Thursday, March 11, 2021

A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine: review

5/5 stars on Goodreads

A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine

A Desolation Called Peace is the second book in Teixcalaan duology, which began with A Memory Called Empire. It picks up two months after the first book ended. Mahit Dzmare, the ambassador to the Teixcalaan Empire has returned home after stopping the empire from annexing her space station. But instead of being hailed as a saviour, she’s being treated with suspicion by the rulers of the Station who know something must be wrong with her implant that hosts the memories of her predecessor. Just as the situation is becoming untenable, Three Seagrass, her former cultural liaison at the empire and a current intelligence officer, comes to take her away.

The empire is at war with an utterly alien enemy that they can’t communicate with and don’t understand. Mahit and Three Seagrass are tasked with learning their language so that the war can be stopped before it spreads to the heart of the empire. But how do you learn a language that makes you sick? How do you stop genocide when there are factions within the empire who have their own agendas? And is it genocide if you don’t define the enemy as people?

This is a more mature book than the first—and that wasn’t bad either. It’s also more science fictiony with spaceships, first contacts, and incomprehensible aliens. The political intrigue and philosophising about cultural differences is replaced with questions about language and definitions of people.

There were more point of view characters, and it worked well; the pacing was better and chapters had good cliff-hanger endings, forcing me to read on to find out what happened to that character. Mahit had a smaller role to play in the overall story, but her personal progress remained interesting. Three Seagrass was given her own POV chapters, often side by side with Mahit’s. Their romance advanced too, but as it was a bit toxic, I wasn’t very invested in it. Then there was Nine Hibiscus, the commander of the fleet, whose POV served as a window to the war. But the most interesting new point of view character was Eight Antidote, the clone of the previous emperor. He’s only eleven, but mature beyond his years. Prodded by the new emperor, he takes interest in the war, and ends up playing a pivotal role in it.

The book has a satisfying ending suitable for a duology. But it’s open enough that there’s room for more books too, should the author wish to continue with the world. She’s created a complex universe with great characters, and it would be a pity if it ended here.

I received a free copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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