Arkady Martine: A Desolation Called Peace (EBook, 2021, Doherty Associates, LLC, Tom) 5 stars

An alien armada lurks on the edges of Teixcalaanli space. No one can communicate with …

A Worthy Sequel

4 stars

There were many directions in which Arkady Martine could have taken the sequel to her popular 2019 novel A Memory Called Empire, and she has chosen an interesting and entertaining one.

The worldbuilding for which A Memory Called Empire was praised is back in A Desolation Called Peace, and while the first book focused on the Teixcalaanli capital, the second one explores more of the life onboard of the Lsel Station, as well as life in campaigning military fleets of the empire. For the most part, the worldbuilding in the sequel does not disappoint.

The bits where it does disappoint is in Martine leaning perhaps too heavily on space opera tropes in the parts of the book that take place aboard starships. While the descriptions of the capital or the palace grounds therein continue to be evocative, the descriptions of what it is like onboard of an imperial warship feel dull in comparison.

The plot continues to explore the politics of empire, and their relationship to individuals. Like with the first book, Martine manages to portray empire as a system built up of individuals—same as those it looms over, poised for conquest. The grand plots of the novel are not driven by villains motivated by their own evil nature, but by people who, entwined as they are with the culture of the empire, are doing what they think is the right thing to do. This is perhaps the most compelling aspect of Martine's Teixcalaan novels—the view of empire from within, but also from the liminal space on its edges.

The one complaint to level here, though, is that the book's pacing leave some to be desired in the first parts of it. The action moves rather slowly as everyone gets from where they were at the end of the first novel to where interesting things will happen in the second one. It is in the second part that things become more interesting and compelling.

Overall, the book is likely to be enjoyable for anyone who enjoyed A Memory Called Empire. The lack of novelty inherent in a sequel means that A Desolation Called Peace does not outshine the first novel, it is nevertheless a worthy successor.