A Memory Called Empire (5*)

Book: A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine

Sorry for the quiet, been struggling to write more than usual lately, probably a subtle way that the current state of things is getting to me, though I also weirdly have more of a social life going on now which has been eating some of my time.

We did this for our book club last month, and as it’s on the Nebula shortlist, honestly I cannot be happier that this one was what we picked because it was utterly excellent. Though the Nebula list for this year looks really, really good and I have Gods of Jade and Shadow to get through soon, Ten Thousand Doors of January on pre-order (I would have the paperback of Gideon the Ninth on pre-order too, but it’s still not up on Waterstones and I refuse to buy from Amazon).

“This was the most animated Mahit had seen Three Seagrass be so far, and it was really making it difficult for Mahit not to like her. She was funny. Thirty-Six All-Terrain Tundra Vehicle was funnier.”

MemoryI was also excited to look up the author and discover that she is queer, I do adore finding more excellent queer writers, it makes me so very happy.

But anyway, the story follows a young woman called Mahit Dzmare who is from an independent mining colony who live on a space station. She is selected as the new ambassador to Teixcalaanli Empire after the unexpected death of the previous one. She has long loved the culture of the Empire, but now she has to balance the needs of her own people with her pleasure at being where she has always longed to be.

It’s basically a political murder mystery at its heart, but with some very interesting science -fiction twists that elevate it up much more than that. The main character has a technology in her head that gives her advice and sometimes memories from the previous ambassador, though the information is years out of date (this is a fairly minor spoiler as this is introduced very early on into the book). The role that this plays in the plot is really well done, though I don’t want to go into too much more detail because of more severe spoilers.

There is an aspect of this book that I feel is definitely either a love it or hate it thing. All throgh the writing there is a lot of discussion about the culture of the Empire, especially in regard to poetry, whether that is through poetry competitions, the use of it in encryptions, or referring to it as a way to describe the landmarks of the city. For me I loved this, I found it well done and very engaging, but from what I heard from others in our writing group, some of them found it somewhat pretentious and difficult. So just be advised that your tolerance for poetry based culture may influence your enjoyment of the book.

“Released, I am a spear in the hands of the sun.”

I was also very impressed by the pacing, it seems to be the hardest part of a book to get right and the hurdle that most debut authors stumble at. This one worked really well though, there was a lot of action in the book, but also plenty of intrigue and character moments that kept it flowing along very nicely. It built up very successful to the conclusion and I wasn’t left with a feeling of it being rushed, shoe-horned or full of last minute deus ex machinas to fix anything. I also felt that the way it ended made perfect sense for what I learned about the characters and I really loved that too.

This is a book that will definitely tug on your heart strings and I found myself enraptured by a number of the characters. I also loved how important friendships and trust was in the story,  Those were built up very well and she humanises her characters wonderfully. I felt I understood a lot about the personalities and motives of each one, in a way that brought them all to life for me.

Overall this is a pretty astonishing debut. It’s rare that I read a debut novel and know that I am going to be looking out for absolutely everything that the author publishes from now on, but I definitely feel that way about this one. More like this please!

Come Tumbling Down (4*)

Book: Come Tumbling Down by Seanan Mcguire

Well hello folks, sorry for the recent quiet, as I am sure all of you are aware things have been a bit… well… stressful with the whole pandemic situation and all. I hope you are all well and taking care of yourselves. Personally I am working from home and haven’t left the house much in the last week (I am slightly more at risk than most, but not worryingly so). I am worried about friends and relatives though, I have a fair few people who are high risk and it has made focusing on this harder.

But I want to catch up on reviews, I think it will be a good way to keep myself busy so here’s the first of them, I should have reviews for A Memory Called Empire and Children of Time/Children of Ruin shortly. With any luck the lockdown might at least help me work my way through my stack of unread books!

No one should have to sit and suffer and pretend to be someone they’re not because it’s easier, or because no one wants to help them fix it.

ComeTumblingDownRight, Come Tumbling Down is the latest Novella in Seanan Maguire’s Wayward Children series. In this book we see Jack return to the school in dire straits and in need of help from those there. A group are gathered together and they head with her back into the Moors, to deal with her sister once and for all.

For a novella, I have to say that the pacing in this book is handled rather well. I am getting more used to the speed in which things happen in this sort of format, but even with that some of them tend to end abruptly, but this felt like the build-up to the end made sense for the story and worked rather nicely.

I fell rather in love with the Moors, both from what I learned of the place in Every Heart a Doorway and also from the more full backstory that is Down Among the Sticks and Bones, so I was delighted by that being the primary setting for this book as well.

It’s interesting that the series seems to alternate between stories set at and around the school, and the back stories of various of the characters. I definitely did enjoy the feeling of follow on this book gives, where previously the stories often felt more loosely connected to each other. Which isn’t to say I haven’t enjoyed the background stories, I have, but this story makes it feel more like a definitely series rather than books just set in the same setting.

Sometimes heroism is pressing on when the ending is already predestined… Sometimes a hero has to fall.

I mentioned before that I love the Moors, a lot of this is because she evokes all the creepy glory of the old hammer horror movies with an excellent eye. The drowned gods in her Moors world are very evocative of Lovecraft, and the classic vampire and mad scientist tropes are also very much present and in excellent form. It’s interesting to me how the morality is played with as well, Jack is not quite portrayed as the “good guy”, just the “not quite as bad as the other guy.” Also, a lot of those characters are anti-hero tropes with very masculine bents to them, so this is a refreshing change to all of that.

As can be seen from the quotes I have mentioned in this review, as well as what you can find by looking on Goodreads, Seanan has a wonderful turn of phrase when it comes to her characters, or the narration, talking about various aspects of the human condition. This story contains elements of showing the fallout that can happen from pushing people in directions they don’t want to go, to be people they don’t want to be. It shows what it can be like to have toxic people in your life who are family and who you love despite all the pain and suffering that they may have caused you.

Cutting people out who hurt you is a good thing to do, I don’t believe that reconcilliation is always possible, or even always wanted, and I like that Seanan is not afraid to confront that sort of thing with her writing. This story shows something of the differences between a family you build for yourself and the one you are born into. The first can often mean a lot more than the second. As someone who is a massive fan of found families, I love that thread that runs throughout all of this series.

Honestly I cannot wait to find out what the next story is going to be about and where else this is all going to go as there is so much more that she can explore with this setting and the characters in it, though I understand from her Twitter that we may be waiting a while before we get Cade’s backstory due to her wanting to be sure that her audience can trust she can handle a transition story respectfully. But whatever the next story will be, you can guarantee I am going to be buying it!