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The Mirror Empire: Worldbreaker Saga 1 Paperback – 26 Aug 2014
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Nominated for the Locus Award for Best Fantasy
Shorlisted for the Gemmell Morningstar Award
- Kate Elliott, author of the Spiritwalker series "The Mirror Empire is the most original fantasy I've read in a long time, set in a world full of new ideas, expanding the horizons of the genre. A complex and intricate book full of elegant ideas and finely-drawn characters."
- Adrian Tchaikovsky, author of The Shadows of the Apt series and finalist for the 2014 Gemmell Legend Award
"The Mirror Empire is epic in every sense of the word. Hurley has built a world - no, worlds - in which cosmology and magic, history and religion, politics and prejudice all play crucial roles. Prepare yourself for sentient plants, rifts in the fabric of reality, and remarkable powers that wax and wane with the stars themselves. Forget all about tentative, conventional fantasy; there's so much great material in here that Hurley needs more than one universe in order to fit it all in."
- Brian Staveley, author of The Emperor's Blades STARRED REVIEW: "This is a hugely ambitious work, bloody and violent, with interestingly gender-flipped politics and a host of factions to keep straight, as points of view switch often. Although it is a challenging read, the strong narrative thread in this new series from Hurley (God's War) pulls readers through the imaginative tangle of multiple worlds and histories colliding."
- Library Journal STARRED REVIEW: "Hurley (Rapture) reuses old tropes to excellent effect, interweaving them with original elements to create a world that will fascinate and delight her established fans and appeal to newcomers. Readers will blaze through this opening instalment and eagerly await the promised sequel."
- Publishers Weekly
"The Mirror Empire is an extraordinary novel. The scale and invention here makes it essential reading but the characters make it remarkable. None of them are heroes and none of them have the comforting sense of having read the book they're in. They're all flawed, terrified people doing what they can to survive. Seeing them struggle even as the stakes are raised makes for a reading experience as packed as it is tense. Book 2 can't get here fast enough."
- Alasdair Stuart "Taking epic fantasy down challenging and original paths. Thoughtful and thought-provoking with every twist and turn."
- Juliet E. McKenna "Hurley intelligently tackles issues of culture and gender, while also throwing in plenty of bloodthirsty action and well-rounded characters. This is a fresh, exciting fantasy epic that's looking to the future and asking important questions. 4****/5"
- SFX magazine
''The novel achieves what the most important fantasy strives for: it gives us a world the like of which we have never quite seen before, but that offers us some often unpleasant and provocative shocks of recognition.''
- Gary K. Wolfe, for Locus magazine
"The Mirror Empire is a fresh, vigorous, and gripping entrant into the epic fantasy genre, able to stand toe-to-toe with any of the heavyweight series out there. I cannot recommend this novel highly enough."
- SF Revu
"For me [The Mirror Empire] did all the things a fantasy should do - holding our own societies up to the light by reflecting off worlds that are very different. Add in a magic system where the users are only powerful some of the time, and semi sentient vegetation that is possibly more of a threat than the magic users, and I happily sank into this book with a satisfied sigh."
- Francis Knight, author of Fade to Black
"Bold, merciless, and wildly inventive, Kameron Hurley's The Mirror Empire begins an epic tale of worlds at war that will linger long in readers' imaginations. If you're looking for original and challenging fantasy, this is definitely the series for you."
- Courtney Schafer, author of The Whitefire Crossing
"There's a powerful yet elegant brutality in The Mirror Empire that serves notice to traditional epic fantasy: move over, make way, an intoxicating new blend of storytelling has arrived. These are pages that will command your attention."
- Bradley Beaulieu, author of The Lays of Anuskaya trilogy
"The Mirror Empire takes look at epic fantasy patriarchy & gives it a firm kick in the balls... [it] will be the most important book you read this year."
- Alex Ristea, Ristea's Reads
"Hurley has bitten off an awful lot with her ambitious The Mirror Empire. And for those of us who are bored with a linear and predictable narrative, this is a very good thing. Hurley seems determined to supplant nearly every fantasy troupe, even down to her five-gendered social structure with group marriage and funerary cannibalism. These bold rejections of what we take for granted in our own society are illuminating in Hurley's hands."
- Sword & Laser
"In the two worlds of The Mirror Empire, we get Deadly Plants, Blood Magic, and yes, Brutal Women. The Mirror Empire is both a chance for fantasy fans to get to know Hurley's writing, and for previous fans of her work to see what she can do in a new vein. And for readers new to her work, this is in many ways the best place to start. 4.5****/5."
