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Worldbreaker Saga #1

The Mirror Empire

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On the eve of a recurring catastrophic event known to extinguish nations and reshape continents, a troubled orphan evades death and slavery to uncover her own bloody past… while a world goes to war with itself.

In the frozen kingdom of Saiduan, invaders from another realm are decimating whole cities, leaving behind nothing but ash and ruin.

As the dark star of the cataclysm rises, an illegitimate ruler is tasked with holding together a country fractured by civil war, a precocious young fighter is asked to betray his family and a half-Dhai general must choose between the eradication of her father’s people or loyalty to her alien Empress.

Through tense alliances and devastating betrayal, the Dhai and their allies attempt to hold against a seemingly unstoppable force as enemy nations prepare for a coming together of worlds as old as the universe itself.

In the end, one world will rise – and many will perish.

540 pages, Paperback

First published August 15, 2014

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About the author

Kameron Hurley

101 books2,364 followers
Kameron Hurley is the author of The Light Brigade, The Stars are Legion and the essay collection The Geek Feminist Revolution, as well as the award-winning God’s War Trilogy and The Worldbreaker Saga. Hurley has won the Hugo Award, Locus Award, Kitschy Award, and Sydney J. Bounds Award for Best Newcomer. She was also a finalist for the Arthur C. Clarke Award, the Nebula Award, and the Gemmell Morningstar Award. Her short fiction has appeared in Popular Science Magazine, Lightspeed and numerous anthologies. Hurley has also written for The Atlantic, Writers Digest, Entertainment Weekly, The Village Voice, LA Weekly, Bitch Magazine, and Locus Magazine. She posts regularly at KameronHurley.com. Get a short story from Kameron each month via: patreon.com/kameronhurley

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Profile Image for Bookwraiths.
698 reviews1,044 followers
July 29, 2015
Originally reviewed at Bookwraiths Reviews

One of the difficult things about reviewing books for me personally is having to write a less than favorable opinion. Not that I can’t be just as negative as the next person, because obviously it’s not hard to close a novel and say to a friend “Don’t waste your time. That story sucked.” Nope, my problem is trying to isolate why I did not appreciate a novel, analyze if my issues are just that: my issues, or a real deficiency of the story, and then write an honest review.

For those of you who don’t write reviews, please understand that it is difficult to be both honest and also objective. Mainly, because – if you love books – you want to adore every one of them that you read (if for no other reason than you’ve invested your precious time trying them), and, when that doesn’t happen, your initial reaction as a human is to say “I hate it” and leave it at that. But a reviewer can’t do that. It just isn’t fair to anyone interested in reading the book. So, as I sit here wanting to say “The Mirror Empire isn’t that good. Don’t read it”, I know I have to attempt to explain why I feel that way.

First, I want to establish up-front that I was excited to read The Mirror Empire. When I initially saw the kick-ass cover and read the novel description, it looked tailored made for my tastes: multi-viewpoint narrative, huge world, cross-world warfare, and gender-bender characters. When you factor in Kameron Hurley’s recent Hugo award, you might understand how an epic fantasy lover like me would be breathlessly waiting to fall in love with the Worldbreaker saga. And to be fair, this novel absolutely delivers on several of its promises.

That spectacular new world, it is here. In fact, there are two rather than one for a reader to sink their fantasy teeth into, filled with numerous countries, races, deep history, ongoing wars, and sentient plant-life that range from those symbiotic to womankind to those completely predatory.

Naturally, these worlds are teeming with magic: a very well-thought-out system of magic whereby it is controlled by a person’s innate ability and her attunement to one of several moons that orbit the planet. As certain moons ascend and descend in the heavens, a mage’s power waxes and wanes as does her magical sect’s worldly power and influence.

As for the warrior-women promised by the book description, they appear one after another: complex and powerful females who take their turn in the spotlight, empowered both physically and emotionally as unquestioned masters of all that they survey. No, ma’am, these ladies do not concern themselves with exerting their equality to their male counterparts, because they are superior in every way: a natural state of affairs that is beyond doubt.

But as I slowly devoured and digested all these essential and delectable fantasy morsels, I began to have a little bit of heartburn. (Please pardon the pun, but I couldn’t help myself.) I didn’t know exactly why – though there were a few things nagging at me as I read.

First, the complete lack of any strong male characters did bother me. The fact that male characters were taught that they were “unnatural” didn’t sit well with me. Kai Ahkio (the most prominent male character in the novel) being constantly berated for being male and told that he is a poor substitute for a strong female leader was annoying. And yes, the book did read at times like a mirror version of a Robert E. Howard sword and sorcery tale, complete with childlike men waiting for their rescue by muscle-bound females ready to rip their clothes off and mount up on their throbbing manhood. But, I’d known going in that The Mirror Empire was a female dominated story, so, even though the lack of strong men was an issue, it was not enough to trump the good parts of the story.

Then something else reared its ugly head: rape – except this time, women were raping men.

