears no way to communicate. Their sounds do not even appear to be language. Is there any common ground or is the distance so great that endless war is the only route to take?
Profile Image for Veronique.
1,217 reviews164 followers
March 20, 2021
A Memory Called Empire was my favourite read of 2019 and Arkady Martine’s second book was everything I had hoped for and more. Every aspect was either as good or better!

The narrative picks up shortly after the events of the first book, with all the parties dealing with the repercussions of what happened. Once more we have a story that focuses on identity and empire, but also one that questions alienness further. Instead of analysing how one culture can devour another just by being itself, we are faced with the violent reaction of one against something it cannot understand and thus abhor (https://sarahgailey.substack.com/p/th...).

I know this all sounds very dry but it is anything but. In fact, I feel this book will probably please more people. The narration is now widened, not just focused on Mahit but following four characters offering different perspectives on what is going on as well as giving the reader a window on each’s culture and ways of thinking. Additionally, instead of a political murder mystery, we now have a military story with a resulting quicker pace.

Arkady Martine is an amazing author. She has the skill of not only writing intelligent and fun stories that make you think while entertaining you, but also complex and layered characters that you cannot help but care deeply for.
Profile Image for ReadBecca.
800 reviews85 followers
May 16, 2021
Arkady Martine is fucking brilliant.

Where in A Memory Called Empire we had a mostly encapsulated murder mystery plot, here the plot is a first contact story. All the wonderful framing of book one, showing us how the empire of colonizers view others as primitive barbarians, we very much see them approach a potential alien contact through that lens here, as a virus to only be dominated or eradicated. Meaning that Mahit herself is uniquely placed as that outsider barbarian to advocate for the potential value of outsiders, as well a her skill as a linguist to advocate in the actual contact part of the first contact element. Like the first story this is not an action packed book, this is very much again about culture and anthropology and linguistics. It's a book about the slow, arduous labor of understanding different minds.

Most of this book takes place on spaceships, which should appease those arguing about whether the series is or isn't space opera. But Martine shows off the excellence of character work we saw in the first book to an even greater level here by expanding to many POVs in a couple different settings and roles. The politics and technical elements only become more complex. The romantic relationship had great exploration of navigating that through cultural difference. The aliens are TRULY alien. There is just so much to love here, the duology is a new SF all time favorite, and I will be picking up anything Martine might put out next.

Major spoilers for this and Sorrowland:
Profile Image for Dylan.
205 reviews
April 24, 2022
“It is the minds of a people that have to stay free. Bodies die, or suffer, or are imprisoned. Memory lasts.”


A Desolation Called Peace is a very interesting sequel because in many respects it's better than the prior novel but also worse in other departments. This is a good novel that concludes a lot of threads that have been set up, reasonably well. It is a cathartic ending, that is quite fitting. I rarely read duologies, but I am glad I did because the structure is always designed in a way where there is very little fat. Plus, trilogies are infamous for their middle book syndrome, which thankfully doesn’t have. I will break this review into 2 sections non-spoiler and spoiler, as it's tough talking about this novel without spoiling it.

Firstly, the world remains being interesting. Storytelling being so embedded into the culture is something very fascinating. There is a certain religion that is showcased which gives this world more depth. Mahit relationship with certain characters remains to be the best thing about this series, the psychological exploration I would argue is done better than the prior novel, a certain big missed opportunity in book 1, which I thought was addressed quite well here(regarding Mahit). I won’t name the two POVs as it will spoil Book 1. But the new Female POV was fantastic, I adored this character’s chapters. She is quite naïve, innocent, witty and has great dynamics with certain characters. The male POV I found to be less engaging in the middle, but by the end, his character arc was great (especially the climax). The weakest POV that hurts this novel the most was Nine Biscuit. The idea of this character could be done very well, but I felt something was missing. It's not even the lack of time because other side characters I felt were way compelling with less screen time like Nine Agate. She just lacked that depth, that I think the author was trying to communicate. I would say her exchanges with her partner are both very important and the best scenes with her. But yeah, it's not bad, just the least engaging and hurt the pacing in the middle. The Interludes vary in quality but the last one and Postlude were fantastic. The Epigrams I found to be more interesting because you see the inner thoughts of certain character briefly like the emperor.