- Paul Weimer, SF Signal
"One of the most stunning epic fantasies I've read this year. The setting is unique and plays a major role in the story. A spectacular novel."
- Books Without Any Pictures
"With her new epic fantasy series, Hurley has shown that she is no one trick pony. The Mirror Empire is a fresh, vigorous, and gripping entrant into the epic fantasy genre, able to stand toe-to-toe with any of the heavyweight series out there."
- SF Revu
"There is so much to talk about in The Mirror Empire -- whether you stick to the complexities and layers of its unfolding plot, or delve into its ideas about family and sexuality and human intimacy -- and it's Hurley's staunch insistence on following her own drumbeat that has resulted in such a rewarding reading experience."
"I can't even tell you how much I liked this book. It was long, yes, but I didn't mind it because there was just so much awesome happening. I classify it as a fantasy, but it could also be considered science fiction, what with the parallel universes and binary star system and all."
- In Case of Survival
"At its best this novel is as good as anything I have read this year. Expect to hear 'ambitious' a lot; I couldn't imagine the mental and physical mapping it would take to hold all these pieces together but hold together they do. The world is alive, the world is unique, and the world is actually built rather than borrowed."
- Fantasy Review Barn
"The Mirror Empire is an interesting, raw-nerved work of epic fantasy built from the ground up...By the end of this first volume in her new series, the author leaves each of the main characters with a satisfying conclusion while putting to each of them new problems... May the author not keep us waiting too long for the second instalment."
- Borrowed Worlds
"If I had known how good The Mirror Empire was going to be, I would have waited until after the sale and paid full price as a show of support to the author. As it was, I bought one of her other books to make up for it."
- The Illustrated Page
"The Mirror Empire is a fast-paced and exciting read, and the start of quite possibly one of the greatest political dramas I have ever picked up."
- Coffee on My Keyboard
"I loved this book. It's a wonderful book. Kameron Hurley's The Mirror Empire is essentially what I wanted Game of Thrones to be: it's a truly epic fantasy which grapples with fraught ethical questions while immersing me in a meticulously built out world of wonder."
- Clatter and Clank
"There is plenty of originality here, and a vivid, sweeping quality of culture that cannot go unnoticed and unrecognized. In terms of worldbuilding, it was top notch, and without a trace of the western aligned molds fantasy so often falls so neatly into."
- The Waking Den
"The world-building is incredibly creative and, sometimes, brutal. I love it."
- Mental Megalodon
"One of the best epic fantasy novels I've read in a long time. It's the sort of fantasy with the perfect balance of violence and horror that gives you chills and thrills down your spine."
- Fairy Bookmother
"A saga that fascinates mainly by its striking and original setting. An unstoppable mix of action, mystery, magic and adventures."
- El Caballero del Arbol Sonriente
About the Author
Kameron Hurley is the author of the novels God's War, Infidel, and Rapture, a science-fantasy noir series which earned her the Sydney J. Bounds Award for Best Newcomer and the Kitschy Award for Best Debut Novel.She is a two-time Hugo Award winner (Best Fan Writer and Best Related Work) and she has been a finalist for the Nebula Award and the Locus Award. Her latest novel, The Mirror Empire, will be published by Angry Robot Books in September 2014.
Top customer reviews
The Mirror Empire is the first novel in The Worldbreaker Saga, Kameron Hurley's follow-up to her splendidly weird science fantasy Bel Dame Apocrypha trilogy. Worldbreaker is wholly fantasy rather than SF and features a lot of standard fantasy tropes, but it mixes these in with fluid gender definitions (some of the inhabitants of Grania are a third sex, or change gender depending on circumstance) and also makes use of the idea of alternate timelines and quantum ideas. Some of the villains of the story are the alternate-universe versions of some of the heroes, which is an interesting idea, especially because there are "good" and "bad" guys on both sides of the mirror and many of the characters are morally nuanced, with good guys doing despicable things and bad guys occasionally showing moral courage.
So far, so standard and so grimdark (if intelligently-realised). Hurley is different in that she seemingly has no interest in making this book easily accessible. In fact, I'd go as far as saying that the first hundred pages or so represent the densest and most-confusing entry to a fantasy series since Steven Erikson's Gardens of the Moon in 1999, which famously puts as many people off reading his Malazan series as it does entice them in to read more. The Mirror Empire opens in media res, features explosive flashbacks without providing context and features an absolute motherlode of invented terminology and nomenclature which will have you flipping to the glossary on a very regular basis. Entering a fantasy world and spending the first hundred pages wading through stodgy exposition is quite a dull experience, so I can see why Hurley took this course. However, this book arguably goes too far in the opposite direction and I can see some readers being alienated by the opening.
