An alien armada lurks on the edges of Teixcalaanli space. No one can communicate with it, no one can destroy it, and Fleet Captain Nine Hibiscus is running out of options. In a desperate attempt at diplomacy with the mysterious invaders, the fleet captain has sent for a diplomatic envoy. Now Mahit Dzmare and Three Seagras face the impossible task of trying to communicate with a hostile entity.
Martine is a practiced hand at precision storytelling; no taut thread ever loses tension, no one character outweighs another, dramatic moments never sap energy from the events before or after it ... Martine keeps the reader in efficient, dazzling motion alongside an incredible cast of characters ... Martine ups the ante by allowing every character, in their own way, to confront and define their own boundaries—the things that make them who they are, and not just cogs in a machine ... These character beats create some of the best moments of the book: the sheer friction that comes of language and meaning, of want and desire, of basic agreed upon reality between beings before a word is even said, and what can happen when those realities are different ... Amid these huge questions of identity and empire, Martine continues to shine like a star, her prose as gorgeous and cutting as the edge-shine of a knife. Her worldbuilding continues to excel in ways both enthralling and contemplative, even traipsing into some aspects of the Weird, especially in moments where we are given some small insight into the thought process of the alien beings; these interludes are some of the richest, most experimental parts of this book, and some of my favorites. Her flair for distinctive characters set in a rich tapestry of a world whose weaves we know mean that she can run wild in building out the already complicated and intriguing cast that we fell in love with from the first book. It was such a joy to spend time with these characters again, and fall in love with the new ones, too. Swarm, Mallow, and Cure each live in my heart; that’s all I’ll say for now, but trust me, you’ll understand once you’ve read. Plus, there are space kittens, and who doesn’t love a good space kitten? ... it rocketed me through one of the best science fiction books I’ve read in quite some time. As a writer, it challenged me to see how seamlessly Martine crafted her world, looking for a place where the stitches showed and finding only smooth fabric in their place. Overall, it left me breathless with awe, this book that so effortlessly balances being a high-octane, science fiction action thriller, while also simultaneously being a thoughtful, complicated examination of identity, language, personhood, and truth. Arkady Martine has done it again, and made it bigger, bolder, and more beautiful than ever. Don’t hesitate. Read this book.
... in many ways, a classic First Contact story, is about borders that are impossible to even articulate (because there exists no common language), but whose resolution, nonetheless, turns into an existential question ... a worthy successor to A Memory Called Empire. It is simultaneously in argument with science fiction’s history of empires as protagonists, in conversation with familiar ideas such as hive minds and first contact, in engagement with the timeless themes of language and borders, while all the time managing to tell an entirely original story. There are also little delights scattered across its pages ... Long after putting it down, readers are likely to find themselves in extended conversation—and occasionally, argument—with its principal characters.
... themes have evolved in complexity, diving deeper into an intrigue about the very nature of life and death. The central cast is as appealing as ever, and the cats..are a delightful addition ... Martine’s debut showcased her consummate skill and perfect blend of narrative, humor and world-building; her second effort highlights her thematic ambition, and her abilities as a writer are more than equal to the task. Desolation is the kind of book that crouches in your mind, waiting for a quiet moment. It is hard to read slowly, but demands to be savored, lest you miss some of the cleverest and most elegant foreshadowing in modern science fiction ... carries its own distinctive melody ... Arkady Martine’s first book was a deserving Hugo winner. Her second might eclipse it.