Review: A Desolation Called Peace

Requesting ebooks from the Boston Public Library can lead to this fun and weird experience of suddenly, months later, there’s a book available on your phone! A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine takes up three months after the events of A Memory Called Empire. The war that Mahit leads the Empire into is gearing up. There are a lot of questions that are mostly idle due to the lack of communication between the Humans and the Aliens.

The depth of the culture that Martine creates is a strength of the novel; however, there is so much replay of events from different characters’ points of view that it is a drag on the flow of the novel. Then, it hits the ah-ha moment where the reader has figured out the aliens way before the characters do and the moment becomes pretty flat.

Is the price of the interplay between characters worth the slowdown in action? Would the novel achieve its goals if there were fewer points of view? It would. What’s offered by seeing the perspective of Nine Hibiscus? We see how the cult of personality could be a threat to the Empire. Could we see that through Three Seagrass’s perspective? Yes. Would it be harder to achieve? Totally.

It’s a bit of my complaint about the first novel. The politics become boring and tedious at a point. Do I need three pages of inner monologue? Nope.

Finally, and maybe a bit unfairly, A Desolation Called Peace feels like a mashup of The Genius Plague (fungal superorganism with people as hosts) and Ender’s Game (strategic kid warrior). Ender and Eight Antidote have different methods for achieving a similar goal, which one could say is the end of hostilities. I don’t know if Martine was aware of The Genius Plague or not. I remember writing a story and someone said it reminded them of a novel I’d never read. Their advice to me was “you should read that novel and then rewrite your story.” I didn’t follow that advice. Just felt a little paralyzed about revising the story.

Overall, I enjoyed A Desolation Called Peace and it’s a fine sequel to A Memory Called Empire. If you liked the first book, you will like this one.

Tim Lepczyk

Writer, Technologist, and Librarian.

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