Recommendation: I recommend a try on this book when it is deep discounted or borrowed from the library. Low priority TBR. An imaginative and interesting world that gets over-shadowed by an awful final act.
The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley is an epic fantasy story that starts the beginning of The Worldbreaker Saga. The Mirror Empire is a multiple POV story that covers 3 different kingdoms, with one or sometimes two characters in each kingdom. Basically there is an unknown enemy that is causing issues in all 3 kingdoms, an enemy that is trying to take these 3 kingdoms for themselves. In fact, the enemy is already hidden within positions of power in these 3 kingdoms. We follow a handful of characters in different settings, separated from each other, but connected to each other in some way, as they find out about this conflict, and how it will impact everyone.
The Mirror Empire is one of the stronger world building books that I’ve read in fantasy lately. For the first half of this book I was completely enthralled by the world that Kameron Hurley created. My favorite aspect is that the magic system is tied to which sun in the sky is at prominence. If you follow that higher sun and can control that sun’s power, you will be stronger than other magic users that use magic from the other suns. Each sun gives off a different power to the followers of that sun like being able to control the wind, heal wounds, control plants, or create fire. Another interesting aspect of this world is the importance that plants are in this world. There are definitely more aggressive and dangerous plants, that can move, than there are wild animals. This allows there to be interesting scenes of traveling in this book because the reader gets to learn about all these weird, dangerous plants.
Hurley does a great job at putting small things into this world that captures your interest. There are strong matriarchal societies in The Mirror Empire where Hurley completely flips gender roles. This creates interesting questions that the reader can then apply to their own life about gender roles. Most of the characters in The Mirror Empire are sexually fluid and attracted to all different genders. In fact, there are 5 different genders in this book that connect strongly with the personality of the characters. Kameron Hurley has so many great ideas in this book but good ideas can only get your so far, and in this book it got me about half way.
It is around near the half way point, but more so in the last quarter of the book, where things start to unravel as Hurley starts to try to bring plot lines to a climax or merge the characters. I am very much a plot and story person when it comes to SFF and all the amazing world building couldn’t cover up the fact that this book ended badly. I was so disappointed in the scenes that the entire book was leading up to that I was just super annoyed with the book. The prominent, supposedly most exciting scene, that the entire book was pointing towards, was just laughably bad. The last forth of this book made the book drop from a 4 star read all the way down to a 2 star read for me. In the end, I thought the world was fantastic, and what she did with gender was better than a lot of books I’ve read, but the plot just didn’t come together. The entire last quarter of the book felt rushed and unguided.
I am going to try the sequel even though I was really disappointed in this first book. The foundation around the story is strong and I’m hoping that Hurley pulls the story together better in The Empire Ascendant. Basically, I like the world enough, to give it another try.
9/25 Possible Score
Plot – 1(Weak)
Characters – 2(O.K.)
Setting/World Building – 4(Strong)
Writing Style – 1(Weak)
Heart & Mind Aspect – 1(Weak)