Ambassador Mahit Dzmare arrives in the center of the multi-system Teixcalaanli Empire only to discover that her predecessor, the previous ambassador from their small but fiercely independent mining Station, has died. But no one will admit that his death wasn’t an accident–or that Mahit might be next to die, during a time of political instability in the highest echelons of the imperial court.
Now, Mahit must discover who is behind the murder, rescue herself, and save her Station from Teixcalaan’s unceasing expansion–all while navigating an alien culture that is all too seductive, engaging in intrigues of her own, and hiding a deadly technological secret–one that might spell the end of her Station and her way of life–or rescue it from annihilation.
I’m not really sure what to think about this book because, in some ways, I think maybe it’s too smart for me? Even though the main plot is a murder mystery, which is pretty straight forward. I still really enjoyed this one, even if some of it was a bit miss for me.
Let me start off by saying part of my problem isn’t with the book itself, but with the audiobook. I really didn’t get on well with the narrator for this one, and the style of narration was a huge miss for me. Most of the book the narrator sounded like she was narrating very robotic-ally, so even though the words were coming through crystal clear, there wasn’t a ton of intonation and it was akin to listening to Siri narrating a book at times. Which meant, ultimately, that I had a lot of trouble tuning in. It also took away from some of the dialogue and some of the funnier scenes in the book, in my opinion. I only realized this after hearing the author read some passages from the book herself that I got an idea of the cadence of the prose. At some point I’ll have to go back to read this in print with that in mind, but for now here is my review such as it is.
Even though this is a space opera, with really cool far future tech, this oftentimes felt more like an epic fantasy for me because of the intrigues involving the heirs to the empire. Court intrigue! So much fun! Knowing also that the old emperor and the heirs is taken out of Byzantine history is pretty cool, and may also give you a bit of extra enjoyment on some of the plot points if you’re more familiar with that.
There is also a ton of world-building, especially around the Teixcalaanli culture. Our main character, Mahit, finds herself navigating this unfamiliar territory and having to learn the Teixcalaanli way, even after all her studies of their culture, and we’re along with her for that ride. She’s a bit of a tourist in some ways, even though she has a job to do. I loved getting to know the culture with her–everything from naming conventions to patterns of speech is explored. Mahit is a Stationer, an ambassador sent to replace the old ambassador who has died (come to find out, under mysterious circumstances). I wish we could have learned more about the Stationers and their culture, but we do get to learn some things, especially in regards to their tech and how they have their own way of cultural continuance, of retaining those things that are important to them. It’s far more than simply passing things down to the next generation. I really want to learn more about this tech and how it affects their culture in more detail, it’s such an interesting concept to me. I don’t want to say too much about it, because even though you learn really early on all about it, I think it’s fun for the reader to find out on their own. 🙂
I did have some trouble connecting to the characters here, but again, I think a lot of that has to do with the narration style of the audiobook. I did, however, enjoy Mahit and her ‘handler’ / liaison, Three Seagrass. They felt the most ‘human’, within these cultures that felt so far removed from humanity, and were probably the easiest to relate to for me. I also enjoyed their interactions throughout, as they got to know about one another, their cultural differences and what they had in common. Their relationship, watching it change and develop over the course of the book, was probably my favorite part of the story.
Overall, I did enjoy this book even with the hiccups of the audio narration not working out for me. I think it’s one of those books that I’ll probably appreciate a lot more on a reread as well. Definitely recommend checking this one out if you’d like some space opera with complex world building and intrigue. 3.5/5 stars.