Title: Mirror Empire
Author: Kameron Hurley
Series: Worldbreaker Saga #1
Rating: 4.5/5 stars
The Overview: 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. -Goodreads
Mirror Empire is one of the most unconventional books I’ve read because of its almost ruthless execution of ideas. Hurley doesn’t take time to explain anything, throwing you straight into the fire on the first page. It reminded me a lot of my experience with Erickson’s Gardens of the Moon. The world-building was rich and vibrant and the plot was so thick, it required a ton of concentration. Even now, after finishing my careful read of Mirror Empire, I still can’t be totally certain I’ve kept everything straight. And that lack of basic accessibility is what makes it difficult to recommend. But in my opinion, it’s worth the effort.
Hurley surprised me in a couple places at her bold plot decisions (a few of which are still lingering with me). She’s not afraid to be unconventional in every sense of the word, and that break-the-mold attitude is probably why I’m so drawn to her storytelling. The thing is, I have seen a lot of the elements she included in Mirror Empire before and have even criticized a few authors lately for trying them. The difference seems to be in execution. For example, the erratic decision-making some of the characters exhibited would’ve driven me crazy had it not been written so deftly. It just goes to show. If you can write superbly, you really can get away with a lot. Hurley gained my trust early, and strengthened it as the book went.
Let’s talk about the world-building for a minute. It was easily my favorite element, but that’s usually the case with me. I absolutely loved all the unique flora and fauna (which played an active role in the story), the different cultures and mannerisms, the magic system, and the general concept of the story (alternate realities… my fingers are crossed it doesn’t get too convoluted). Reading this truly transported me to an alien world and dazzled me while I was there. I may not have a full grasp on what the plot is doing, but the cool atmosphere is definitely going to keep me coming back for more. I’d also like to mention the radical way Hurley played with gender roles. It put into a poignant perspective all of the abuse women suffer in fantasy (and real life) that I usually kind of just glaze over as “typical” in my mind. Reading about atrocities done to men in these manners was a bit of a shock because my pre-conditioned brain wasn’t prepared for it. I’m sure this element will be a point of controversy for some readers, but for me it provided an insightful food for thought on some deeply ingrained biases. To be clear, abuse in any form is unacceptable, and I don’t particular enjoy reading about it, but I do think it’s good to shake up the status-quo every now and then to challenge those biases.
Another thing I’d like to mention is Hurley’s character construction. These people are really flawed (aka, somewhat normal, lol), which creates an awesome story of duality where you’re not quite sure who to root for. The further I got into the story, the more unlikable some characters became (and vice versa) and it perpetuated my interest in them because I don’t have it all figured out at this point. That’s actually another reason this book might be hard to recommend – the characters aren’t accessible at all. The book gives you a pit-in-your-gut feeling while you’re trying to figure them out – what’s their motive?! What are they going to do next?! Add to that a few fascinating enigma characters, and we have a cast guaranteed to keep you on your toes.
Recommendations: this book hit the spot for me with it’s great world-building, unconventional writing style, and interesting (flawed) characters. It’s hard to recommend because it’s rather dense and inaccessible. If you’re looking for a light read, this won’t be your jam. However if you’re looking to really immerse yourself in a unique new world(s) and don’t mind books that require a bit more concentration, give this one a go! I’m reserving final recommendations until I finish the series, but so far it’s a strong start!
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