Title: The Mirror Empire
Author: Kameron Hurley
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
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.
This is one of the most unique fantasy books I have ever read. I LOVED IT.
Fantasy books are pretty notorious for being male-slanted and not having many women characters, and if they do have women characters, they're usually just eye candy. This book takes that stereotype and completely throws it on its head. This is a book full of women and people who have fluid genders. Despite the large spectrum of skin colors, I don't think there's a single "white" person in this book, which is also new. For the first time, I found myself in a fantasy novel. It's not often that someone of Indian descent finds a character they can relate to in a fantasy novel: any inclusion of Eastern cultures is usually based on Arab or Chinese culture. That's not to say Hurley's world is based on Southeast Asia, but the flavor of her world and the personalities of her characters made me feel like I belonged. Instead of being an outside onlooker into another world, I felt like I was a part of it. And I've never quite felt that way before.
The Mirror Empire starts off with a brutal prologue, and the intensity almost never lets up. This is a brutal book. People are killed violently and in large numbers. When important people die, their body parts are candied and sauteed and fried and ceremonially consumed by their loved ones. It's sickening but in a grotesquely fascinating way. That's kind of how the whole book works. People do horrifying things to one another in their quest for power, but it's done with such artistry and careful manipulation...it's fascinating to see how people pull strings and orchestrate the events they want.
Despite all the brutality and the morally ambiguous characters, there are so many people to root for. I loved learning about all the different cultures in this world, and it was funny to see characters' confusion about other characters' customs. Each of the characters wants something, whether it's finding your long lost mother, proving yourself worthy of power despite the doubts of everyone around you, pleasing the one person you are loyal to, finding a way to make your life mean something. Even if you don't like the characters (Zezili is particularly sickening), you can understand why they do what they do.
I highly recommend this book!