The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley is an incredibly ambitious and wonderful epic fantasy that throws out every rulebook trope of the genre to create a truly magical experience. The Mirror Empire combines awesome magic dependent on which star is most present in the sky with parallel worlds battling for their very survival as an apocalypse approaches that occurs every 2000 years. Forget fantasy based on Medieval Europe with kings and knights, bring in a number of matriarchal societies, plus societies with completely different gender norms (5 genders) and marriage arrangements (understandable with 5 genders), and did I mention the swords that grow out of warriors’ wrists?? This description only barely scratches the surface of all the cool things that The Mirror Empire brings together, but if you love world-building and want a truly unique fantasy read, just trust me on this one ;-).
Note: I received an advanced copy of The Mirror Empire from the publisher. I have been informed that a fair amount has changed and been added in the final version.
The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley (Worldbreaker Saga #1)
Published by Angry Robot on August 26th, 2014
Genres: Adult, Fantasy
Page Length: 544 pages
How I got my copy: Publisher
Amazon - IndieBound - Book Depository - Goodreads
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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. At the heart of this war lie the pacifistic Dhai people, once enslaved by the Saiduan and now courted by their former masters to provide aid against the encroaching enemy.
Stretching from desolate tundra to steamy, semi-tropical climes seething with sentient plant life, this is an epic tale of blood mages and mercenaries, emperors and priestly assassins who must unite to save a world on the brink of 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 to save his skin; 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.
- You all know that I read A LOT of fantasy, so hopefully I can convey to you how awesome it was for me to read The Mirror Empire because it is the most unique fantasy I have ever read. EVER.
- The world-building of The Mirror Empire is really where the book shines. Or should I say worldS-building? I could make a post that was simply a list of all the cool little details that Hurley included to make the worlds in The Mirror Empire standout, but I don’t want to take away too much of the joy of discovery from you. Let’s see, I don’t think I’ve mentioned the dual suns or the riding bears and dogs yet have I? Oh and then there are the semi-sentient carnivorous plant life :D. There are herds of walking-trees! Ruuuuuuuunnnnnnnnn!
- The Mirror Empire is pretty dark at times (all the time?) and that grittiness added a strong sense of realism to this otherwise completely alien world. Things like loss and grief, anger and jealousy, and bad things happening to people just trying to survive are constants in life and make it easy to believe all the wonders of the world along side the suffering of the characters in The Mirror Empire.
- There are a lot of points of view in The Mirror Empire and just as many sides to this multi-world conflict. I looooved the amount of grey in the characters’ choices and morality. There was so much grey that I don’t know what black and white would even look like in this world. Everyone is the hero of their own story and The Mirror Empire beautifully demonstrates how even noble intentions can have horrible consequences.
- I’ve already alluded to the awesomeness of a society with five genders. There is another society with three genders. I love that on top of those two cool twists on typical fantasy cultural norms, most of the societies in The Mirror Empire simply expect people to decide which gender pronouns they want to use and everyone is okay adjusting pronouns as a person indicates which they prefer. The gender roles are also turned all about in The Mirror Empire, with a number of matriarchal societies, including one where women are expected to be the more aggressive and dominant gender and husbands are treated as wives often are in historical fantasy.
- The Mirror Empire should show up in any discussion about diversity in speculative fiction from here on out. It is probably a given after the previous point that there is a lot of diversity in gender identification and sexuality in the worlds of The Mirror Empire, but I also loved seeing a main character who is fairly severely disabled after acid burns away half of her right foot. I felt that just the right amount of emphasis was placed on Lilia’s physical limits because she was still able to walk and ride, so she still gets to go adventuring, but if she walks for too long or tries to go too fast, her foot and leg hurt like the dickens and add another layer of strength to her character.
- There is obviously a lot going on in The Mirror Empire, but rest assured that the intricate plotting interweaves fairly elegantly and lots of connections slowly coalesce as the book wraps up. I kind of want to make a flow chart of who knows who and how all the characters are interconnected because it would be both awesome and not centered on one single character. While Lilia is probably the main character, she shares lots of page time with the various other characters and everyone’s stories end up being important to cover what all is happening in the world.
- All right, I saved the best for last: magic! There are three satellites that I’m pretty sure are asteroids on 12-ish year cycles. As different ones get closer to the planet, the people with an affinity for that satellites magic get stronger and then as the satellites descends, they lose their power. This means that a magic user’s life will involve finding out that they have magic early on, training for their childhood, and then possibly having 12-year intervals where they can’t do much magic. Oh, also the magic powers roughly split into earth/plant type magic (used to make buildings out of trees!), air magic (which can also be used in battle to move quickly, etc) and healing magic. I might be missing some of the intricacies too though since each jista (magic user) has different strengths based on the theme. Also there is a dark star that only shows up every 2000-ish years >.> :D.
- The Mirror Empire is perhaps understandably really freaking intense. I was at first hoping to rush through the whole book in a day, and then realized that pacing myself at about 100 pages a day was much better for my mental health. This would be a great book for a read-a-long though >.>. But yes, The Mirror Empire is not at all a light and fun beach read ;-).
- While I like dark books, The Mirror Empire does get pretty darn depressing at times. A side effect to everything being grey and there not being easy answers is that I really didn’t have anyone to cheer for. I knew that anything good for one character would be bad for another and my emotions are STILL all wonked out!
- Yes, The Mirror Empire is incredibly confusing at first. I knew going in that I wouldn’t understand everything right away, so I was mostly okay with it and just floated along. However, if you are a reader who has to completely understand every detail of a world as it is explored by the characters, you’re going to have problems. May I suggest reading it multiple times in that case? ;-)
- Generally if a first book has a lot of points of view, I expect them to all come together by the end of the book. The Mirror Empire does have good reason for all the points of view, but there wasn’t much resolution by the end of book one. I’m kind of wishing that I had waited until the second book was out because there is really no way I’m going to remember everything by the time it comes out! (Though this review is actually fairly detailed so maybe that will help me :D).
This might be the longest review I’ve ever written and The Mirror Empire deserves every word of it. I’m sure the second I look back I’ll realize I forgot some cool detail (bone trees!) because that is just the kind of book that The Mirror Empire is: it is incredibly packed with details different from what we’re used to in this genre. If you are like me and absolutely love discovering new and unique fantasy worlds, you will love this book. If giant tomes full of dense plots with very little romance scare you, you might be happier reading something else. In either case, be prepared with something light and fluffy to help you brain process ;-).
Have you read this one? What did you think? Are you excited for it if you haven’t gotten to it yet?
The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley
© 2014, Anya. All rights reserved.