BLURB: An alien armada lurks on the edges of Teixcalaanli space. No one can communicate with it, no one can destroy it, and Fleet Captain Nine Hibiscus is running out of options.
In a desperate attempt at diplomacy with the mysterious invaders, the fleet captain has sent for a diplomatic envoy. Now Mahit Dzmare and Three Seagrass—still reeling from the recent upheaval in the Empire—face the impossible task of trying to communicate with a hostile entity. Whether they succeed or fail could change the fate of Teixcalaan forever.
REVIEW: First of all, if you happened to pick this one up without first reading A Memory Called Empire, then put it down and go looking for the first book. This one picks up more or less immediately after the first book finishes, featuring the same characters and continuing the same narrative arc. So you’ll probably flounder and given that the writing style is dense, layered and challenging, you won’t enjoy or appreciate it as you should.
I liked that we got more of Mahit and Three Seagrass, though at the start I was worried in case Three Seagrass wouldn’t feature so much. I love the fact that they are both human, separated by differing cultures that make it very difficult to understand each other. Though at times, it’s easy to forget that – until they are confronted by an alien presence whose thinking and values is utterly different. And devastatingly lethal… That’s all I’m going to say about the plot, as I don’t want to venture into Spoiler territory.
It was interesting to further explore some of the characters who had only walk-on parts in A Memory Called Empire – particularly Eight Antidote, the young emperor-in-waiting. Seeing this eleven-year-old desperately trying to live up the expectations of his tutors and the empress Nineteen Adze was both poignant and gave us a ringside seat to the machinations of Teixcalaan politics, which is truly a shark tank of conflicting loyalties and ambitions. I also enjoyed following Nine Hibiscus, now promoted to be the ultimate warleader in charge of the armada of the fleet sent out to engage the alien threat. Her relationship with Twenty Cicada, her loyal No. Two who went through training alongside her is strikingly close – he is probably the only person she completely trusts… Which made the ending bittersweet and left me with a lump in my throat.
The aliens were very well depicted – it’s a big ask to successfully give an effective sense of ‘other’, but Martine triumphantly succeeds in doing so. This isn’t a foot-to-the-floor, action-packed story, as the writing is too dense and layered to move the story along at the usual brisk clip we’re accustomed to seeing with space opera adventures. But I think it works, nonetheless. For me, there was one jarring note that caused me to knock off a point – the steamy sex scene. There were a couple of details too much. I don’t know why we were treated to such a graphic scene, as the first book didn’t tend to linger on the sexuality of the characters in general and it was an unwelcome surprise. However, it isn’t a dealbreaker as I’m aware that although it is only February, this is probably going to be one of the best books I’ll read in 2021. Highly recommended if you enjoy reading space opera featuring beautifully depicted, complicated characters and an amazing world. While I obtained an arc of A Desolation Called Peace from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. 9/10
It’s been a truly dreadful year – like everyone else, I cannot wait to see the back of it. But in one respect, it’s been wonderful – I have discovered some fabulous science fiction reads. Some are relatively newly published, others are a bit older. But the one thing they all have in common is that they provided me with an engrossing read that took me right away from the daily grind of social distancing, masks and lockdowns… Have you read any of these? I’m linking this post to #Sci Fi Month 2020.
Ancestral Night – Book 1 of the White Space series by Elizabeth Bear Haimey Dz thinks she knows what she wants. She thinks she knows who she is. She is wrong.
A routine salvage mission uncovers evidence of a terrible crime and relics of powerful ancient technology. Haimey and her small crew run afoul of pirates at the outer limits of the Milky Way, and find themselves on the run and in possession of universe-changing information. When authorities prove corrupt, Haimey realizes that she is the only one who can protect her galaxy-spanning civilization from the implications of this ancient technology—and the revolutionaries who want to use it for terror and war. Her quest will take her careening from the event horizon of the supermassive black hole at the galaxy’s core to the infinite, empty spaces at its edge. To save everything that matters, she will need to uncover the secrets of ancient intelligences lost to time—and her own lost secrets, which she will wish had remained hidden from her forever. Yes… I don’t deny there are some pacing issues. And that Bear does tend to muse about all sorts of philosophical issues that her character is chewing over – evidently being in a small tin can light years away from everyone else other than your own small crew can do that to you. But listening to this one, where the world seeped into my dreams and Haimey and I hung out together for a handful of days, was such a blessing… see my review. I’m currently listening to Machine, the second book in the series and enjoying that one, too.