Now, I’m not a prude; I realize rape happens. In fact, as an attorney, I’ve defended more rapists than I can count on both hands. But, I’m also not a big proponent of rape as a narrative device in literature. It seems so overused as a shock effect that I don’t enjoy it. Even in Mark Lawrence’s grimdark masterpiece Prince of Thorns, I was a bit bothered by Jorg Ancrath’s casual raping of girls at the beginning of the book, because it didn’t seem necessary or relevant to the story. (Jorg doesn’t go on to become a serial rapist but a serial murderer.) Hell, I even agreed with people who very emotionally argued that no one should view Jorg as a hero after he casually went around raping girls. So how could I uphold a female author allowing one of her “female heroes” to rape and brutalize men?

Perhaps I should introduce our heroic rapist first before I answer that question.

Let us welcome Zezili Hasario, Captain General of the Empress of Dorinah, who shows casual indifference to cruelty, a perverted sense of love, and a total acceptance of mass murder – even as she goes about trying to save the world. Where Jorg raped two young girls, Zezili purchased herself a beautiful man, spent her leisure time sexually torturing him, and justified it by saying, “He [is] the one thing in [my] life [I] controlled completely. And [I] loved him for it.” Indeed, after their wedding, Zezili’s husband Anavha says, “[Zezili] made [me] strip in her bedroom . . . cuffed [me] across the mouth, drawing blood . . . told [me] to kneel . . . took [my] chin in her hand and said, ‘You’re mine. All of you. Every bit of you. You’ll service my sisters, because it’s proscribed’ . . . [then] cut her initials into [my] flesh . . . licked at the blood of [my] wound . . . reached for [me], and found [me] . . . erect [then said] ‘Well . . . they paired me well.’ ” And then Anahva goes on to describes his continued life with our hero Zezili as follows:

“Zezili was a brutal mistress; demanding, violent. She entertained herself with [me] until [my] vision was hazy, pain and desire twisting [my] insides, turning [my] voice to a high-pitched wail, begging for release. Yet when she finished with [me], [I] felt somehow obscene, disassembled. . . [I] sat awake at night and cut [myself] while she was away . . . wondering if Zezili would mourn if [I] died, or simply have [me] replaced, as she would her dog . . .”

Yeah, Zezili’s behavior sounds at least equal to Jorg Ancrath’s psychopathic rape of two girls. Actually, there is even more about Zezili and her husband, but I think the above illustrates the nature of their relationship. Just so you know, later Anavha also gets raped by another woman-warrior, but it wasn’t Zezili, so I didn’t see the need to quote that section of the story.

So, after reading all that, did the accepted brutalization of men, their sexual torture, and casual rape at the hands of women bother me?

Well, I’m sorry to admit that I once again talked myself out of holding the brutalization against this book. “Stop having such a closed mind,” I told myself. “Okay, men are sex toys. There is probably lots of fantasy out there that still portray women that way.” Hell, I even used this one. “Ms. Hurley has put a little bit of Fifty Shades of Grey in a fantasy and Zezili is Christian Grey, so what? It is her pushing the boundaries of the genre; nothing wrong with that.”

But even as I convinced myself to put aside the lack of male characters and the brutalization of men, I was slapped in the face by something else: ritualistic cannibalism.

Yeah, these fantasy people cannibalize each others. Okay. Certain Native Americans did it before the arrival of the Europeans, I know. I’ll just put that “shocking” fact on the list with the others. I’m sure human hearts taste like chicken anyway.

Next on the “shock” list, we have (Drumroll please) no heterosexual characters.

Okay. It seemed a little odd that no one – even just one person – might be heterosexual and not bisexual. But that was fine, I accepted it and moved on.

Bit by bit, it also became apparent that everyone in this world practiced polygamy. Okay, Old Testament of the Bible reversed with the women marrying multiple males and females.

Then we have a male character Roh being taken as a sexual slave to an adult near the end of the book.

Anyone else beginning to see a pattern here?

Ms. Hurley appeared to be pulling out all the stops to “shock” her readers. Now why would an author do that?

Perhaps it is because the story itself is deficient?

Unfortunately, that was the case, in my opinion. Let me explain .

First, none of the main characters in this epic were very compelling. In fact, they were almost instantly forgettable. Zezili? I’m not big on rapist and mass murderers, but even setting that aside, the general was fairly boring, doing little except killing defenseless people in prison camps. Ahkio? Everyone around him thinks him a weak, whiny man, and even though he tries, he spends a great deal of time pining away over men and women, his horrible fate, and generally being exactly what all his enemies accusing him of being: a weak, whiny man manipulated by his female handlers. Roh? According to the women in the book, he is an idiotic boy, not much else you can add. Lilia? I actually liked her, thought her story was compelling but lost interest in it by the end due to the constant back and forth nature of her travels. Naturally, there are other characters, but these are the ones I actually remember.

Second, the concept of mirror worlds and their convergence had some glaring inconsistences in its explanation and application that kept cropping up in the story. Things that I would read and go “Wait, that can’t be the case because of the explanation two chapters ago.” After a while, I stopped caring whether the cross-world action made sense anymore.

