Who has never thought about what would happen if we made first contact with aliens? Well. Me? I really haven’t ? *blinks slowly* Wait – before you decide I’m a lost cause and also, so boring: I’ve changed my mind!
If you’ve read A Memory Called Empire – and if you haven’t: why are you reading this review instead of doing just that already? Huh? – I have good news for you : A Desolation Called Peace is everything the first book was, but better. The stakes have been raised, peace is hanging by a thread, and oh, yes, absolutely, I loved every second of it.
Once again, I only had to read the first sentence for the magic to begin. I was instantly drawn into this world, fascinated – I really ought to stop saying that I never love science-fiction novels, because these books are right there, making a liar out of me. First of all, I need to get this out so please, do let me : I adore the writing so much. It’s so evocative and precise, every word chosen with care and purpose. Reading this novel felt like savoring a rare and fine meal, delightful, really. It’s not a book that you gulp down, you’ll need breaks – at least I did – but that’s okay (I’m writing that sentence in my note app at 72%, just so you know). Not all books are meant to be read in one sitting, not to this reader anyway.
But what A Desolation Called Peace does best is putting its characters in such situations that they’re stretched thin between conflicting authorities, forcing them to be more clever, more prudent – to have agency. It’s brilliant, really.
- Yaotlek– commander in chief – Nine Hibiscus needs to focus on the immediate threat – aliens dissolving ships will be that for you – but there’s no such thing as clarity of mind when other people dare to have their own agendas, you know?
- Mahit, back at Lsel station, realizes that politics followed her home, and tries to survive what seems to be an endless war with Texcallaan, with Lsel, with Three Seagrass, with herself. Her need to belong somewhere has never felt so potent – and so beyond reach.
- Eight Antidote, the eleven year old heir, spied child made spy, slowly learns to fight back. I didn’t expect to care for him so ferociously, yet by the end of the book, he was perhaps the character I treasured the most.
- Oh. You know this secondary character you can’t help but root for even though their scenes are way too short? Well, in A Desolation Called Peace, that’s Twenty Cicada for you. You’re welcome.
A Desolation Called Peace is constructed with alternative points of view and I fount it fitting. Don’t get me wrong, I loved being in Mahit’s mind in the first book, it gave me the occasion to truly connect with her and Iskandr, but the shift operated here allows the story to unfurl freely in a way that one POV wouldn’t have made possible. The POV changes occur in the middle of chapters, but it’s never confusing but rather, it helps maintain and even increase the tension.
This sequels expands a theme already very present in the first book, which is:
How does one survive an empire that devours, that calls itself world without looking back – what does it means to be, in and outside of such Empire?
But as I said earlier, A Desolation Called Peace is more. It expands its themes quite beautifully, with for example, but not limited to :
- first contact with creatures we’re not ready to call people yet (will we ever) ;
- war & its crimes, have you heard of them ;
- the infinite and excruciating whirls of loyalty – or is that treason?
- can you love someone without fully understanding them? (yes)
- what is language, anyway?
- let’s agree that algorithms are sneaky, terrifying concepts as a whole, okay? okay.
And last but not least, A Desolation Called Peace shares with A Memory Called Empire a strong last third, all the threads coming together wonderfully ; we the reader cannot ignore that so many contradictory agendas may lead us to countless unpredictable pathways, and it doesn’t disappoint (I dare your eyes not to widen at least once).
Bottom line : I adored A Desolation Called Peace very much, and after years never reading science-fiction, I need to catch up. Any recs?
CW : blood, gore, violence, death, PTSD
ARC provided by the publisher—Tor Books—in exchange for an honest review (thank you!). The quotes in this review are subject to change upon publication.
Release date : March 2nd, 2021