Once the book calms down and relents a bit from machine-gunning the reader with under-explained ideas and concepts every five seconds, it radically improves. The characterisation of our four key characters - Roh, Lilia, Zezili and Ahkio - is first-rate and we learn more about their motivations and foibles that makes them more interesting characters than it first appears. Hurley enjoys setting up archetypes - Lilia as the callow low-class girl with unusual powers and a destiny, or Ahkio as the inexperienced young heir thrust into ruling without adequate preparation - and then undercuts them. Lilia does some pretty horrific things in her quest for self-realisation and Ahkio applies his skills from navigating household politics to the greater nation at large and this helps him become a better ruler, as well as being clever enough not to trust the temple officials and to call upon his allies when necessary.
The book unfolds from that point with Hurley's customary vigour and her aggressive, take-no-prisoners approach really makes the book stand out from the fantasy crowd. By the end of the book it has achieved a significant narrative drive that will make you want to press on to the sequel, Empire Ascendant, immediately.
The Mirror Empire (***½) is a robust, entertaining and relentlessly original fantasy, playing with concepts of identity and destiny in a fresh manner. It's also a big that takes no prisoners and almost overwhelms the reader with concepts and invented nomenclature that can be alienating. Stick it out and you are rewarded with one of the better fantasy novels of recent years.
The Mirror Empire is not an easy read, by which I mean it's a book that requires you to work and to engage with it--there is no leaning back and simply consuming with this one. The narrative is complex and it took me a while to find my footing within the setting, to get a clear enough idea of the political situation and the societal setup that I'd have to stop and think every other page to remember how something fit into that.
The book contains four distinct cultures, one of which is also mirrored in the titular Mirror Empire. And these cultures are quite different from our own. The clearest difference is the way Hurley positions gender. There are five different genders, female assertive, female passive, male assertive, male passive, and ungendered. The way these genders interact and how they influence the structure of the different cultures is fascinating. The clearest example of how different it can look is in the matriarchal society of Dorinah, which is ruled by the female-aggressive and where men are little more than pampered possessions and any sign of aggression on their part is punished with a whipping. This division of power made me question my own views and assumptions, because especially Zezili's rather crude and callous treatment of her husband Anavha shocked me, while on closer consideration had this been a male lord in some grim-dark novel, I wouldn't have blinked twice at it.
In Dhai there is also a culture of explicit consent - no one is supposed to touch another in any way without gaining their consent - which sometimes came across a little fussy, but did illustrate how easily boundaries are crossed, especially if you aren't familiar with the new culture you're entering, whether by literally crossing a border or just how actions are perceived different between genders. It also made the complicated familial structures within Dhai society even more complicated. The Dhai are a polyamorous people, with people marrying into groups and creating large families. But how would this work in a marriage where some partners having given blanket permission for some of their spouses to touch them, but not others? Hurley doesn't exactly expound upon these elements - they are just part of the world - but thinking about them gave rise to many questions on my part.
The magic system is equally complex. There are several houses of practitioners called Temples, with each temple serving a particular celestial body with the force that powers their magic tied to that particular planet or star. Each house has its particular skills and affinities, such as healing, death magic, control of the air, etc. Because they are tied to stars and planets that wax and wane according to their movement across the heavens, there is a fluid state of power politics. I found this truly fascinating as we see several of the characters tied to Para, which is in decline at the start of this novel, planning for a live with lesser or no powers. The magic system and the caste of magic users is also tied into religion, with for example the Dhai secular leader also being the Head of the Temple of Oma.
Outside of all the topics Hurley tackles, which are interesting and quite relevant to the current conversation in SFF, she also manages to tell a fantastic story. She weaves together a number of story lines featuring a large cast of characters. The story lines range from a coming of age story to a quest to the solving of a murder mystery. Hurley juggles all of these deftly, without ever dropping the ball or losing sight of one of her characters for too long. I very much enjoyed following along, never once feeling the urge to flip ahead to see when we would return to a particular character. I did have my favourites - I particularly liked Lilia, Ahkio, and Roh - but I found all of them interesting.
With The Mirror Empire Hurley has stepped into the epic fantasy arena and done so in a decisive and impressive way. The Mirror Empire is bound to make a splash in the epic fantasy pond comparable to Ann Leckie's disturbance of the SF field with Ancillary Justice. Let's hope it will be similarly rewarded and well-received come awards season. It's certain to feature on my awards ballot come Hugo time next year.
This book was provided for review by the publisher.