Skyward and Starsight of the Skyward series by Brandon Sanderson Defeated, crushed, and driven almost to extinction, the remnants of the human race are trapped on a planet that is constantly attacked by mysterious alien starfighters. Spensa, a teenage girl living among them, longs to be a pilot. When she discovers the wreckage of an ancient ship, she realizes this dream might be possible—assuming she can repair the ship, navigate flight school, and (perhaps most importantly) persuade the strange machine to help her. Because this ship, uniquely, appears to have a soul. This one has more of a YA feel as Spensa is a teenager with family issues that make her reckless and a bit of an adrenaline junkie. Humanity is clinging onto existence, anyway as constant alien attacks are besieging their ghetto on a planet ringed by ordnance. I loved the sentient ship – and also where the adventure went in the second book. See my mini-reviews of Skyward and Starsight.
Termination Shock and Interdicted Space of the Interstellar Enforcement Agency series by Gillian Andrews Ryler Mallivan’s comfortable life as an upstanding young freighter captain has just imploded. Avaraks are storming the training ship he is on and the bullets being fired are not blanks. Interstellar war has broken out and unless he moves fast they will all be as stone dead as the instructor lying at his feet. But this is one conflict they can never escape. The cause of the trouble is far closer than they know and will bring Mallivan and his ragbag fledgling crew under ferocious attack from all sides. They are going to need all their wits about them if they are to stay alive. And they have to, because there is nobody else to save all their worlds from a doomsday weapon which is set to obliterate the entire universe. Just how much can one lone spaceship do? This is a lot of fun with loads of action and engaging characters – see my reviews of Termination Shock and Interdicted Space. I’m looking forward to reading the third book in the series – Exceptional Point sometime in the New Year…
The Book of Koli and The Trials of Koli – of the Rampart trilogy by M.R. Carey Beyond the walls of the small village of Mythen Rood lies an unrecognizable world. A world where overgrown forests are filled with choker trees and deadly vines and seeds that will kill you where you stand. And if they don’t get you, one of the dangerous shunned men will. Koli has lived in Mythen Rood his entire life. He knows the first rule of survival is that you don’t venture beyond the walls. What he doesn’t know is – what happens when you aren’t given a choice? I absolutely loved this series. The slightly degraded English in Koli’s first-person narrative is beautifully handled and works very well. Too much more and it have been annoying, but it is an effective part of the worldbuilding. I’m really looking forward to reading the third book in the series – see my reviews of The Book of Koli and The Trials of Koli.
A Memory Called Empire – Book 1 of the Teixcalaan series by Arkady Martine 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. I have a particular fondness for stories where there are whodunits set in the future – done well, it makes for a wonderful, gripping read. And this is excellent – one of my outstanding reads of the year – see my review which is also going live today. I’m looking forward to getting hold of A Desolation Called Peace next year.
Relatively Strange, Even Stranger and Stranger Still – the Strange series by Marilyn Messik It’s tricky to know what’s normal if you’re not, But Stella’s north west London upbringing is average enough, and her eccentric, protective (paranoid?) family are not given to making a fuss. Only when she finds herself smack dab in the middle of a situation, face to face with the stark reality of medical experimentation and its horrifying consequences, does she realise how sure she is of one thing. This hero stuff just isn’t her. Normal, or as near as damn it is what she wants for the future, and if that means smothering her instincts, so be it. At least she’ll know, should she slip off the wagon occasionally, it’ll be choice not chance. Isn’t it a fact though, just when you think you’ve got yourself back on track, events can overtake and derail you. This series has been one of the major reading highlights of my year – at a time when my need for enjoyable escapism has been intense, diving into these books was like a long cold drink of water on a steaming hot day… Love, love, love them all – here are my reviews – Relatively Strange, Even Stranger, Stranger Still.