The naming scheme, well this is something that I don’t think I got quite used to by the end. For the major characters, it was fine. But when you read an interlude and see a name like Six Rainfall it's very jarring. You don’t really realise the importance of a name until you read this kinda novel. Referring to people as names of objects makes it very hard to remember, compared to if you called this person Sid.

The first novel’s, biggest strength is that it felt like it had many ideas. But in reality, It conveyed a very good illusion of many ideas. A Memory Called Empire was very focused on specific ideas and building upon it. The clash of cultures through language and exploration of certain technology. That was one of the key drivers. Because the focus was narrow but felt huge, it conveyed a lot of depth to that subject matter. A Desolation Called Peace in contrast does what a sequel should do theoretically which is, building upon the prior ideas and themes. However, I felt here the ambition was a tad too much for Martine. There are a lot more ideas introduced, but rather than being explored half of them felt it was slightly touched upon. Which makes this novel feel thematically weaker than its prior instalment.

Despite some critiques I had above, it’s a very good book (want to empathise that). One of favourite aspects is a spoiler so I will tag it.



In conclusion, this is a very good duology. Though I felt this novel was uneven at times, the highs were pretty great (especially the climax). The ending I felt was quite cathartic and fitting with some of the key themes and plot points it addresses. Lastly, I would recommend this series, I am glad to read the author's novels and I am keen to read whatever she plans to write in the future.

p.s. I am happy the read-along that I hosted, was successful. Mostly everyone enjoyed it which is fantastic!

7/10
Profile Image for Jemppu.
499 reviews89 followers
June 9, 2021
"To think as a person and to not think language."

Satisfyingly contemplative exploration on themes of culture, societies, and individuality, and how those interact through nature of languages.




I am amazed how completely opposite my experience with this was compared to the one I had with the first book, which I listened in audio format, and which I felt fell flat in delivering an impact. What I learned from switching between audio and text with this is how the performative tones in the audio narration might've been misleading one's focus and completely distracted from the actual, factual soul of the book: the exact, rational introspective aspects.

I am newly captivated, and will definitely have to re-visit the first book.
July 24, 2021
Everything about A Desolation Called Peace is something I should like. It’s the kind of literary sci-fi that I usually adore, but I appear to be in a minority of people who simply couldn’t get into it. There is no doubt that Arkady Martine is a lovely, florid writer. She has an evocative way of using language that reads beautifully - in moderation. But moderation is not something we get, so instead, A Desolation Called Peace is a story that talks itself to death.  Like A Memory Called Empire, it was so full of “big ideas” that it kind of ran out of time to tell the story, so the result was a lot of reading of internal monologues and very little plot direction.

The bulk of my review contains spoilers, so read at your own discretion:



For a book that does nothing but talk at the reader, there is a severe lack of any clear communication between the characters. Maybe that’s the point, but it didn’t really lead to me forming any strong connections with them. Eight Antidote and Nine Hibiscus were definitely the most interesting characters, but again, they didn’t feel true to their roles. Both acted as Deus ex Emperors to conveniently move the plot to a conclusion that failed to satisfy.

A Desolation Called Peace was miles better than A Memory Called Empire, but it was still big on ideas and short on development. The navel-gazing about language, communication, and identity, just became repetitive after a while, and I don’t feel that it expanded on the already wordy development of those ideas that had already happened in A Memory Called Empire. There were too many plot threads that were abandoned or concluded in an unsatisfactory manner, and way too much time given over to rehashing the same ideas about how we use language. I got it the first time. I didn’t need an entire book’s worth of repetition.

