Review: A Desolation Called Peace, Arkady Martine

Rating: 5 out of 5

What’s to say except that I really liked this? Ms Martine incorporates charming characters—both Eight Antidote and Nine Hibiscus fall into this category—and thrilling events—because this is what first contact is. Without trying to give away the conclusion, because well into this book the fate of everyone in question is still in doubt, I’d hope to emphasise some of the major selling points of this work.

The Byzantine complexity of the original book has disappeared in favour of two, broadly unified, storylines. This makes for an easier story that the reader follows, with much less emphasis on “politics”. This is both a negative and a positive, as the author’s conceived world clearly had a lot of politicking going on in it, increasing the dynamics and immersion that the world provided the reader. However, the action was often also so complicated it was difficult to know why things were going on. While this was a decent reflection of Mahit Dzmare’s understanding, it doesn’t really help the reader immerse themselves in the book. Therefore, this decision to leave the majority of politics outside of this books’ purview helps the reader considerably.

The question of how both Three Seagrass and Mahit Dzmare came to be involved in this story is more complex. It would be easy to dismiss the author’s very easy choice of having Three Seagrass choose to participate in response to the emergency message received on Teixcalaan. However, it also illustrates the character herself and the way she works. The same could be said about the way Dzmare gets entangled in the story, but again I’d choose to focus on the positive—that she participates and that the reader can reconnect with an old friend, and, also, that we get to see the two at work solving pretty considerably puzzles.

I enjoyed the way the “aliens” were written. It made for an interesting perspective on the possibilities of alien life. It’s a bit tough to figure it out at first, but at the same time makes for good journey though the reader inevitably knows far in advance of the in-world characters what’s going on and why. The other aspect I’d comment on is the world—Ms Martine has conjured up a very exciting world that’s a real pleasure to read about. The differences to what we’d expect (based on faulty assumptions) are generally corrected quite early on, while there is plenty of divergence from numerous tropes in the genre.

All in all, I liked it and I’d read it again.

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