The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley

Finally done with The Mirror Empire. I must say – I didn’t enjoy this one.

The book starts with Lilia, a young girl, witnessing an army of Dhai warriors that has descended on her village and goes The Mirror Empire - at least the cover's niceabout destroying everything. Lilia’s mother uses some sort of blood magic to tear open a portal, and sends Lilia across. But across to where? It’s not until years later that Lilia, now a young woman working as a scullery maid in the Temple of Oma, realises that the world of Raisa that she is now inhabiting isn’t here original world. It’s a mirror world. The Dhai here are a largely peaceful, even docile, people and are enslaved by the ruling Dorinah. For some reason, the Empress of Dorinah has ordered her Captain General Zezili to wipe out every Dhai she can get her hands on. The dutiful – and rather bloodthirsty – Zezili goes about her tasks, but can’t help but wonder how this benefits Dorinah. After all, wiping out the entire slave class that is the backbone of the Dorinah economy hardly seems productive.

It turns out that the other Raisa (Lilia’s original world) is being ravaged by the destructive power of the ascendant satellite Oma, and the Dhai there really, really want to jump ship. The catch? You cannot pass over to a mirror world while your local doppelganger is still alive there. The local people are almost entirely unaware of any of this. It has been so long since Oma last rose (about 2,000 years) that many assume the notion to be a myth.

Imaginative? Yup. The premise sounds excellent. But not all is well.

The Good:

World-building – The world of Raisa consists of of three orbiting satellites. There is Para, which gives off a blue light; Sina, which gives off a red light; and Tira, which gives off a green light. There are three types of sorcerers, identified with the suffix -jista, whose abilities vary depending on which of the three satellites’ powers they can channel when the respective star is ascendant. So you have Parajistas with defensive oriented abilities like manipulating air to create shields, Sinajistas with more offensive abilities like destroying things, and Tirajistas with abilities like healing. But there is a fourth class of sorcerers, too – the supposedly mythical Omajistas, who can channel the abilities of all the satellites, along with having a handy list of unique abilities like opening gateways between mirror worlds. It will not be giant shock for readers to learn that dear Lilia has latent omajista-ness.

Magic – I liked the idea of different abilities tied to the ascendant satellites, and how the -jistas only have powers when their related satellite is around.

The Bad:

Characters – There is a reason I only mentioned Lilia and (briefly) Zezili. It’s not because they are the only POV characters in the book. It’s because they were the only ones whose subplots were remotely interesting. There is also Rohinmey (Roh for short), a parajista-in-training at the Temple of Oma, who appears to be one of the most useless characters I have ever read in a novel, despite his possessing the extremely rare natural ability to see through wards. He is just a complete bimbo, and I can’t help but wonder if Hurley actually intended for the reader to like/care about/sympathise with this character. Because I certainly don’t. There is also Ahkio, who becomes the Kai (the supposed leader of the Dhai people) after the death of his sister. And there is Taigan, a talented and powerful omajista-cum-assassin, who apparently fluctuates between being a man and a woman. And this bring me to the second major flaw…

World-building – While the world-building, as I stated above, is imaginative, it is a bit too imaginative. The world portrayed here is so radically different, that I can’t help but feel disconnected to it, and never found myself being pulled into Raisa. It’s not just the gender-bending Taigan, though that is a bit odd. It’s the society depicted here as a whole that I couldn’t understand. There is an element of ‘role reversals’ here, so the women generally tend to be more in power and dominant over the men. That’s fine. But the Dhai, for instance, have a society where multiple women (usually sisters, it looks like, and always with each other’s consent) ‘marry’ a husband. Someone like Roh then has one father and multiple mothers. But how does that work? Maybe step-mothers, but shouldn’t he just have one mother? At one point, the book mentions how a woman having multiple lovers was natural, but a man having more than one would be a problem as it would difficult to determine parentage. Huh? How? In this world, is it the men who give birth? This didn’t make sense to me.

Pacing – In a weird dichotomy, this is a book that has plenty of action scenes, and yet seems to progress at a snail’s pace. I took me nearly a month-and-a-half to finish The Mirror Empire. A large part of the reason for this was because I simply wasn’t looking forward to picking up the book. Some books make me feel like reading them the moment I get home from work, so I can pick up where I reluctantly left off the night before. With The Mirror Empire, I just didn’t care.

All in all, I would give the book a 3 out of 5. It gets points for the imaginative and unique setting, and for a fascinating premise. But it loses points for the dull way it goes about realising it. Maybe, if I have nothing better to read, I might pick up the sequels. But I doubt it.