I was at a bookstore the other day and was rummaging around for an escape book. I had picked up one book based on staff recommendation, but came across another that had won the Nebula. A Memory Called Empire appeared to be an award winning space opera novel.
I thought, why not, and picked it up. I was not disappointed.
There are two main cultures of different power and viewpoints. The action follows an new, unprepared ambassador from one culture to the other. The cultures are coherent and yet alien. Alien to each other and to me. Competitive poetry, internal reflection, and constant political intrigue define one culture. We get drips and drabs of the other, less powerful civilization, but you learn enough to be appreciative of their scrappyness and reverence for the collective.
The cultures are never described to the detriment of the action. The ambassador is dropped into a political mess and acts and reacts to help save her nation and herself. Whether she is trying to meet powerful people to negotiate for her people, reading correspondence, or escape danger, there’s no downtime. The entire book happens in span of about two weeks.
I also enjoyed the character development. Many of the characters pop in and out of the storyline, but you follow a few main characters for a while. You get to understand and appreciate the way they interact with each other. It doesn’t feel forced at all. At the same time, the “otherness” of the ambassador provides a constant tension which is understandable to anyone who has been dropped into an uncomfortable situation.
The plot revolves around a mystery. But even when it is unveiled, there’s still plenty of excitement, as a confluence of outside, political events ensnare the protagonists.
Some books are so good they keep you reading late into the night. This was one of them.