What do you mean, what do I mean? There’s something about it–as good, as inclusive, as remarkable as it is–that just fails to miss me. It’s probably the genre. At any rate, this is probably what Alastair Reynolds was going for in The Prefect, only this was so much more tightly plotted, with better characterization. Perhaps my reservations are due to lingering disaffection, because Martine does exactly what I expected from Reynolds: she takes a very personal mystery–the death of a predecessor–and links it to empire-shaping events.
Martine does beautifully at giving the sense of two different cultures, the behemoth of the Empire, and the small space-station Lsel that Mahit represents. Characterization is also done well, with both main and side characters proving very interesting, naturally developing as Mahit gets to know them and as external events force different interactions. World-building is complex, but not-overly obsessed with extraneous details (cough, cough, you know who I mean). Writing is phenomenal. My hesitation would be the ending [ of course, I wanted more of a HAE, somewhat troublesome ethics, (spoiler—Mahit giving the broken imagio away (end spoiler) and the technology [the imagio seemed a bit ansible-like, and why didn’t the Empire already have it?
It’s not gripping, in the on-the-edge-of-your-seat kind of thriller, but it is gripping in the sense of I-really-don’t-want-to-put-this-down. That alone deserves a lot of credit, but to integrate an intriguing female lead, cultural conflict, a mystery, political machinations, and even a touch of romance is incredible. Very impressive, and I’ll be looking forward to the next. Will I add it to the library? We’ll see.