Book Review: The Mirror Empire

The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley, Worldbreaker Saga #1

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.


Kameron Hurley is best know for her Bel Dame Apocrypha which was nominated for many awards. Other pieces of her writing were and won the prestiges Hugo Award. A few months back I read the short fiction story Elephants and Corpses, this one readily conviced me to start with  The Mirror Empire, thanks to Angry Robot for providing me with a review copy. The Mirror Empire, the first book in the Worldbreaker Saga was released last year and early next month, 6th of October the second book will be released. 

The first thing that came to me was the world. In the first scenes it becomes readily apparent that the world in the Worldbreaker Saga is a hard place to live in. Plants that require blood sacrifices to keep at bay and such. In the beginning of the story the focus is on Lilia and her mother, it all ends badly and Lilia is pushed to a mirror empire by her mother at a young age. Lilia has to grow up fast in the world of the Dhai and in the world in which she is placed it doesn't go that easy... She does have one important task because in the alternate universe where she is placed, there is a chance that she can find her mother again. Yes you read that correctly. Alternate universes in Epic Fantasy!  So as Lilia is growing up to become a jista, (a wizard), a neighboring country the Saiduan is calling on help of the Dhai to help against an upcoming invasion that will wipe the Saiduan from the planet. The kingdom of Dorinah is planning to invade and win new territory. From every kingdom there are various characters that you follow in more happy moments and of course the tough moments, from courtly inrigue to clashes between kingdoms and subtler ways to get things done... 

This is precisely what makes the premise of a classic Epic Fantasy story. But when you are reading Kameron Hurley, it isn't all standard. Kameron Hurley a writer who pushes boundaries of fiction until they give and then pushes even more. The idea behind The Mirror Empire is epic capitalized. From the first moment that I started reading the book I was immersed in an exotic world, it felt a bit European but more towards lush forest and jungles in the end. It is a new mix for me, seeing the epic fantasy with a awesome magic system and also somehow having the feeling that there is something science fictiony going on with perhaps a tinge of an apocalyptic touch to it. 

The world-building is immense and just to name a few things that are featured in The Mirror Empire. It starts with the magic system. There are 4 stars orbiting the world from which people can draw power, but they are also referred to satellites. hmm. now this sounds interesting. There are different powers that each of these stars give but in general a wizard is called a jista, and someone who can use the star Para, is called an parajista. When you follow Oma you are an omajista, the other are Tira and Sina. Next up there is a special type of warrior, priestly assassins which reminded me closely to the ones the Rjurik Davidson used in his story. They aren't just assassins but have something even more deadly to them, hard to describe but cool. As I already mentioned, when you read Kameron Hurley you read something that is new and fresh. 

The division of roles in The Mirror Empire is completely opposite as in most Epic Fantasy stories. Here the women take the lead and not at all gently. For a lot of readers this comes as a shock and in the beginning also for me however come to think of it, how often have we read about dominating male characters that do horrible things? I think a lot of people have problems seeing women doing it in the end, this reversal is an eye opener and shows that female lead characters can be just a brutal. Something that the standard Epic Fantasy readers will have to accept. But I do have the nag that I had when I read The Dinosaur Lords, I can take brutal fighting and such but describing rape scenes etc. it's not my cup of tea in a book, this was shocking and though it paints the matriarchal society very well, at the end of the day just not my cup of tea. 

 I have to admit that The Mirror Empire is a hard book, there is a learning curve, steep but not to steep. Kameron Hurley does throw you a bit in the deep end. However there are two sides. it might feel overwhelming but it is also a trigger to continue reading and learn more on your own. Later along the way and in the end a lot of the things do become clear. 

The Mirror Empire is definitely a very strong start of a new series. It comes to show Kameron Hurley is a very passionate author, idea's just leap of the pages by bunches. The world building is just sheer immense, Kameron Hurley doesn't make any attempts to cover up the sadness and harshness in her world. She presents the facts as they are and the attitude of "this is my story, accept it" is notable. Just going to say it again: Kameron Hurley a writer who pushes boundaries of fiction until they give and then pushes even more.  

Comments

  1. Well said. This was a deep, dark epic fantasy that utterly destroyed a lot of boundaries, but easily one of the most fascinating reads of last year. I just started the sequel last night, so I'm anxious to see where she takes us next.

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