The Mirror Empire – Kameron Hurley

About the Book

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.

539 pages (Paperback)
Published on August 26, 2014
Published by Angry Robot Books
Author’s webpage

This book was sent for me to review by the publisher.

Kameron Hurley won the Hugo Award for many reasons. One of the biggest reasons is because she has a way with combining absolutely powerful writing with absolutely powerful messages. This woman has a seriously incredible head on her shoulders, and I absolutely stand in awe of the way she merges intelligence and her creativity.

The Mirror Empire is, perhaps, one of the best examples of her clever meshing of creativity and power.  The thing that gets me about this book is that Hurley isn’t just telling an incredible story, but she’s doing it in a very powerful way. Her messages, the tropes she plays with, the way she does it really hits the reader hard right where it counts. The Mirror Empire is a love letter to speculative fiction fans. Look, fellow readers, at all the places we can go, and all the ways we can explore these places.

In all honesty, I’ve put off reviewing this book for quite a while, purely because I don’t know what the hell to say. I mean that in the best possible way. There are some books that are so full, so fulfilling, so mindblowing that when you’re done reading them, you have to step back and process it for a while. This is one of those. I’m still not sure if I’m done processing it. There’s just so much that happens in The Mirror Empire. Where am I supposed to start? What am I supposed to say?

The Mirror Empire isn’t a book you breeze through. This is a book you savor slowly. It requires time and effort on the reader’s part. The cultures are very different than what we typically read about in fantasy. The magic system is complex, and the names took me a while to get used to (I kept getting people confused for the first fourth of the book. “Oh, that dude was the brother of… No, no, that’s not a dude, it’s a lady and she’s a … Oh, I remember now!” type thing.)

Yes, it takes effort, and that’s not a bad thing, but it is something to be aware of. This isn’t a book you sit back and enjoy. This is a book you work for, and by the time you finish it, you’ll feel like you accomplished something. You did. You took quite a deep trip into a complex world, with complex, dynamic characters, and situations that take time to sift through and understand fully. The Mirror Empire takes time to really get going, and for the first chunk of the book, you’ll probably be confused about, well, pretty much everything, but Hurley reveals details at a nice pace, and her prose and the sheer magnitude of the story she is telling will keep you hooked despite any confusion.

There are an absolute ton of characters in this novel, and I did, at times, find that frustrating because I had such a hard time remembering which name belonged to what character. The characters are another aspect where you might need to work for any real attachment to them. It’s hard to differentiate between them all, and it takes a while for some of them to get a distinct personality that made me curious about their development and their role in the book. However, once you get through that initial effort, it’ll pay off. While some of the characters will be more distinct and memorable than others, they all have some unique qualities that really push the boundaries of various tropes in a very nice, and often subtle ways, and you’ll remember all of them for different reasons.

I’m not really sure what to say about the plot. It is so absolutely complex, so emotionally charged that I really don’t know what to say. It’s just… wow. Really. Once you get past that starting push where you’re working to figure out who and what is doing who and what, where, you’ll really get to sit back and enjoy this book for what it is. The plot moves pretty quickly, and is quite addicting. It’s the kind of plot that really isn’t absolutely clear. It’s obvious that this is the start to a series, and really, this is the kind of start I like. It’s complex, and confusing, and absolutely thought provoking.

The Mirror Empire is one of those books that you’ll have to be in the right mood to read, but if you are in that mood, you’ll love it. Hurley holds nothing back. It’s deep, and confusing, and deliciously thought provoking. This isn’t just a fantasy novel. This is the kind of book that will make you sit back and look at the world around you in a completely different way.

The Mirror Empire is the first book in what is promising to be an epic saga that will redefine epic fantasy. I sincerely hope it does, because this is the kind of epic fantasy I am hungry to read.

I want more!


4/5 stars

4 Responses

  • Trying to untangle the plot is difficult, isn’t it? Especially not spoiling it…and the still unfolding narrative!

    • Yes, it certainly takes effort, but I think the payoff is hugely worth it. However, I do think that could be a factor that loses some readers.

  • Glad to see you liked the book much more than I did. I read it yesterday and when I sat down to write the review tonight, I just found myself disengaged by the writing. I’m just not the target audience for these type of books anymore, it seems.

  • I am about half way through this book, but I decided to take a break and read something else today. I will finish it, but you hit the nail on the head: this is a difficult read and I’m not always in the mood to work so hard for the payoff.

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