Book Club: A Memory Called Empire

A Memory Called Empire is the author’s debut novel and won the 2020 Hugo Award for Best Novel.

The author is AnnaLinden Weller, who writes under the name of Arkady Martine. The adage “write what you know” couldn’t be more relevant to her. She’s a historian and city planner by day and obtained a Ph.D. in medieval Byzantine history in 2014. Martine said that this novel was, in many respects, a fictional version of her postdoctoral research on Byzantine imperialism in the 11th century, particularly the annexation of the Kingdom of Ani.

This backstory about the author explains the complexity of her created world. In my humble opinion, the best part of the book. The worldbuilding is rich and fully developed. The different cultures of the planet (Teixcalaan) vs. the station (Lsel) are highlighted, but the writing wasn’t intrusive. In other words, it didn’t interrupt the telling of the story. Albeit it made for a dense read like Dune.

Other similarities to Dune include the openings of each chapter. They started with excerpts from various sources. Like the selections from the writings of Princess Irulan in Dune, they provided glimpses of previous Teixcalaan and Lsel events. Likewise, Memory includes a glossary. Though I didn’t need to use it to understand what was happening as I did for Dune.

What I did find myself doing was reading the print version along with the audio. I started listening to the audiobook but couldn’t get grounded in the world. The language of the epigraph and prelude was quite ornate. (Yes, this book has both, and yes, I read them. After all, they wouldn’t be there if they didn’t have significance.) In the end, I purchased the eBook to follow along with the audio.  

Listening to the audio helped with the pronunciation of the names used. (Another pet peeve of mine: nearly unpronounceable names). In Memory, the author used a unique naming convention for the Teixcalaanli characters. A number-noun configuration made their names pronounceable. According to an NPR interview with the author, it is similar to the system used by many Mesoamerican people.

The characters were likable. In particular, I enjoyed Three Seagrass, the cultural liaison for the Lsel ambassador and protagonist, Mahit. Though, as noted by the Book Club members, a few of the characters central to the story weren’t integral to the plot. In other words, they only made brief appearances but were critical to events happening in the narrative. Such was the case for the three characters in line for the throne. We are given short scenes, including two of them, but only hear about the third one through other characters. The readers never meet her in the story.

The other unusual facet of this book was the point of view. It was third-person limited like most contemporary novels. The difference was that there is only one POV, the protagonist. It made me wonder what the story would have been like if it had been written in the first person.

The story wasn’t anything profound. For all intent and purpose, it was a murder mystery, as the book blurb advertised. A good story, especially the end (no spoilers), especially the technology central to the plot. Though I didn’t think the book needed to be nearly 500 pages. The pacing is what stretched it to such length. There weren’t enough twists and turns to warrant so many pages. Admittedly, the worldbuilding was extensive, but as mentioned above, it wasn’t invasive. It didn’t occupy pages and pages of the book. Thus, I couldn’t attribute the length to this aspect. The story was slow, and I felt there was some repetition in it.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and it earned a highly coveted slot on the bookcases of my home library. Oh, and if you’re counting, I bought this book three times – audio, electronic, and a hard copy.

One last note – The sequel to this novel, A Desolation Called Peace, won the 2022 Hugo Award for Best Novel.


Up next: The Galaxy, and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers (2022 Hugo Finalist for Best Novel)

With no water, no air, and no native life, the planet Gora is unremarkable. The only thing it has going for it is a chance proximity to more popular worlds, making it a decent stopover for ships traveling between the wormholes that keep the Galactic Commons connected. If deep space is a highway, Gora is just your average truck stop.

At the Five-Hop One-Stop, long-haul spacers can stretch their legs (if they have legs, that is), and get fuel, transit permits, and assorted supplies. The Five-Hop is run by an enterprising alien and her sometimes helpful child, who work hard to provide a little piece of home to everyone passing through.

When a freak technological failure halts all traffic to and from Gora, three strangers—all different species with different aims—are thrown together at the Five-Hop. Grounded, with nothing to do but wait, the trio—an exiled artist with an appointment to keep, a cargo runner at a personal crossroads, and a mysterious individual doing her best to help those on the fringes—are compelled to confront where they’ve been, where they might go, and what they are, or could be, to each other.

Until next time, happy reading!

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