FEATURED REVIEW: The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley

Welcome to our Featured Reviews! In this series, we'll be highlighting book reviews by the S&L audience. If you want to submit a review, please check out the guidelines here! -Veronica

Review by Emily Carlson

The Low-Down:    

In a multiverse where magic is the product of the rise and fall of three celestial bodies, things can get a little complicated. Characters’ power waxes and wanes with the movement of these satellites, but the world seems to have reached a balance. However, that balance is shattered when the fourth, dark satellite – Oma – begins ascending. Oma, the Worldbreaker. Last time Oma rose, continents were literally torn in half by its power, and it seems that this generation will be no different. 

The Mirror Empire follows Lilia, a girl from a dying universe with an amber sky, as she is hurled into a new and thriving universe in escape from the dark forces gathering in her amber world. But Lilia is far from safe in her new blue-skied universe because the armies she fled haven’t given up the chase.

Key Themes:

Genocide, multiverses, TRULY NOXIOUS WEEDS, gender and sexuality, mystical orphans, THE DOPPLEGANGER, celestial bodies (wink, wink), BLOOD

What’s Good:

Hurley has bitten off an awful lot with her ambitious Mirror Empire. And for those of us who are bored with a linear and predictable narrative, this is a very good thing. Hurley seems determined to supplant nearly every fantasy troupe, even down to her five-gendered social structure with group marriage and funerary cannibalism. These bold rejections of what we take for granted in our own society are illuminating in Hurley’s hands. 

Take for example the thirty-something, war-hardened general returning home from her tour abroad to her teenaged, undereducated, ornamental husband. On one hand, this seems very familiar to fantasy fans (Drogo and Daenerys, anyone?). But on the other, it is completely unexpected and frankly, appalling. Readers might swoon at the scenes of Drogo and Dany together, might even excuse the some of the harsh treatment that Dany receives from Drogo. However, when the general dominates her husband and when we see how isolated he truly is, it’s harder to wear those same rose-colored glasses. 

The result is a novel that is challenging, though inducing, and at times shocking. But very much worth the time of any fantasy reader ready for something different. 

What’s Less Than Good:

Hurley has bitten off an awful lot with her ambitious Mirror Empire. What is this novel’s greatest strength can be its most frustrating weakness. Switching characters, universes, and social structures can be very confusing. Hurley pulls it off with a surprising amount of ease, but readers can still get lost easily. 

Furthermore, although Hurley is making wonderful strides towards fulfilling the potential of the unique world she created, only time (and more novels) will tell if Hurley is able to pull this off with the finesse demanded when an author deviates this much from reality. In my mind, the farther an author strays from reality, the heavier the burden is to make all of that mental strain worth our while.  

The Final Verdict: 

Maintain focus. If you can do that, The Mirror Empire is definitely worth the read. But for those of us who don’t want to leave a book with a pounding headache (I mean… not really, but you get it) this may not be the novel for you. The world Hurley creates is rich, engaging, and completely surprising. It is worth the effort the novel will require from you, but know that this is not a mindless read. So much of the world in this book is utterly new that it is bound to leave most people feeling a little star-struck. 

The world Hurley builds takes on a personality of itself, much like another character you are getting to know. It would be easy for the human characters to fade into the background of the novel and let the newness of the world stun readers. However, the characters in the novel are utterly profound. They are likable and revolting in turn, but in a way which reminds us of our own little green planet with a blue sky. The true wonder of this book is not the differences Hurley creates between her worlds and ours, but the similarities. Somehow, Hurley has managed to create a story where even with a radically different reality to ours, we are able to relate to and care about her characters. 

If you’re willing to go the extra literary mile, Hurley promises to deliver even more mind-blowing confusion in the upcoming Empire Ascendant dropping in October 2015.