Both the Teixcalaan books should have been a single novel. The entire first book could have been pared down into the first quarter of a novel, and there was a lot about A Desolation Called Peace that could have been edited down or left out entirely to make it a decent remainder. Because ultimately, it took two books and a lot of words, to say very, very little.
Profile Image for Reid.
879 reviews61 followers
March 14, 2021
Teixcalaan is a bureaucratic empire, defined by its rigid hierarchy and dedication to the ideal that they are the dominant species and all others are barbarians. When they encounter an alien species that is as different from them as it is possible to be in their beliefs and attitudes toward the sanctity of life, a conflict will ensue that is as much philosophical as it is existential. So far, so good.

Unfortunately, all of the failings of the first volume in this series, A Memory Called Empire, which that first book managed to counterbalance with delightful character development and engaging plot points, are doubled down on here, to its great detriment.

First of all, for such a seemingly disciplined society, there is an astonishing lack of attention to lines of authority. Everyone, even in military circles, seems to go off on their own tangents whenever the mood strikes them. There is no decorum in language whatsoever. While the author tries to give the impression that they are very rigid, the reality is that they are almost childishly impulsive. This also applies to the other culture which figures prominently in the narrative, that from Lsel Station, where petty infighting seems to be the rule. Were either society truly run in such a haphazard fashion, nothing but chaos would reign. Related to this first point is the fact that what seems to pass in Arkady Martine's mind for diplomatic discourse has more in common with middle school pettiness than what any responsible adult would consider discreet, kind, or constructive. Any group of people this childish in their speech are unlikely to be able to successfully run a taco stand, nonetheless an empire.

Second, the idea of a hive mind is depressingly unoriginal and the breathlessness with which characters "discover" that this is what they are dealing with is just silly, especially considering that the reader figured it out a hundred or so pages back.

Third, the idea that an 11-year-old child, heir to the throne or not, would be left to his own devices to be a disruptive force, that he would be indulged in his desire to play adult games and make adult choices that effect the entire universe, is simply laughable. I understand suspending my disbelief and, yes, this is a culture unlike mine, so perhaps the deference of the Teixcalanni people toward the heir is a bit more realistic there. Still, this strikes me as a singularly absurd plot point.

Finally, Martine seems to have a rather silly obsession with the idea of being a spy, while not really comprehending what one is. A spy is someone who attempts to deceive others in order to gather information or commit sabotage behind enemy lines. Which means that someone who is openly going about her job on a foreign ship and then reporting back to her superiors is not a spy, simply a woman doing her job. Someone from a government ministry on a military ship owned and operated by her government is not a spy, simply another woman doing her job. And an 11-year-old gathering information to make himself more knowledgeable about a world he is supposed to some day rule is not a spy, but a very smart little boy. If one were to accept Martine's overbroad definition of spying, then everyone would be a spy, which rather dilutes the meaning of the word.

Don't get me wrong; this is not an unreadable book by any means and if you are looking for a lightweight diversion, by all means give it a spin. But for my money it's too silly to be worth your time.
Profile Image for charlotte,.
2,997 reviews796 followers
April 16, 2021
On my blog.

Rep: lesbian mcs, bi side character

Galley provided by publisher

A Memory Called Empire was one of my favourite books of 2019, possibly all time, so there was absolutely no way I wasn’t going to love A Desolation Called Peace. It was wholly inconceivable. So, nothing I say in this review should be at all surprising, really.

At the end of A Memory Called Empire, it was revealed that an alien threat was approaching Teixcalaanli space, and fighting that threat is what takes up the bulk of A Desolation Called Peace. There are added POVs, too, with Eight Antidote, Three Seagrass and Nine Hibiscus in addition to Mahit. So, we follow Nine Hibiscus on the frontlines of the war, Three Seagrass as she wrangles her way into being sent out there too, Mahit as she is co-opted into said war (though also as a way to escape Stationer politics), and Eight Antidote as he deals with the politics at home.

It’s an even more complex book than A Memory Called Empire.

