A Memory Called Empire, by Arkady Martine

Review copy provided by the author, who is a personal friend.

Arkady Martine has a lot to say about empires. Luckily for the reader, she’s very clear on the difference between an academic monograph–that’s her alter ego’s job–and a space opera. A Memory Called Empire is full of bombs, spaceships, intrigue, poisons, and neurological devices. It is also full of thoughts about empire and its periphery, of how systems eat people and how those people can resist–before death, and beyond it with their influence.

It’s fun. It’s thoughtful and action-packed and well-balanced, and there are friendships (with more than one outcome and more than one focus!) as well as a flirtation. The main character, Mahit Dzmare, is poised at exactly the line between knowledgeable and lost that’s so much fun to read as she navigates a tense and dangerous diplomatic situation that’s fascinating not only to her but to me. I easily tuned out hours of airport with this book. I love its barbarians and am fascinated by its empire.

And it’s doing the thing that science fiction claims to do but often does not: examining fundamental questions from new angles. More than one person, more than one culture, has a particular answer to the idea of where the self begins and ends, and they’re all vital to this book, with its explosions and catastrophes. I can’t wait to see what the next one brings. Highly recommended.

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