What’s It About
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.
Magic is based on whose star is ascendant…
Maralah summoned an air-twisting parajista at the height of his power to secure Aaraduan’s inner and outer gates with shimmering skeins of air and soil. She gazed at the cracked face of the ascendant star, Para, glowing milky blue in the lavender sky. She cursed the invaders for not coming ashore fifteen years earlier, when her star, Sina, was ascendant, and she was the most deadly power in Saiduan. She felt only the most tenuous connection to her violet-burning satellite now, and could do little more to aid in the shoring up of the gates than give orders. Her days of calling lightning and fire from a clear sky were long behind her. If all here went as she foresaw, she would die before seeing Sina again.
Should I Read It?
Maybe. It’s a bit of a curates egg. (There’s a term I don’t use everyday). So you may want to check out a sample before you purchase the book – or read my spoilerific thoughts below.
While at an intellectual level I appreciated the ideas that fuel Kameron Hurley’s The Mirror Empire (first book in the Worldbreaker Saga) the novel never engaged me emotionally.
On the positive side, the Mirror Empire is a book that unceremoniously dumps the reader into a secondary world and mostly leaves them to figure out what’s going on. While there’s a glossary at the end of the book explaining what the made-up words mean, Hurley avoids the compulsion to info-dump each concept she introduces. This means that the first quarter of the novel is confusing in a pleasurable sort of way as you explore the political and cultural dynamics of this fantasy world.
That neatly segways into the world-building which is another strength of the novel. Hurley has developed a wonderful and original magic system which is based on the waxing and waning of the satellites that orbit the planet. If your star is ascendant then your magic or power is at its peak. And each star or satellite – there are four of them – gives the user a specific set of magical skills, such as the ability to heal or control air currents.
Added to that we have the key idea at the heart of the novel, the fact that Hurley’s secondary world and the Empires that rule are facing ruin and destruction from a force that comes from a parallel reality. Just as Hurley described it in the publicity leading up to the book’s publication, the Mirror Empire is Game of Thrones meets Fringe. Specifically though, it’s the Fringe aspect that distinguishes this novel (and series) from other grimdark or epic fantasies. I also liked that crossing between these realities involves more than magic and a waving of hands. Blood needs to be spilt. Lots of it.
And yet as much as I enjoyed the infusion of parallel universes into a secondary world fantasy, the concept, as handled by Hurley, has its drawbacks. She makes the bold move of revealing the existence of an alternate reality about a quarter of the way through the novel – other writers would have left this reveal as the cliffhanger to Book One. And while I’m glad she didn’t hold this piece of information back, the problem is that not all our characters learn the truth straight away. As a result we have this situation where one set of point of view characters is dealing directly with the threat, while a separate bunch of protagonists are still figuring out who the enemy really is. It gives the narrative this uneven feel as certain plot strands feel like they’ve been held back just so other characters can catch up. It also means that the middle of the novel drags.
I also didn’t like any of the characters. Not just because most of them were unlikable, but because they didn’t seem to have personalities or lives outside of the role they’d been given in the novel. So Lilia, for example, spends most of the novel fruitlessly looking for her mother. And Zezili spends most of the novel slaughtering hundreds of innocent people while feeling guilty about it. And Ahkio spends most of the novel, as the newly appointed rule of the Dhai trying to figure out why his sister, the previous ruler, died. All these are important to the plot of the novel, but they do very little to flesh out each character’s personality.
So, if I wasn’t spending the next how many years reading award shortlists would I proactively go out and buy the second book in the series? Probably not. And yet… a part of me is hoping that the second novel does get nominated for an award in 2016 because I am genuinely interested to see what Hurley does next with the parallel universe concept in a secondary world context.