On the eve of a recurring catastrophic event known to extinguish nations and reshape continents, a troubled orphan evades death and slavery to uncover her own bloody past… while a world goes to war with itself.
In the frozen kingdom of Saiduan, invaders from another realm are decimating whole cities, leaving behind nothing but ash and ruin.
As the dark star of the cataclysm rises, an illegitimate ruler is tasked with holding together a country fractured by civil war, a precocious young fighter is asked to betray his family and a half-Dhai general must choose between the eradication of her father’s people or loyalty to her alien Empress.
Through tense alliances and devastating betrayal, the Dhai and their allies attempt to hold against a seemingly unstoppable force as enemy nations prepare for a coming together of worlds as old as the universe itself.
In the end, one world will rise – and many will perish.
Published: August 26th, 2014
Warning: there are some minor spoilers, but nothing that will spoil the overall plot.
I was attracted to Kameron Hurley’s “The Mirror Empire” for one particular reason: it was described as ‘Game of Thrones meets Fringe‘. It seemed like an impossible task — to write about a war between two completely different worlds, with a large cast of characters who each possessed a doppelgänger and an extremely complex magic system — but the more that I devoured the book, the more amazed I became. What amazed me specifically was the fact that in five-hundred-odd pages, Hurley has created a continent (with its very own duplicate) that has three specific nations with their own histories, hierarchies, cultures, religions, languages, family structures and systems of magic. I am talking about vegetarian cannibals and strong warriors with soul-eating swords. Whilst it may seem somewhat confusing at first, when the reader reaches the end of this book, everything comes together in perfect harmony.
Hurley’s “The Mirror Empire” follows quite a few of the same, traditional conventions of other epic fantasy novels: multiple viewpoint characters, a limited third-person narrative, and each chapter contains just enough action to spring the story forward. But there is a lot more to Hurley’s creation. And the best example of this is the various characters that Hurley has crafted, most of which turn traditional gender roles on their head. How many times have you read a fantasy novel that has men in superior roles, and women as ‘damsels-in-distress’? A lot of fantasy novels that I have read continue to perpetrate these character tropes (I’m not saying every book, there have been plenty that haven’t). But in Hurley’s book, female characters are placed into roles that are most traditionally male, and vice versa.
The most obvious examples are that of Zezili and Anavha, who are wife and husband. Zezili (who is a very strong woman, and also a general) owns Anavha (who has spent his entire life believing that men are second to women, who are considered to be the most superior gender). This was the first time that I have read anything that really challenges ordinary and traditional gender roles, and you can tell through these two characters that Hurley put a lot of thought into her character development. One of my all time favourite scenes would have to be the following:
He wore his black hair long over his shoulders, tied once with a white ribbon. Those men allowed to live were, of course, beautiful, far more beautiful than many of the women Zezili knew. Anavha was clean-shaven, as she wanted him, lightly powdered in gold, his eyes lined in kohl, eyes a stormy gray, set a bit too wide in a broad face whose jaw she had initially found almost vulgar in its squareness. He stood a hand shorter than she; she easily outweighed him by fifty pounds. She liked him just this way.
With a very complicated and intricate plot, with various threads sewn together and an extremely large cast of characters, the writing style of “The Mirror Empire” is quite simplistic. Hurley’s writing is not poetic. Instead her writing style is considerably straightforward and quite easy to read. At times, Hurley’s writing isn’t very descriptive when it comes to the setting — which sometimes makes it difficult to picture where the characters are — but her descriptions of some of the characters make them seem almost life-like. But, again, you need a lot of imagination when it comes to picturing everything that Hurley writes about, which is probably the most disappointing aspect.
The only reason that I am giving this book only four stars instead of five is because at times the plot left me a little confused. There were times where the motivations of characters were unclear, and some chapters were a little hard to understand. Additionally, because there are so many characters to follow, there were some that I found to be quite annoying. I often came to some characters and found myself wishing that I was reading a chapter about one of my favourite characters. However, by the end of the book, I have become very intrigued — I believe that it has set up for a wonderful second book.
Definitely give this book a go if you are a fan of epic fantasies, strong female characters, or want to see an author who isn’t afraid to challenge traditional gender roles.