The best science-fiction novels steal your heart, squeeze it, and make an impact. 2021 is still a child learning to walk, but somehow in its first adventures it decided that it would be the year when I finally enjoy reading those novels, and I’m still reeling from the absolute bafflement it makes me feel, okay? Not liking science-fiction – not understanding its appeal – has been part of my reader DNA forever and honestly, I don’t know if they just got better or if I’ve changed as a reader. Whatever it is does not matter, though. Not really. Mostly I’m glad – and a bit awe-struck – that there’s now a kind of science-fiction novels that I will call favorites. A Memory Called Empire is part of them.
At its heart, A Memory Called Empire appeals to everyone who’s ever felt like they didn’t belong, not really. That their personality, to deserve love and respect, should change in subtle and not-subtle ways. I liked it, immensely, but I would be very wary about recommending it to every reader out there : there’s no beating around the bush, it’s wordy, and poetic, and intensely political. Characters talk, a lot. They also act, sure, and it’s engrossing and fascinating, but it won’t appeal to every reader but rather, will lose some of them while making other’s hearts’ bleed. I wasn’t sure that I was that reader, because at times, I struggled. I was engrossed from page one but somewhere along the way, it lost me a bit, and I was watching my kindle progression like a hawk around 40%, when 10% felt like 50. Yet suddenly, it got better again. I felt like I got it.
So much political scheming, yes, but I wouldn’t do this novel justice if I didn’t talk about the yearning – every character feels it. Mahit, Three Seagrass, Yskandr, Twelve Azalea – they’re all the different faces of a same coin, trying to find their place, to be part of something bigger than themselves. But what Mahit and Yskandr share feels more brittle, more heartbreaking, too – the desire, the need to survive amidst the whirlwind of an Empire that devours. Because really, that’s what A Memory Called Empire is about : how cultural imperialism’s appetite never falters and inhales, absorbs, annihilates everything in its path, bending reality in a way that favors its growth and doesn’t care if it crushes you.
The relationships the characters nurture in order not to be so alone in this ruthless world are amazing, and parts of what I loved the most about A Memory Called Empire. I lived for Mahit and Three Seegrass’ tentative friendship that slowly evolved into something more (did I say how much I liked the fact that science-fiction novels seem intent into giving us the sapphic content we deserve?) ; for Iskandr and Mahit’s banter ; for the trio’s growing trust, too. They made me feel so much, so fast.
And given how the ending played out – I absolutely loved everything about it, okay? – I’m more than impatient to come back to them. Truly a success.