A Desolation Called Peace
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ibsn13: 9781529001648
series: Teixcalaan - Book 2

In working through my thoughts after reading this trashfire of a novel, I wrote five first drafts of a review. They’re incomplete but I’m posting them here mostly un-edited (just some typo fixes) for posterity. They’re either too incomplete, too snarky, too snooty or too mean-spirited to post on Goodreads.

Book 1: A Memory Called Empire ⭐⭐⭐⭐▫️ Book 2: A Desolation Called Peace ⭐▫️▫️▫️▫️

My ideal review would be very short, just focus on my complaints (the book was probably rushed to the printing press due to the unexpected acclaim received by the previous book and suffers from poor editing/polish especially in the middle of the text because of this) without giving any examples.


Cool but the way the aliens are dealt with is wack

  • nine hibiscus dunking her hands into the alien corpse

  • her asking if it’s a mammal, bro what does it matter if it’s breasts secrete milk


Putting her hands together, Sixty-Nine Apache Attack Helicopter spoke with a treble in her voice betraying her allegiance with the Three Dongers; a semi-secret branch of the military subservient not to the Empire but to the Ministry of War.

What could this mean? Does she know about my allegiance with Darhat Manjeenonopupu?

Oh. I wish Three Seagrass was here to help me understand what I should do? Oh but we fought a few hours ago for no reason, but I wish we hadn’t, but we fought, but I wish we hadn’t. I’m a barbarian, I will never be Texcatalllananlanztim. I’ll always be an outsider.

Wahhhhhhhhh wahhhhhhh.

“Uhhh are you ok, Mahit?”

Oh no. I haven’t said anything in five minutes, because I’ve been stuck here in an interminable internal monologue that nobody wants to read. God help me…

Heavy sigh.

This book is OK. I think with more time in the oven and some heavy editing it could have been fantastic.

As-is it was really challenging to get through. In particular, the way aliens are handled is heinous.

I almost threw the book across the room when Nine Hibiscus, a military leader in charge of thousands of soldiers, dunked her unprotected hands into the corpse of an unknown alien species.

Don’t get me started on when the first question she asks to the medical examiner is the following: “Are they mammals?”

Nine Hibiscus, please, these aliens seem to have access to technology that may greatly surpass your own. They annihilated hordes of your empire’s military like they were ants.

I don’t think it’s relevant to ask if the alien being in front of you secretes milk out of its breasts.

I’ve been poisoned by reading Adrian Tchaikovsky’s depiction of aliens in his Children of Time series and his The Final Architecture series.

It’s done so well in these novels and comparing those depictions with what we get here makes A Desolation Called Peace look real bad.

I’m frustrated and I’m not sure reading more of this book will help with that.

Reading through more of this book, I don’t think Arkady Martine knows what a mammal is or how arbitrary of a distinction it is in the context of her story.

Her characters definitely don’t. I cannot believe that the mammal fixation is brought up a second time.

If they’re mammals we’ll be able to speak with them? Ehhhhhhhhhh

A rushed sequel for a book that greatly surpassed expectations and achieved massive critical success.

The constant inconsistencies, the atrocious way the aliens are handled and described is unbelievably bad, the characters’s internal monologues going on and on about nothing relevant.

All of this is exhausting. I enjoyed the previous book in the series despite having a few gripes with it but this one is not a great follow up.

I think it succeeds in some ways. Now that the reader is more familiar with the universe, Martine feels comfortable writing the sequel from multiple POVs, in doing so gives herself the opportunity to give us a better sampling of the world.

Does she succeed fully with this? No. The POVs aren’t different enough from one another.

But the book feels forced in a way I haven’t seen in a novel in a long time. The author starts off with a message about the book being for/by outsiders. But it’s not, it tries to be but it’s super forced and is coming not from within the story but from without.

Is this a cynical attempt to capture a particular audience? Maybe? I think it’s more likely that Martine doesn’t understand that good sci fi comes from imagining worlds that are different from our own and seeing how those differences change things and what it might mean for us.

Instead Martine seems to believe that good sci fi is about creating an interesting world and then moving characters from point A to B while they constantly have temper tantrums, eternally question themselves and their skills and fend off assassination attempts.

