When I first cracked open this book and saw it contained words such as Teixcalaanlitzlim, I thought it would be a lot of work to get through. But once I dove in, it wasn’t that difficult. Sure, there are a few alien words here and there, but not so many that it becomes a chore. Just the right amount to add spice. Plus, there’s a pronunciation guide in back in case you’re wondering how these words are supposed to sound. (This book focuses a lot on linguistics and the differences between languages.)
The story starts when the Teixcalaanli empire requests a new ambassador from Lsel Station, which is currently an independent state. Mahit Dzmare is tasked with doing what she can to keep Lsel from being absorbed into the empire. To help her with this task, she’s given an implant containing her predecessor’s memories.
However, the implant hasn’t been updated for a while and she wasn’t given enough time to fully integrate her personality with his, so it ends up being as much of a hindrance as a help. In addition to providing her with advice, the previous ambassador sometimes takes over her body to nervously tap her fingers. I like that she sometimes feels like she’s in a man’s body with the center of gravity being in the chest rather than the hips. (The author also claims women have a higher tolerance for pain than men, however, pain sensitivity is a subjective culturally-learned behavior. Maybe it’s a Lsel Station thing?)
The Teixcalaanli have non-gendered, non-ethnic names like Three Seagrass and Six Direction which makes for an interesting change of pace. I also liked that the author acknowledges that personality is mostly endocrine, not memory-based. Simply copying your memories into a computer won’t make you immortal since most of what makes you who you are will be lost.
Although Mahit has studied Teixcalaanli culture, she’s still a fish out of water. She’s basically alone and far from home. When it turns out the previous ambassador may have been murdered, Mahit has to figure out who to trust while living in an alien culture. She needs to be politically savvy while also avoiding repeated assassination attempts. A fantastic start to a new space opera series.
A Memory Called Empire will be available March 26 from Tor Books.