A scholar of Byzantine history brings all her knowledge of intricate political maneuvering to bear in her debut space opera.
The fiercely independent space station of Lsel conserves the knowledge of its small population by recording the memory and personality of every valuable citizen in an imago machine and implanting it in a psychologically compatible person, melding the two personas into one. When the powerful empire of Teixcalaan demands a new ambassador, Lsel sends Mahit Dzmare, hastily integrated with an imago the current ambassador, Yskandr Aghavn, left behind on his last visit home, 15 years ago. Once arrived at the Empire’s capital city-planet, the Jewel of the World, Mahit faces the double loss of Yskandr: Sabotage by her own people destroys the younger Yskandr copy within her, and she learns that the older original was murdered a few months ago. Bereft of the experienced knowledge of her predecessor, she will have to rely on all she knows of the sophisticated and complex Teixcalaanli society as she struggles to trace the actions that led Yskandr to his tragic end and to ensure Lsel’s safety during a fierce and multistranded battle for the imperial succession. Martine offers a fascinating depiction of a civilization that uses poetry and literary allusion as propaganda and whose citizens bear lovely and sometimes-humorous names like Three Seagrass, Five Portico, and Six Helicopter but that can kill with a flower and possesses the military power to impose its delicately and dangerously mannered society across the galaxy. Love and sex are an integral aspect of and a thing apart from the nuanced and dangerous politicking. This is both an epic and a human story, successful in the mode of Ann Leckie and Yoon Ha Lee.
A confident beginning with the promise of future installments that can’t come quickly enough.