What an immensely satisfying read.
So I am on holiday at Disney and read about half of this book queuing for rides, surrounded by hyperactive children and melting from the humidity, and it didn’t matter! Once I was reading, I was absorbed into the world and all the machinations going on.
In short, the plot revolves around Mahit, from Lsel station. She is summoned by the Empire, after the former ambassador mysteriously died. But everything becomes complicated very quickly and Mahit must survive on her wits and try to keep her station safe from the Empire.
What makes the story is Mahit, she is wonderfully written and is complicated and funny. She struggles with her love of the Empire and her duty to protect her station. She also has to deal with imperfect information, imperial politics and a potential civil war. She relies on a series of fascinating characters: Three Seagrass her cultural liaison and Nine Adze, a powerful imperial politician. Both women are equally complicated and wonderfully complete characters.
The whole Empire is also great, though I admit it took me a few chapters to start to get into it. I think partly because there have been other novels that have similarly had big, tradition bound empires which I kept comparing it to. Mainly the Xuja universe by Aliette de Bodard and a little bit of Yoon Ha Lee’s Machinery of Empire series.
I also liked how the use of technology was subtle, used to complicate the story but not necessarily dominate it. It added problems that seemed natural in the universe, rather than inventions to propel plot. Though, the having other people in your brain was a bit Xuja universe-like.
But even though there are space stations and empires, it’s really a politics thriller with a bit of mystery. It’s really fun when you get into it, with some fun ideas and twists and turns. It also didn’t commit the horrible crime of nothing mattering because there is a sequel. There is a very satisfying conclusion, that could propel the next book forward on a new arc, so this story still held its own. Definitely have a go if you like intrigue and politics!
This review brought to you by the air conditioning in the Hall of Presidents in Magic Kingdom.