The Calculating Stars, The Fated Sky and The Relentless Moon of the Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Kowal On a cold spring night in 1952, a huge meteorite fell to earth and obliterated much of the east coast of the United States, including Washington D.C. The ensuing climate cataclysm will soon render the earth inhospitable for humanity, as the last such meteorite did for the dinosaurs. This looming threat calls for a radically accelerated effort to colonize space, and requires a much larger share of humanity to take part in the process. Elma York’s experience as a WASP pilot and mathematician earns her a place in the International Aerospace Coalition’s attempts to put man on the moon, as a calculator. But with so many skilled and experienced women pilots and scientists involved with the program, it doesn’t take long before Elma begins to wonder why they can’t go into space, too. Elma’s drive to become the first Lady Astronaut is so strong that even the most dearly held conventions of society may not stand a chance against her. This classy, alternate history where a meteorite accelerates Humanity’s reach for the stars is another highlight of the year. I loved Elma – and Nicole, who we get to spend more time with in the final book. See my reviews of The Calculating Stars and The Fated Sky – The Relentless Moon is to follow.
I’d seen glowing reviews for this book – and when someone compared Martine’s writing to that of C.J. Cherryh, then I had to get hold of it. It has languished on my TBR list for longer than it should have, so I’m very glad to finally read it. I have linked this review to #Sci Fi Month 2020.
BLURB: 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 the truth about her predecessor’s death, 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.
REVIEW: I can see the similarity with Cherryh’s dynamic. Mahit is flung into the middle of a tense, potentially deadly situation, where not only her own fate, but the fate of all those she cares about is at stake. She has no one who she can confide in, or trust – for the one source of support that was provided proves to be unreliable in a way that utterly compromises her. So she is conflicted and frightened, while dealing with a sophisticated group of people who immediately patronise and belittle her, simply because she isn’t one of them.
I absolutely loved it. This is science fiction at its beguiling best. A different culture, which is far more alien to Mahit, brought up on a space station, than she had ever imagined, even though she has spent most of her life preparing for this. I loved her character and how we were alongside her and in her thoughts. It would have been so easy to get the pacing wrong – either speed up the action so that there wasn’t time for her reactions to the unfolding sequence of events. Or to allow the story to stutter as Mahit’s thoughts and fears prevailed at the expense of the narrative.
The worldbuilding is beautifully handled. Mahit’s culture shock at the difference in surroundings, the clothing and food, is visceral. And I also very much enjoyed the cast of supporting characters, particularly the wonderful Three Seagrass, who is Mahit’s cultural aide. I found this one difficult to put down as the situation continued to grow in intensity and complexity – to the extent that I was afraid the conclusion would be something of an anti-climax. It wasn’t. The final denouement was both unexpected and surprising – and completely satisfying.
This immersive, memorable read won’t be for all sci fi fans. While plenty goes on, it is interspersed with periods of reflection by Mahit as to the possible consequences, in the manner of C.J. Cherryh. However, I adore this form of writing and am very much looking forward to reading the second half of this duology in 2021. Highly recommended for those who enjoy this form of story-telling. 10/10
Can’t-Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted at Wishful Endings, to spotlight and discuss the books we’re excited about that we have yet to read. Generally they’re books that have yet to be released. It’s based on Waiting on Wednesday, hosted by the fabulous Jill at Breaking the Spine. I have linked this post to #Sci Fi Month 2020…
This week’s Can’t-Wait offering – A Desolation Called Peace – Book 2 of the Teixcalaan series by Arkady Martine – release date – 2nd March 2021
#science fiction #space opera adventure
BLURB: An alien armada lurks on the edges of Teixcalaanli space. No one can communicate with it, no one can destroy it, and Fleet Captain Nine Hibiscus is running out of options.
In a desperate attempt at diplomacy with the mysterious invaders, the fleet captain has sent for a diplomatic envoy. Now Mahit Dzmare and Three Seagrass—still reeling from the recent upheaval in the Empire—face the impossible task of trying to communicate with a hostile entity.
Whether they succeed or fail could change the fate of Teixcalaan forever.
