The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley
Series: The Worldbreaker Saga #1
Published by Angry Robot on September 4th, 2014
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. 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 book was one of the most innovative, imaginative and memorable books I have read in a while. The world, magic, characters and politics are all strengths. Some magic comes with horrific costs, the politics run deep and the characters are well defined. I leave this book with such vivid images of the worlds, the cultures, the characters and the conflict. It is a rare book that can leave such an impression in one of these areas, and to find a book that is so strong across them all is just amazing.
Honestly, my first impression of Mirror Empire, was “Wow, there are a lot of terms and names to keep straight”. For some reason, the more foreign something sounds the longer it takes for me to fully commit to memory. So, my pace for reading this was definitely slower, especially at first. But, that is not a bad thing. Because while there was much to keep up with and learn, it all pays off in such a richly created world.
Before I started reading this, I saw another reader quite excited about the sentient trees. And as cool as that sounds like it could be, I have to admit to also having some fears, picturing of Attack of the Killer Tomatoes ensnarled into a fantasy world. It’s a concept that could go amazingly well, or could go horribly wrong. Like many things in writing and fictional worlds, it all comes down to execution. And Hurley has proven she has some serious skill with execution. Mother nature is given a cruel and dangerous twist in this world, there are plants that can melt away your skin, pitcher plants that can devour people. And if you think you are safe because you don’t see any near by at the moment? Think again. Trees can walk, they can come to your supposed safe place and destroy you. Yeah, you’re not safe. These are not plants from some B-movie, these are the plants of your nightmares.
There has been a lot of buzz over Hurley’s gender reversals in this. Women definitely have the power in this, they are dominant and the males are in more submissive positions. With the power, also comes some prejudices by women for their male counterparts. And I love this about the book. But personally, I think if you reversed the genders in this, you would still have a fantastic fantasy world and story. I applaud the reversal, I am so glad it is there and I am even more thrilled that it pleases readers, that they think about and see the value in it. But I want take a moment to emphasize that that is not the only thing that gives this story strength. The world, the magic, everything is strong. And on top of just gender reversal, Hurley also added in additional genders and classifications of people. For example, in one society, there’s 5 genders: female assertive, female passive, male assertive, male passive and engendered. This adds a layer of complexity not just for the reader to keep straight, but also people from other societies to keep straight as well. It is considered quite rude to get it wrong (as one would expect).
There is so much to love in this book. It shows issues of slavery and war. The world has a deep history and the ability to be cruel. Oh, and the mirror worlds. Worlds that are the result of the butterfly effect, essentially. Little differences here and there resulting in a different history and a different world. It’s just fascinating. I enjoyed this book so much, and am really looking forward to reading the next. Highly recommend it.