An ambassador from a small space station arrives in the capital of the next-door empire, full of emotionless poets and subtle meanings. Her predecessor was murdered and the techno-thingy that makes her special fails on the first day so she can only rely on her wits and friends, every one a loyal subject of said empire, to solve the murder and avert the annexation of her home.
The problem with writing an empire without emotion is that no one there cares about the murder (of a foreign diplomat!) that kicks off the plot. There is no drama, just the facts, ma’am. The protagonist herself seems to go through the motions of investigating the murder — an investigation that proceeds scene by boring scene through understatements whose significance then needs two pages of explanation — more to avoid dealing with her mail than a desire for justice. The whole dull tale ends with an attempted coup d’état and a final page or two that sets up the massive alien threat that’s been hovering in the background for the duration.
There’s classic writing advice that says to write about the most interesting time in your characters’ lives. The time covered in the book is not it.
This book won the 2020 Hugo award. Its sequel then won the 2022 awards. I assume that somewhere a detective who’s been suspended for city damage and being a loose cannon stands in front of a board with photos of prominent science fiction authors whose recent murders are unsolved, stringing red thread from each photo to a center one of Martine.