We spent much of last week in Florida, which on the surface, sounds awesome. The reality is, I kind of hate Florida. It’s hot, muggy, and smells funny. Plus, I seem to be allergic to much of the state. So, I spent several days lolling around, trying to fend off an asthma attack and breathing shallowly. On the upside, I had more time to read than I normally do. So, I was able to blast through Kameron Hurley’s epic fantasy in fairly short order.
I approached The Mirror Empire with mixed feelings. I’m already sort of a fan of Hurley’s. I enjoyed her Bel Dame Apocryhpa series- though I’m not sure that “enjoy” is quite the correct term to apply to any of my readings of her work. Let’s face it- her books are a challenging read. I found The Mirror Empire a bit easier to get into because I think there was a bit more descriptive set-up of the world.
But with something like ten POV characters (and here I thought I was overdoing with 4-6), the book is still a pretty wild ride. In fact, trying to create a coherent review is a bit of a challenge. I don’t even know how to begin to describe the world and the plot. Suffice it to say, Hurley has created something pretty original here, and I feel like a few years down the line, people will point to this book as a possible game-changer in the genre.
The world itself is multi-dimensional, which isn’t new, but Hurley gives it a unique twist which makes it more confusing, but also more intriguing with almost unlimited possibilities for future books, which are hopefully coming soon. She’s also created some pretty unusual societies, turning gender roles and constructs on their heads. No stereotypical fantasy bimbos here. Some of the differences are a bit unnerving- men as chattel in Zezili’s world- and some are confusing- five genders in another, and a gender-morphing pov character. It’s not just the societies that are different; the worlds themselves are full of strange vegetation, creatures, planets and magic. There’s a lot to absorb.
This is some seriously dark stuff. The world here is threatened and brutal- even the supposed pacifists aren’t very. Maybe it was just the asthma meds, but I felt I had to strain my brain a bit to get through this. I was tempted several times to draw diagrams and take notes. With constantly alternating points of view, it takes a while to figure out what is going on where, and I kept having to remind myself of who belonged in which version of which world. I shudder at the thought of writing something this complicated and the piles of notes it must have taken.
That’s part of my problem these days. Now that I’m writing my own book, I do a lot of my reading through a writer’s lens. In some ways, it makes it harder for me to enjoy books that have marked flaws, but on the other hand, I can appreciate complex and well-written stuff, which this book definitely is.
My only quibble is that the sheer volume of important characters made it difficult to relate to just about any of them. Though well-drawn, a great many lacked depth and I felt a bit frustrated because so many remained enigmatic. At first I thought it was because there were so many, but it doesn’t have to be that way- thinking of George R.R. Martin’s numerous and always well-drawn characters. Still, since this is the beginning of a trilogy, I have a lot of hope that we’ll get to know these characters a lot better in future books.
If you like your sci-fi/fantasy heavy, dark and complicated, I strongly recommend ths!