Book Review: A MEMORY CALLED EMPIRE by Arkady Martine

Title in white against a throne made like half a metallic sunburst
Genre: Political Sci-Fi
Age Range: Adult
Star Rating: 5 stars
Series: Yes - first in duology


Book cover for A MEMORY CALLED EMPIRE: title in golf below a throne shaped like a sunburst

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. 

Synopsis taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.


A MEMORY CALLED EMPIRE is an incredible debut, written with such deft command of languages as it creates a rich world and intricate political scheming.

I adore political fantasy, so natural its sci-fi cousin, Political Science Fiction, was an immediate sell for me when I asked friends for adult SFF recommendations. The plot itself is so intricately woven, layers of lies and deceit and conflicting plans snarling up to make a pretty mess for Mahit to unravel. I could hardly put the book down, wanting to know what happened next and who had killed the previous ambassador – not to mention why and what it meant for Mahit.

The writing itself is stunning. It took a few chapters to get used to the style, the way there were interjections and commentary from Mahit among the narration. Not to mention the long, run on sentences sometimes needed to be read twice to grasp the whole meaning, but it was so beautifully done, fitting the atmosphere perfectly.

The author must have some linguistics training, or at least has studying languages according to the acknowledgements, because the way language and the concept of language is used is stunning. Even as someone who struggled with languages at school, I can appreciate the way the exploration of “you” and “I” were not only philosophical but also linguistically.

All of it conjures an achingly beautiful world of words and sophistication hiding a rotten core that’s as broken as any society. Seeing it all through the eyes of an outsider, someone who wanted to be part of it but knew she never could, brought out the poignancy of the empire’s illusion. Though it’s set against an empire that spans the stars, it’s not a space opera on ship bridges and space battles, but in a city that doesn’t feel futuristic in the sense of tech, but in the sense of cleanliness and alien-other-worldliness – like a human city but not.

I’m so glad there’s another entry in this series, and March 2021 seems very far away. Still, I can re-read this in the meantime and wait for more work by Arkady Martine – an immediate favourite!

Read my reviews of other books by Arkady Martine:

Teixcalaan (this series):

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