I absolutely loved A Memory Called Empire, as it’s one of my Outstanding Reads of the Year – I’m reviewing it tomorrow. And so I am very much looking forward to this sequel! This has been an excellent year for space opera adventures – and it looks as though that run is going to continue into the coming year – yay! Anyone else got this one on their wish list?
This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.
This week has been a lot cooler, with lots of rain, which Himself has found a huge relief. On Thursday, I spent the day with the grandchildren, looking after them during the afternoon while my daughter went to meet a friend. I took them to the swing park and spent the time running around after Eliza like a bothered hen. She’s just at the stage where she’s mobile enough to get into serious trouble and too young to understand any danger… However, the elder two are brilliant with her – she is so lucky to have such lovely brothers! It was a treat to be able to spend so much time with them.
On Saturday, my sister and I were all set to go shopping, but the aftermath of the storm on Friday night meant we still had gale-force winds and torrential downpours. Neither of us were in the mood to hustle through the wind and rain in sodden masks, so we postponed our outing and instead had a cuppa and a sticky bun together at my place. This morning Himself and I went for a walk along the beach, which where this week’s photos were taken – we were lucky enough to dodge the rain.
My website www.sjhigbee.com has had a makeover! Ian has done a wonderful job of making it a lot spiffier and easy to load – and tidied it up so that my growing number of books aren’t making it look too cluttered. I’ve started working on the video clips I’m producing in conjunction with my book How to Write Compelling Characters. It’s going to take a lot of work, but I think it will be worth it. But I must get back to writing, as I’m definitely getting a bit antsy and short-tempered…
Last week I read: A Memory Called Empire – Book 1 of the Teixcalaan series by Arkady Martine 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… This tense, political thriller is a joy – I’m so glad I finally got around to reading it and now I’m very much looking forward to getting hold of the next book. The tight focus on the main character reminds me of C.J. Cherryh’s writing… Review to follow.
Afterland by Lauren Beukes They’ll call her a bad mother. Cole can live with that. Because when she breaks her son Miles out of the Male Protection Facility – designed to prevent him joining the 99% of men wiped off the face of the Earth – she’s not just taking him back. She’s setting him free. Leaving Miles in America would leave him as a lab experiment; a pawn in the hands of people who now see him as a treasure to be guarded, traded, and used. What kind of mother would stand by and watch her child suffer? But as their journey to freedom takes them across a hostile and changed country, freedom seems ever more impossible. It’s time for Cole to prove just how far she’ll go to protect her son. I struggled with this one a bit – partly because of the subject matter. But mostly because I didn’t like Cole, or anyone else all that much – other than poor, manipulated Miles. Review to follow.
NOVELLA Snowspelled – Book 1 of The Harwood Spellbook by Stephanie Burgis In nineteenth-century Angland, magic is reserved for gentlemen while ladies attend to the more practical business of politics. But Cassandra Harwood has never followed the rules… Four months ago, Cassandra Harwood was the first woman magician in Angland, and she was betrothed to the brilliant, intense love of her life. Now Cassandra is trapped in a snowbound house party deep in the elven dales, surrounded by bickering gentleman magicians, manipulative lady politicians, her own interfering family members, and, worst of all, her infuriatingly stubborn ex-fiancé, who refuses to understand that she’s given him up for his own good. This was the perfect read after the intensity of Afterland, and thoroughly enjoyable, the only drawback being that the end came far too quickly. Mini-review to follow.
AUDIOBOOK Starless by Jacqueline Carey Let your mind be like the eye of the hawk…Destined from birth to serve as protector of the princess Zariya, Khai is trained in the arts of killing and stealth by a warrior sect in the deep desert; yet there is one profound truth that has been withheld from him. In the court of the Sun-Blessed, Khai must learn to navigate deadly intrigue and his own conflicted identity…but in the far reaches of the western seas, the dark god Miasmus is rising, intent on nothing less than wholesale destruction. Another stormingly good read – I absolutely loved Khai and Zariya, who both tried their hardest to be the best they could be, without coming across as unduly good or sickeningly perfect. Review to follow.