Novel Review: A Memory Called Empire

This year’s Hugo for best novel went to Arkady Martine’s A Memory Called Empire, which was also nominated for a Locus and a Nebula. Library Journal and the Guardian named it a Best Book of 2019, while NPR named it a Favorite Book.

How did your debut novel do?

Title: A Memory Called Empire

Author: Arkady Martine

ISBN-10: 1529001587
ISBN-13: 978-1529001587,, and as a kindle.


In the far-future, an ambassador from an independent space station arrives at the Imperial homeworld, aware that her predecessor has died under questionable circumstances. She carries a dated database of his memories and personality, integrated with her brain. These go inconveniently silent when she most needs them.

Dangerious intrigue sweeps the court, the Teixcalaanli homeworld… and the edges of known space, where something else makes its presence known.

High Points:

I particularly admire Martine’s ability to convey the sense of the double and doubled presence in Mahit Dzmare’s mind. Those of us without implanted tech might still relate. More impressive is her ability to craft a mystery and Space Opera, with all one expects from both genres, while exploring technological, cultural, and political ethics in a manner which feels plausible and natural.

Low Point:

I give a qualified Low Point. It is one a writer would have difficulty avoiding.

It’s obvious the author and publisher intend A Memory Called Empire to be the start of a space-operatic saga, and I look forward to the next installment, A Desolation Called Peace. Despite these aspirations, I think it fair to say that the novel completes a single story. However, in a novel of nearly 500 pages, it still jars a bit to have significant plot threads left hanging, even if these far-future conundrums will undoubtedly be addressed in the near future.

The Scores:

Originality: 4/6 Martine uses many familiar tropes of Space Opera, but she adds elements that feel original.

Imagery: 5/6 Martine is an excellent writer, whose work would benefit from a little less dialogue and a little more immersion in her complex and compelling imaginary world.

Story: 5/6 The story kept me engaged, though it moves a bit slowly at first. Martine, when she’s not writing SF, is AnnaLinden Weller, an historian with an interest in the Byzantine Empire, and a city planner. She brings to bear an understanding of history and culture often lacking in SF.

Characterization: 5/6 The characters are credible– the ambassador(s) in particular. The others might be fleshed out further, and probably will be in future novels.

Interesting point: although characters use gendered pronouns, Martine deals with gender– most of the time– by ignoring it.

Emotional Response: 5/6

Editing: 6/6

Overall: 6/6 I found Light Brigade a faster and more transfixing read, this novel has elements and concepts that may stay with me longer.

In total, A Memory Called Empire receives 36/42