An alien armada lurks on the edges of Teixcalaanli space. No one can communicate with it, no one can destroy it, and Fleet Captain Nine Hibiscus is running out of options.
In a desperate attempt at diplomacy with the mysterious invaders, the fleet captain has sent for a diplomatic envoy. Now Mahit Dzmare and Three Seagrass—still reeling from the recent upheaval in the Empire—face the impossible task of trying to communicate with a hostile entity.
Whether they succeed or fail could change the fate of Teixcalaan forever.
A Desolation Called Peace is the second and last (for now, at least – the author has been quoted as wanting to return to this Universe, but this book does conclude the current storyline) installment in Arkady Martine’s award-winning Teixcalaani series. It resumes the story soon after the events of book 1, A Memory Called Empire, and continues following Mahit et al after the crowning of a new Emperor in Teixcalaan.
In my opinion, this book does exactly what a book 2 should do (most of the time): take the plot, setting, and characters from the first book and expound upon them – all while keeping the same tone and writing style. Some series are more successful at this than others. In the case of Desolation, the author hit a home run, for the most part.
I love the direction the author took this book. The reader gets to follow Mahit to Lsel Station and get a glimpse into her life there, and finds out it is not easy going home. She never solved the mystery of her imago sabotage from book 1, so that is something Mahit still has to deal with. Which means not everyone is happy she is returning in one peace, and there are definitely those that are disappointed in her work with the Teixcalaanlis. Add to that the potential for a War of the Worlds type of situation with the mysterious alien race, and there is a good amount of suspense already to look forward to. The narrative unfolding in Teixcalaan is no different. There is a new Emperor, Nineteen Adze, who is dealing with the war with the alien race while assuaging their own political strife and attempting to guide the Emperor-to-be, Eight Antidote, in the ways of leadership. And, of course, Three Seagrass is struggling in their own way, as well, without Mahit by their side. These dual storylines make for an intriguing plot all on their own. But, wait, there’s more.
The reader gets to experience these two narratives collide when Three Seagrass enlists Mahit to help them communicate with the alien race! Mahit is the person for the job, and, of course, there may be some selfish motives on Three Seagrasses’ part, here, but wow! Talk about tension. Lsel Station does not really want Mahit there, neither do the Teixcalaanlis, and who the hell knows what is going to happen when they meet this heretofore extremely violent alien race face-to-face. Martine ratchets up the drama, and there so many scenes so full of suspense it is almost impossible to put the book down. I am not sure I have read a book that made my heart start beating so hard with anxiety in such a quiet way.
The plot is not the only aspect of the book that gets expounded upon. As I mentioned, the setting is expanded, also, as the reader gets a glimpse of Lsel Station, and there are other pieces of the Universe, as well, such as meeting with the aliens on a desert planet. There are more characters introduced, which I always like as a way of keeping things fresh. Plus, there are old characters we get more of, Eight Antidote being one of the more interesting as he takes a bit of a lead role at certain times. In addition, the character relationships are developed a lot more, and I enjoyed getting to know some of them better (a couple of them a lot better, an element of the story I definitely did not mind). As for the writing style and tone, there is still lots of poetry and prose and everything flows and is balanced really well. I cannot compliment Martine enough on the writing. It is as superb as I have ever read.
My only complaint is that, unlike book 1, (and I am being really picky, here) there were a couple of times I felt the pacing lull. I was not expecting descriptions of all-out war, because that is not the point of the story. It is much more thoughtful and intense in subtle ways, but I could have used a little bit of action or something that kept the pace up at certain times. This is not an issue throughout the whole book, just maybe a couple small sections where I felt myself drift from the story, so it deserved mention.
What exactly can you expect from this book? I am going to let Mahit herself tell you:
“…lost in culture shock, disappointed fury, first-contact protocols, heat exhaustion, and really good sex — in that order.”
What more could you want from a Space Opera? I loved A Desolation Called Peace, and Martine continues to impress. I am going to continue to recommend this series broadly due to all of the elements that keep it interesting.