Every sentence spoken by a character is followed by interminable internal monologuing. Clearly writing like this comes naturally to Martine and sometimes it works but it’s too much here.

It’s excruciating to read and completely understand someone DNFing this book midway through.

This novel needed more time in the oven and it would have been way better.

Author’s note: this review is a tad satirical. Don’t take me too seriously but please do think twice about reading this novel, even if you really enjoyed the previous one. You might be disappointed like I was.

Here’s a few reasons why you might give A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine a 5 star review.

  • It won the Hugo award for best novel, just like the previous book in the series. Other people seem to like it, I guess I should like it too?

  • Both books in the series combined come out to about 1 thousand pages. After spending that much time with a series, it must be good because otherwise look at all this time I’ve wasted (Sunk Cost Fallacy)

  • I really loved A Memory Called Empire, I guess I like the sequel too?

I respect your point of view even if you disagree with mine. But it’s so confusing to me, seeing so many people give this novel a perfect score and gush about it, while completely neglecting the aspects of it that are objectively bad.

This novel feels extremely rushed, it likely was rushed out the door by the publisher so that they could most efficiently capitalize on the unexpected acclaim received by the first book. It won the Hugo Award for Best Novel after all.

NB: We do live under capitalism. It is what it is.

All the signs of a rushed release are there if you look closely.

  1. Awkward run-on sentences are everywhere and cause the reader psychic damage trying to get through them.

Read the following excerpt out loud to see what I mean:

The water she’d drunk made her able to talk [author’s note: this sentence is atrocious]. Even sing one of the absurd pitched-consonant words that they’d picked up from the aliens in demonstration for the yaotlek, though Mahit was so much better at making those noises that Three Seagrass had begun to plan a scheme in which she taught her how to have some halfway-decent breath and pitch control, pass on the lessons she’d had as a crèche-kid in how to project from the diaphragm when orating.

Reading this novel closely, you can and will find many sentences just like this peppered all throughout the text and reading them will drive you insane.

I hate this kind of writing. I don’t know where it comes from. It goes against everything I know about good writing. It drives me up the wall.

NB: If you’re like me, I highly recommend you also stay away from Ann Leckie’s The Raven Tower which suffers from the same kind of long winded writing.

  1. The novel has multiple POV characters and their narratorial voices are way too similar and this will encourage you to start drinking, heavily.

Each bit of dialogue, no matter which character’s POV we’re following, is interspersed with an ungodly amount of stream of consciousness blahblahblah text that is really annoying to read.

If one character was written like this, it’s all good. This narration style would define the character and make them unique, and it wouldn’t be so overbearing.

The problem is that every single POV character is written like this because I guess that’s how Arkady Martine writes and her editor was not given the time and support they needed this time to take out the trash.

Let’s look at some examples: Mahit said, “Well, that’s unexpectedly pleasant, all considered,” and didn’t go on any further. She didn’t want to—she couldn’t tell Three Seagrass that she was here to spy on the war for Darj Tarats, in order to escape Aknel Amnardbat’s surgeons. To do worse things for Darj Tarats, if there was an opportunity. She couldn’t. So she got into the shuttle instead, settling amongst the supply crates and strapping herself into some freefall-control webbing. There were similar webbings on all of the walls, the floor, the ceiling. It was an efficie"t, well-designed ship. It must make a hundred of these short hops in a month— “Quite,” said Three Seagrass, all edges, interest and wariness and a sort of invitation deferred: We can play, Mahit, even if we don’t play just now, if playing’s what you want.

Notice that Arkady Martine explicitly cuts off Mahit’s stream of consciousness narration here.

This paragraph is actually cool because there’s an intentionality to it. The reader is meant to understand that Mahit is someone who is often stuck in her own head. That’s awesome characterization.

The issue is that this narrative voice bleeds into every other character’s POV.

For example, in this excerpt, Nine Hibiscus has just been informed by a subordinate that the alien’s planet has been found.