And, really, that’s what I love about this series. There’s such depth to the worldbuilding and consideration of even the tiniest aspects of it, and I love it. You can so easily lose yourself in Martine’s world and writing. And here, you get an expansion of that world. No longer are we only on the Teixcalaanli home planet, but we’re also in Stationer Space, and at the outer reaches of the empire, meeting new aliens who don’t communicate in nearly a similar way to everyone else.

In the first book, there’s this line “Like a flower turns to the sun or a person takes in oxygen, he said, Teixcalaan reaches again toward the stars.” and I always think of that as reflective of how the books feel. They’re a slow unfurling of the plot, so that you’re always wanting to read more to find out what happens next. Combine that with the aforementioned worldbuilding, and you get the kind of book I mean when I say I like slow adult SFF. The sort you can just immerse yourself in for hours on end.

And then when you finish, you’re left with a desperate desire for more.
Profile Image for Scott.
287 reviews289 followers
July 6, 2021
Arkady Martine is a name to watch in Science Fiction.

Her first novel - A Memory Called Empire is a stunningly good story of the rapacious but culturally enticing Teixcalaan empire and an outsider to that realm, a person who - despite her desire to belong - will forever be regarded as a barbarian. This outsider - Ambassador Mahit Dzmare - is rendered even more alien by the forbidden machinery in her head - technology that allows her to carry a copy of the previous (and deceased) ambassador's personality in her mind.

A Desolation Called Peace is the continuation of Mahit's story, and if you enjoyed AMCH it's definitely worth your time. Having played a central role in the she has returned to the far flung Lsel space station where she grew up.

Unfortunately for Mahit, the politics of Lsel station are almost as dangerous as those at the heart of the empire. The leaders of Lsel have been struggling against each other, and Mahit is about to become a pawn in their dangerous games. Mahit has returned home to find she is now an alien in the place where she grew up - the one place where she thought she belonged has rejected her.

So far, so similar to Martine's first novel. Where ADCP branches out though is that while Mahit is involved in Lsel machinations a war is beginning at the Empire's edge, where a strange alien race with formidable military machinery is testing Teixcalaan's power. At the same time, the heir designate to the imperial throne - an eleven year old boy called Eight Antidote - is learning the lessons he will need to one day rule the empire his father left him.

The war, Mahit and Antidote will all come to impact one another, and Mahit will play a key role in either brokering a peace, or starting a conflict that could devastate the empire she has come to love, (and sometimes kind of hates).

It's all great fun to read, even if it isn't quite as innovative as Martine's first novel. ADCP is a little more in the vein of traditional SF (if there can be said to be such a thing) as it is largely centered around first contact. A large part of the story plays out onboard a massive warship, and there are even a few space battles, although Martine's narrative is generally focused on interpersonal conflict rather than the pew-pew, fire-the-torpedoes bread and butter of milSF.

The insider/outsider dynamic is still at play, with Mahit, despite her cultural and language fluency, continually treated as though she is a uncultured barabrian. This is shown particularly well in Mahit's continuing friendship with her aide from the previous novel, Three Seagrass. Their burgeoning relationship is tested by Seagrass' cultural arrogance, and Martine writes the tension between them well.

Some of the ploy developments don't feel as natural as those in Martine's first novel - a central big reveal regarding an alien species isn't as impactful as it could be - but overall this is a fine book, and one that kept me glued to my reader well into the night.

Like the novel before it, and most good SF, there's much to reflect on in the world Martine has built. Throughout the story I found myself thinking of our own empires - particularly the Roman and British examples - and how people on the periphery of these once conquering realms could rarely be accepted as legitimate Romans or Brits, even as they were drawn inwards by the powerful cultural influence these polities exerted on the world.

Overall, A Desolation Called Peace is compelling, thoughtful and full of tension. It's well worth buying, and I'm very much looking forward to seeing where Arkady Martine plans to take us next.


Four condescending imperial lackeys out of five.
Profile Image for Skye Kilaen.
Author 14 books291 followers
March 18, 2021
So! Good! I gave myself a terrible headache staying up late to finish this last night and I REGRET NOTHING.
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