The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley
|Book Name:||The Mirror Empire|
|Formatt:||Paperback / eBook|
|Genre(s):||Fantasy / Science Fantasy|
|Release Date:||August 26, 2014|
The Mirror Empire is not an easy read. It’s not a fluffy piece of forgettable fiction you casually pick up in the airport before a long flight. It’s a challenging book—not only challenging to fantasy readers, but also a challenge to the genre. Nevertheless, it is a fun, bold, and exciting read. Ultimately, I think The Mirror Empire will be one of the most talked about fantasy novels of 2014, despite these complications and because of them.
In the world(s) of The Mirror Empire, magic is related to orbiting satellites. As they rise, magicians linked to that specific satellite grow in power, and that power wanes as the satellite descends. Now Oma is rising: a dark star that rises once every 2,000 years and marks times of earth-shattering change and powerful dark magic. Lilia, the daughter of a blood witch, is sent through a portal to avoid becoming a slave to invaders. While looking for a way to reunite with her mother, she ends up serving the Kai, the leader of the Dhai people—a pacifist culture of vegetarian cannibals live among semi-sentient, man-eating plants. Things are so bad that the Saiduan nation, the former enslavers of the Dhai, are asking for help against unstoppable invaders. And then there’s Zizili, a half-Dhai general, who must discover why the Empress (the leader of a violent matriarchy) has ordered her to commit genocide against Doinhah’s slave Dhai population.
If it sounds like a lot of threads, it’s because it is. And I haven’t even mentioned the issues of consent, gender roles and gender fluidity, polyamory, energy swords blooming from users’ wrists, or the dynamics of the mirror worlds and travel between them. I know it seems like The Mirror Empire might be a bit overwhelming, and I’m afraid that might scare off a lot of readers. In fact, I had to read the prologue and the first few chapters twice because I wasn’t prepared for this book. It also didn’t help that my ARC lacked the map and glossary that the regular versions of The Mirror Empire will contain, so I had to retain a lot of history, cultures, and similar sounding names all in my head. It’s a lot of plates to keep spinning, but I think, for the most part, Hurley is able to keep most of the chaos under control and in service to the story.
She is successful because The Mirror Empire is rooted in epic fantasy standards such as the chosen one orphan, invading hordes, high-stakes battles, wizards, warriors, and more. There’s also enough grimdark grit and violence to satisfy fans of Abercrombie, Lawrence, and Martin. But for every epic fantasy trope, there is a subversion, a twist, a challenge. I kept turning the page because I wanted to see how those twists would pay off.
Similarly, Hurley’s worldbuilding in The Mirror Empire is unlike the vast majority of fantasy tales—in the best of ways. As you can probably guess from the few details I’ve listed, this isn’t a typical, watered-down, medieval fantasy setting. It’s a huge, varied, beautiful, and deadly world with deep divides and complicated histories. Considering this is only a 550-page book, the level of detail is astounding. Her worldbuilding is really top-notch.
I’m sure some readers would rather walk away than roll up their sleeves and work harder. And that’s fine. This book may not be for everyone. But those who put in the effort will be rewarded. This is one of those books that had me thinking not only about what I want from fantasy novels, but also larger issues of power and gender. The Mirror Empire continues a lot of the conversations about gender and diversity going on in genre right now. But it’s not just a platform for issues. It’s also a wildly inventive, risky, provocative, and exciting novel. The Mirror Empire is different and difficult, but your opinions of fantasy will be changed for the better by this challenge.