“If we can get there without them seeing us,” Nine Hibiscus said. The scatterbombs would do exactly what Eighteen Chisel was imagining. They would, yes, blow anyone out of their sky. And then they’d poison that sky, and the planets below it. The scatterbombs were deathrain. A last resort. Almost never used where people lived— because after them, people didn’t live there anymore. She’d only used a scatterbomb barrage once, and that had been against another ship, safe in the blackness of space. The idea of using them on the aliens was— She liked it too much, was what. Liked it too much, too fast. Such a simple solution. So much easier than the rest of the situation she’d been detailing for herself.

Huuuuuuuhhhh. Does this sound familiar? If you replace the names in these excerpts, you wouldn’t be able to tell them apart.

Notice how frequently Arkady Martine uses the “—” (em dash) to cut off her character’s neverending internal monologues.

You might be wondering, how did I find these examples? Did I carefully sift truth the entire book for the perfect example to present a skewed representation of the book to make my argument more convincing?

No, I opened my book at a random page and found relevant examples each time because the book is filled with them.

  1. Final thoughts because reading this book makes me not want to think anymore.

Reading through A Desolation Called Peace has driven me to the brink of insanity and so I find myself ready and able to talk shit about any part of it.

  • Arkady Martine’s ignorance about biology and linguistics and her decision to hinge her entire novel on these topics that she clearly knows less than nothing about is infuriating.

  • Her fixation on the fact that these aliens are mammals (well sort of, wink wink) and how apparently that ISN’T a completely arbitrary distinction to make is wild. If these aliens secret milk out of their breasts, have vertebra and shit, it is not plot critical, please do not fixate on their mammalness.

  • Don’t get me started on the title of the novel. Cynically, I understand the sequel of a popular book should probably use a similar naming scheme to the first novel to make it clear that it’s a sequel and in doing so sell more copies. But, come on, A Desolation Called Peace, is real dumb.

I feel betrayed by the Goodreads and the science fiction community at large for promoting the apparent perfection of this novel.

Although, there are some heroes out there (you know who you are) who knew the truth and tried their best to communicate it, mostly falling on deaf ears.

I should have listened. Maybe then I wouldn’t be headed straight for the mental asylum.

Author’s note: this review is a little satirical, please be chill

NB: p. 404, O face due to great diplomacy by Mahit

I’ve written more than three thousand words between five different first drafts trying to explain exactly why reading A Desolation Called Peace made me so angry. Instead of fumbling with my words, I’ll let Ursula K. Le Guin speak for me (quote taken from her essay The Stalin in the Soul).

Reading is not a passive reaction, but an action, involving the mind, the emotions, and the will. To accept trashy books because they are “best-sellers” is the same thing as accepting adulterated food, ill-made machines, corrupt government, and military and corporative tyranny, and praising them, and calling them the American Way of Life or the American Dream. It is a betrayal of reality. Every betrayal, every lie accepted, leads to the next betrayal and the next lie.

Suffice to say that I feel betrayed.

It’s clear to me from reading this book closely, that it was rushed to the printing press in an attempt to capitalize on the unexpected (but mostly deserved) acclaim received by the previous book in the series, A Memory Called Empire. With a bit more time in the oven, the sequel could have been fantastic, and yet here we are.

Open the book on any page, put your finger anywhere to find:

  • Omnipresent awkward run-on sentences that are begging to be trimmed by a competent editor.

  • Multiple POV characters who all suffer from the same never ending stream of consciousness narrative voice that is a pain to read.

  • Some absolutely baffling ignorance about aliens, linguistics, the definition of the word “spy” and basic biology.

I’ve rated the book 1 star although it’s probably deserving of more (maybe a 2 or a 3), but I need to fight the good fight and do my part to pull this book back into the void where it belongs.

If you enjoyed A Desolation Called Peace, great! Maybe you even rated it 5 stars? Fantastic. I’m truly glad you enjoyed it.

But are you sure that you’re really being honest with yourself?

If you don’t want to hear what I have to say, fine, but at least listen to Chad Le Guin. If we continue to accept slop like this, praise its greatness, and put it on a pedestal, publishers have no incentive to give authors and editors the time they need to do their best work.

Maybe I’m wrong? Maybe this is really one of the best sci-fi novels of our generation? Maybe the author and the editor and everyone involved got all the time they needed to make A Desolation Called Peace the best it could be.

Well then, if A Desolation Called Peace is the peak of what modern sci-fi can bring to the table, I don’t want to read it anymore.