Review: A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine

An alien armada is making its presence felt along the far reaches of Teixcalaanli space. Immune to seductive overtures of friendship extended to them. An intelligent, thought provoking and refreshingly different take of the usual ‘Space Opera’ slant

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Tor; Main Market edition (February 17, 2022)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1529001641
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1529001648

Paperback Price: $13:81
Hardcover Price: $17.19
Kindle: $11:74

This is the second book in the ‘Teixcalaan’ series by Arkady Martine, and sadly, it rounds off the story begun in A Memory Called Empire. I say sadly, because the first book was such a good story; it was so epic in scope, that I was hoping we’d get at least a trilogy to do the concept credit.

Alas, that was not to be. So, let’s get into the taster from the back cover blurb.

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 to negotiate 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.

Their failure will guarantee millions of deaths in an endless war. Their success might prevent Teixcalaan’s destruction—and allow the empire to continue its rapacious expansion.

Or it might create something far stranger . . .
Our story continues several months after the events in A Memory Called Empire. Nineteen Adze is now emperor, acting as regent until Eight Antidote comes of age. Three Seagrass has received a promotion of sorts, and now works within the Ministry of Information under the 3rd Secretary. And Mahit Dzmare has returned home to Lsel Station to take a break from state affairs for a while so she can recharge her batteries before returning to the fray.

All nice and cozy, eh?

If only life was that easy.

This is the Teixcalaanli Empire, don’t forget, and cutthroat politics is always eager to peek out from beneath the thin veneer of high society sophistication to stab you in the back. And it soon does.

As the blurb highlighted, an alien armada is making its presence felt along the far reaches of Teixcalaanli space. They are strange and mysterious. Unfamiliar in their practices and customs. Immune to seductive overtures of friendship extended to them. Worst of all, they are creatures who cannot be classed as people, so how dare they snub the Empire’s representatives!

One of the Empire’s most highly decorated and proficient fleet captains – Nine Hibiscus, recently promoted to Yaotlek for outstanding service – is sent to determine the danger, and act accordingly. A mammoth, complicated task, for tens of thousands of lives are under her immediate care, as are the billions more throughout the empire if she fails.

And the aliens possess physics-defying technology, and an almost preternatural ability to know what’s happening everywhere at once, allowing them to anticipate her every move.

She needs help. And that help arrives in the form of Three Seagrass and Mahit Dzmare, who, it transpires, are dealing with conflicts of their own. (This IS the empire, don’t forget, and everyone is out to get you, no matter how high your station or who you work for.)

A predicament Nine Hibiscus soon comes to appreciate. The situation demands she tread carefully, Very carefully. This is a first contact scenario with a species that appears to be outwardly aggressive and misanthropic. But is that really the case? Or is it merely because they can’t establish an effective way to communicate? Yes, Nine Hibiscus is tiptoeing on thin ice, and she finds it difficult to maintain her balance with rivals out to upstage her at every turn, and spies from the various government departments concealed within the fleet itself. Faced with odds like that, you’d think everyone would be on the same side? But no, those spies serve masters with their own agendas, and it makes a volatile situation almost incendiary. So incendiary, that the Empire is in danger of falling. . .

And here’s the rub. As things become more unstable, the regent, Nineteen Adze, is determined to protect the Empire’s interests at all costs. To her, the Empire is everything.

But as for Eight Antidote?

How strange, that a little boy may hold the key to salvation.

But will anyone listen? He may be the Emperor in waiting, but his is just a little boy after all. . .

I found A Desolation Called Peace to be an intelligent, thought provoking and refreshingly different take of the usual ‘Space Opera’ slant. And to my mind, it highlights the dangers of assuming ‘humanity’ or ‘citizenship’ is ours to dispense, only to those whose culture and appearance are similar to our own. The aliens in this novel – and their technology – really are alien. So unusual, so dissimilar to our way of thinking, concepts and beliefs that you can’t possibly imagine they’d be civilized. And when no one in the Empire is able to establish a dialogue – because the visitors communicate by methods they can’t begin to comprehend – it only seems to confirm their beliefs that they’re dealing with savages, non-people. Things that must be vanquished.


As the story reveals, karma’s an ugly thing when it comes back to bite you where it hurts. And as the two sides edge closer to an all-out intergalactic war, it becomes ever clearer that just being part of the Empire might not be enough to ensure you’re on the winning side.

On a personal note, I think Arkady Martine handles the stewing broth of unrest and imbalance in a remarkably unorthodox and imaginative way, allowing us to change our own perspective as we follow along. Yes, these creatures aren’t the straightforward barbarian cannon fodder you initially think they are. And there’s the lesson. It’s not until you’re prepared to look at things from a different angle that you begin to realize . . . hey, perhaps it’s US who have got a lot to learn.

So Kudos there!

A Desolation Called Peace. Hopefully NOT the final book in a promising debut series.

Do yourselves a favor, and find out why it’s up for so many awards.

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