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A Memory Called Empire

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A Memory Called Empire
Cover art for A Memory Called Empire
AuthorArkady Martine
GenreScience fiction
PublisherTor Books
Publication date
26 March 2019
Publication placeUnited States
Media typePrint, ebook
Pages462 (Hardcover)
Followed byA Desolation Called Peace 

A Memory Called Empire is a 2019 science fiction novel, the debut novel by Arkady Martine. It follows Mahit Dzmare, the ambassador from Lsel Station to the Teixcalaanli Empire, as she investigates the death of her predecessor and the instabilities that underpin that society. The book won the 2020 Hugo Award for Best Novel.[1]


Ambassador Mahit Dzmare is sent from Lsel Station, an independent republic, to become the next Ambassador to the Teixcalaanli Empire. She carries a copy of the consciousness of Yskander Aghavn, the previous Ambassador, in an imago machine which is implanted in her skull. Because Yskander was unable to return to Lsel before his death, his memories are fifteen years out of date.

On Teixcalaan, Mahit meets Three Seagrass and Twelve Azalea. Mahit realizes that her imago has been sabotaged and loses her ability to access Yskander's memories. Mahit is saved from an assassination attempt by Nineteen Adze, a close advisor to the Emperor. Emperor Six Direction is elderly and near death, leading to a succession crisis. The Empire announces a plan to annex Lsel.

Mahit retrieves an imago machine from Yskander's corpse, accessing his up-to-date memories. Mahit learns that Yskander promised the Emperor an imago machine; Yskander was murdered by an advisor who believed that no emperor should be immortal. Mahit also learns of a looming alien invasion. She convinces the Emperor that this invasion is a threat to the Empire; he calls off the annexation of Lsel in order to focus on this new threat. Twelve Azalea and hundreds of other Teixcalaanlitzlim are killed as civil unrest mounts and various generals seek to claim the throne. The Emperor commits ritual suicide to quell the succession crisis, and Nineteen Adze ascends the throne as regent for Six Direction's clone. Mahit requests a transfer back to Lsel.

Major themes[edit]

In the New York Times, Amal el-Mohtar reported that the novel explores the intersection between our past and future selves. It looks at language, grammar, and custom, things that are intertwined with the politics of conquest and the broader culture.[2]

The Verge observed that the book discusses how institutional memory guides society and shapes politics, and provides insight into the ideas of conquest and colonialism by comparing the different worldviews of the expansion-minded Teixcalaanli Empire and the fiercely independent Lsel Stationers.[3]

Tor.com emphasized the degree to which Mahit is perceived as a "barbarian" by the Teixcalaanli.[4]

The author, a former Byzantine historian, draws from several real-life empires, including the Byzantine and the Aztec empires, as well as concepts associated with central Asian empires and American imperialism.[5]


A Memory Called Empire won the 2020 Hugo Award for Best Novel[1] and the 2020 Compton Crook Award,[6] and was a finalist for the Nebula Award for Best Novel of 2019.[7]

Publishers Weekly gave the novel a starred review, calling it a "gorgeously crafted space opera", and lauding its worldbuilding and backstory.[8] Kirkus Reviews stated that the novel was "a confident beginning" and compared it positively to the works of Ann Leckie and Yoon Ha Lee.[9] The New York Times praised it as "a mesmerizing debut, sharp as a knife."[2] The Verge described it as "an excellent, gripping novel with a brisk plot, outstanding characters, and plenty to think about long after it's over."[3] Tor.com called it "a stunning debut", praising its worldbuilding, characterization, and subtlety.[4]


The sequel A Desolation Called Peace was published in March 2021. Set a few months after the events of A Memory Called Empire, the action takes place in part on the Jewel of the World, but also at Lsel station and mostly in the warships on the boundary of the Teixcalaan universe. Mahit and Three Seagrass go there to negotiate with an unknown species. Like the first book, A Desolation Called Peace won the Hugo Award for Best Novel[10]


  1. ^ a b "2020 Hugo Awards". The Hugo Awards. 14 January 2021. Archived from the original on 11 July 2023.
  2. ^ a b El-Mohtar, Amal (29 May 2019). "Got Any Time-Travel Plans This Summer". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 10 May 2023.
  3. ^ a b Liptak, Andrew (18 May 2019). "A Memory Called Empire is a brilliant blend of cyberpunk, space opera, and political thriller". The Verge. Archived from the original on 24 November 2023.
  4. ^ a b Cahill, Martin (26 Mar 2019). "A Stunning Debut: Arkady Martine's A Memory Called Empire". Tor.com. Archived from the original on 3 February 2023.
  5. ^ Mayer, Petra (7 April 2019). "Questions For Arkady Martine, Author Of 'A Memory Called Empire'". NPR. Archived from the original on 4 November 2020.
  6. ^ "2020 Compton Crook Award – Balticon 54". Balticon. Archived from the original on 30 October 2023.
  7. ^ "2019 Nebula Award Finalists Announced". Science Fiction Writers Association. 20 February 2020. Archived from the original on 11 October 2023.
  8. ^ "Fiction Book Review: A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine". Publishers Weekly. 19 November 2018. Archived from the original on 22 July 2022.
  9. ^ "A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine". Kirkus Reviews. 21 Jan 2019. Archived from the original on 26 November 2022.
  10. ^ "2022 Hugo Awards". The Hugo Awards. 6 July 2023. Archived from the original on 19 September 2023.

External links[edit]