Tuesday, 30 September 2014

The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley

The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley is the first book in a new fantasy series and the first book I've read by the author. The main thing you need to know about this book is that it's secondary world fantasy on an epic scale. I was going to copy the blurb in, as is my wont, but it's kind of terrible and summarises the entire plot. So I'm going to skip it this time.

The Mirror Empire has a large (but not huge) cast of characters, which allows for some breadth in exploring all the corners of the detailed world Hurley has created. The character that I kept thinking of as the main-est was Lilia, in large part because she features in the prologue and, to an extent, links the other character groups together. She works as a drudge in the temple where (that country's) magic users train. It's a relatively egalitarian and affluent country so although she's called a drudge and does basic cleaning-type tasks, she was still given a good education. She just can't train to be a magic user as she has no discernible ability. The country she lives in is not alone in being matriarchal and polygamist. Marriages often involve more than two people and it is not uncommon for women to take more than one husband. In this sense, men are treated in a way that wouldn't be out of place for women in a "traditional" fantasy novel (including marital rape and generally being second class citizens). That said, there are still worse places to be a man. In the small world of the temple, men with power are trained alongside women, although their ruler is usually female.

The setting of the world is particularly creative. First of all the plant life is mostly carnivorous. Carnivorous in the sense that it might hunt you down and kill you. There are terrifying walking trees, plants that grow human-sized traps beneath the ground and a lot of poison. The people like winter more than I would normally expect because it freezes the killer plants. And beyond plant-life, horses don't seem to exist so people mainly ride bears (with forked tongues) and large dogs. I strongly felt the alien landscape added to the sense of otherworldliness, as did the satellites/stars in the sky controlling the ebb and flow of magic.

With regards to plot, we had Lilia, who is on a personal mission to find her mother after being separated from her at a young age. She runs into more complications than she expects, even as she takes advantage of unusual situations. There's Roh, Lilia's friend, who gets caught up in other events that change his life. There's Ahkio, who just wants a quiet life with a nice family but when that option is taken away from him, things get interesting. Then there's Zezili, a general from another country, given unexpected orders by her Empress. When she starts looking deeper, everything she thought she knew unravels.

The Mirror Empire is a great read. It's the first book in the series (a trilogy? I'm not sure), and not everything is resolved by the end. But it does end in a good place with enough progress made and no egregious cliffhangers. I am very much looking forward to reading the next instalment and seeing where everything goes.

I highly recommend this book for all fans of good quality secondary world fantasy. Readers who — like me — prefer not to read unoriginal and trope-filled fantasy will be pleased with this book. And of course, anyone hoping to find more fantasy with female characters who are a) central and b) not marginalised need look no further. The gender-flip aspect (for lack of a better term) really is fascinating.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: August 2014, Angry Robot
Series: The Worldbreaker Saga book 1 (of ?)
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

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