Booknotes: Teixcalaan

what if there was someone called ‘fourtwenty weed’ lol

Booknotes: Teixcalaan

Is there some secret rule of sci-fi duologies that means they have to introduce zombies in the second book? Even the god Peter Watts isn't immune from this. At least in the case of the Teixcalaan books it maintains a greater degree of thematic relevance, and it's less to do with being zombies and more to do with being a collective intelligence, but still. Anyway, this is why it's taken me a while to wrap up the last one, but both these were good fun. We have a space empire, Teixcalaan, which is informed by the dayjob of author Arkady Martine as a Byzantine historian, and she also apparently has a side hustle as a city planner which I'd dare say features in some aspects of the way the capital city of the empire is depicted.

Our protagonist is Mahit Dzamare, the new ambassador to Teixcalaan from Lsel Station, a self-contained mining colony on the edge of the empire with its own culture. While quite rough-and-ready in most respects, Lsel has a secret technology which allows consciousnesses to be saved so that, in their relatively closed system, knowledge and expertise isn't lost. Mahit's predecessor has been assassinated, hadn't backed up his consciousness in ages, and the old backup that is present doesn't seem to be working right. We meet various others including Teixcalaani civil servant Three Seagrass, minister Ninteen Adze, emperor Six Direction—they all have names like that, it's pretty good imo.

The first book covers Mahit unravelling her predecessor's death amid the buildup to a military coup which she's able to help prevent, and it is for my money the stronger book: a complete story in itself with fun court intrigue in an interesting society. The protagonist has spent her life enamoured of Teixcalaani society but is still not quite of it herself—she can do the poetry, observe the manners, but is still looked on as an outsider. The second book sees her return to Lsel, no longer her home, before being whisked away to the front of a mysterious war with some aliens and while it's fine and all, it was all fundamentally less interesting and had to spend too much time setting up various bits that could pay off etc etc.

I greatly enjoyed these books, but they didn't grab my imagination in the way that e.g. Machineries of Empire—which if you were to describe certain aspects of in the abstract is in some ways very similar—did. It's all very coldly fascinating and enjoyable; very smooth. There weren't many aspects of it that stuck out to me in a way I could get a hold of. Plus, after racing through the first one, the second one just didn't go in the same way. First one's definitely worth a look, maybe give the second a go if you liked it.

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