Sci-Fi Novels Science Fiction Reviews

‘A Memory Called Empire’ Review: The Brilliance of a Master Worldbuilder

A Memory Called Empire is a tour-de-force, sweeping you into a complex story and brilliantly rendered culture. From the start, a new ambassador must tread carefully through the treachery of a predecessor suddenly deceased. Answers are hard to find, allies are difficult to determine, and dangers are lurking where least expected. It’s part murder mystery, part high-tech sci-fi, and part political intrigue amidst a highly advanced culture. All of these pieces are essential to this complex story.

A Memory Called Empire

By Arkady Martine
Tor Books

Worldbuilding is the cornerstone of A Memory Called Empire, one that Martine has perfected. The world of Teixcalaan is infinite in its layers and intrigue. At the highest level, we see the intricacies of the political system and how a single society was able to spread across the universe, colonizing planet after planet. There’s a veneration for the Emperor akin to ancient civilizations, with loads of mysticism around the inner circle and those who reside there. What seems to be a highly civilized political structure at the beginning is, in reality, quite barbaric, with political players whispering around corners and military commanders vying for rule through shows of force.

The deeper societal layers are the real gems. Martine hasn’t stopped at writing passages from a few history books. She has created a full society, thoughtfully and so thoroughly that it’s breathtaking. We see the complexities of naming conventions along with the many greeting rituals and expectations based on one’s place in society. Linguistically, there’s a complex language at play, filled with alternate meanings and thousands of possible flubs just waiting in the wings. Culturally, we see a strong religious tradition, a fascinating architectural history, and impressive technological advances that are both familiar and unique. We even get to imagine the common street foods found in the City. This is complete worldbuilding like I’ve rarely seen and it shines on every page.

A Memory Called Empire is many things. It’s a nail-biting murder mystery. It’s a political powerhouse of a novel. It’s an ode to the tiny details that make a fictional world come to life. Above all, it’s a brilliant novel that impresses at every turn.

NOTE: I was provided a free copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest, unbiased review.

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