I received a review copy of this book from the publisher. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Series: Worldbreaker Saga #1
Published by Angry Robot in 2014
Genres: Fantasy, Science Fiction
Source: the publisher
Buy the Book • Goodreads
The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley is one of the most stunning epic fantasies I’ve read this year. The setting is unique and plays a major role in the story. Magic exists, but magic is controlled and influenced by the stars. Para, Tira, and Sina cycle through relatively frequently, and people with an affinity to them become more powerful during each satellite’s ascendance. Then there’s Oma, which only appears every couple thousand years. When Oma appears it causes major cataclysms, because the fabric that separates the many parallel worlds becomes permeable, which means that people can invade from one world into another.
When Lilia is a young child, her mother pushes her into another world to save her from people who are trying to harness her power. She’s an omajista (meaning she can channel Oma’s power), but she doesn’t know that because (1) she’s just a kid, (2) Oma hasn’t shown up in a very long time, and (3) the people on her new world don’t know that there are parallel worlds or that omajistas exist. Lilia is raised by the Dhai, a warrior race that had fallen and been tamed. However, Oma is on the rise, and the Dhai are about to get a nasty surprise, because the Dhai who won in a parallel existence will stop at nothing to conquer their neighboring world.
One of the neatest things about The Mirror Empire is the way that Kameron Hurley handles gender. Rather than a two-gender worldview, she imagines a world where the prevalent socio-cultural worldview is more diverse.
There were five genders in Dhai–female assertive, female passive, male assertive, male passive, and ungendered. Saronia always used the female-assertive for herself, while Lilia thought of herself in the female-passive. But Roh happily used the ungendered pronoun in referece to Saronia. It was considered a rude thing, to use the wrong gender once you knew it, but it seemed to especially annoy Saronia.
Not only does Hurley establish a completely different gender system, but she also manages to create characters who fall outside of it. A character named Taigan is so far in the in-between that he/she’s gender randomly changes throughout his/her life. Taigan doesn’t know what causes it, except that it happens outside of his/her control.
The Mirror Empire is not light reading. I’m so impressed that Hurley was able to pull off such a complex cast of characters from multiple cultures and worlds. And the worlds that she presents are so different than anything I’ve read about before–even the flora and fauna are completely alien. Worldbuilding is interwoven into the story without any kind of introductory infodump early in the book, and while I never felt lost, I also couldn’t take anything for granted and was constantly surprised when my expectations were challenged.
The Mirror Empire is a spectacular novel. It comes out on August 26 and is definitely worth a pre-order. I am eagerly anticipating the next installment in the Worldbreaker Saga and to see what else Kameron Hurley has to offer.