Third, the multi-viewpoint narrative. Almost all epic fantasy series seem to have this type of setup these days, and it definitely can work. However, the writer must make the individual tales relevant to the narrative as a whole but keep them different enough that each one is compelling on its own and filled with new situations. In The Mirror Empire, it seemed that the numerous stories got away from Ms. Hurley; they began to spread out into a mass of tangled threads that I personally needed a flowchart to keep up with, but they also began to get so repetitive that they blurred together until I found it hard to recall whose story I was actually reading at a given time.

Needless to say, I did not love The Mirror Empire. With its mirror world concept, the book had a wonderful foundation upon which to build a riveting, fantasy epic. However, just like a solid foundation does not assure a beautiful house, Ms. Hurley’s spectacular, fantasy ideas did not guarantee an engrossing story, and perhaps she realized this, which is why she began to rely so heavily on “shocking” elements. However, all the reversal of sexual roles, rape, sexual torture, ritualistic cannibalism, mass murder, and teenage sex slaves in two universe can’t conceal when a story is convoluted and dull at the same time.

I received this book from Netgalley and the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. I’d like to thank both of them for allowing me to receive this review copy and inform everyone that the review you have read is my opinion alone.

Profile Image for Amanda.
707 reviews96 followers
April 11, 2019
No rating. Work. Structural edit.

With the caveat that I edited this novel (and therefore no rating) - and here is the process:

In the acquisitions meeting for The Mirror Empire, I argued very strongly for us to take on Kameron’s novel. I thought it was incredibly clever, complex and challenging to the reader. And I also thought, “Good luck to the person who is editing the novel!” Then I found out it was me...

The reason I wished good luck to the editor? Because of the task involved in ensuring that The Mirror Empire was not *too* challenging, while still retaining all of the flavour and the authorial voice, and allowing Kameron’s ambitious vision to be realised.

Because I am the editor of this novel, I cannot provide a review of The Mirror Empire, so instead I am going to tell you about the experience of editing it.

On a personal level, I would say sincerely that, were it not for my experience with analysing the Malazan series for Tor.com, I would not have been able to edit The Mirror Empire. That series taught me patience in waiting for reveals, trusting the author to know where they were taking plotlines, and recognising that every now and then we, as readers, do need to be faced by a work that makes us think and expands our horizons.

On another personal level, I had edited YA novels mostly to this point and the idea of tackling well over 700 Word pages of manuscript was like a personal Everest!

And finally on yet another personal level, I was starstruck. Yep, I still get this way with authors I admire. How can I possibly tell an author who is such an effective wordsmith that they can improve their work?

Well, that is the role of an editor! To take the novel in front of you and consider what is going to make it better. How is the pacing? Is the author effectively carrying their reader with them? Is every scene necessary to drive forward the plot?

With The Mirror Empire, I felt that, in the form it originally came to me, the start of the novel was confusing in how each storyline related to each other, and the timeline involved. So my first request was to have some scenes switched around in order to have the reader invested from the word go, and not to spend too much time asking questions like ‘How, why, who?’

My next key issue was with the agency of the character Lilia. Although she was a young character, and therefore probably more inclined to follow adult reasoning and decisions rather than making up her own mind, I felt that she was incredibly passive. She needed more agency and work on her storyline to ensure that readers would engage with her.

It didn’t take me more than a few pages before I wanted a map. And, when Kameron suggested the idea of a glossary, I leapt all over that as well. It IS a hard novel, and anything that assists the reader in understanding locations and terms rather than having to spend time puzzling them out, hence removing them from their immersion in the novel, is welcome.

The gender aspect of The Mirror Empire is obviously a key part of what makes it so seminal in the fantasy genre – the understanding that characters do not fit into boxes, or onto a very black and white spectrum. I had dual concerns about this that I felt Kameron should address. One was that it felt as though the gender aspect was rather dropped in after a number of chapters, so felt a little bit whiplash. I wanted to see it introduced more gracefully and gradually. The second point was ensuring that, at no point, did it feel as though the genders/relationships described were there simply to play with gender – they had to feel organic within the world.

My key style of editing is to always try and approach a novel as though I were a fresh reader – someone who has no idea of the ultimate direction of the story, and who is starting this novel with absolutely no preconceptions. Because of this, the manuscript that I returned to Kameron had lots of questions: ‘I don’t understand why this character is acting in this way?’, ‘How would we know that this had occurred without seeing more of it at an earlier stage?’ I acted like a reader who needed to have a really good grasp on all the world and the characters in order to enjoy the novel, and so asked the questions I felt needed answering in order to improve the experience.

I also suggested gently that Kameron reduce the novel by between 10,000 and 20,000 words. It is a beast of a novel, and was even longer when I received it. Some scenes felt a little filler, so I marked out what I felt could be removed and still keep the novel focused.

I guess every editor is apprehensive when they send their editorial letter and the marked-up manuscript to their author. Obviously, WE think that we are making good suggestions, but there is always a fear that the author may disagree, or feels as though you are changing the ultimate nature of the novel. I think that we just have to be as diplomatic as possible, and always let the author know that we are editing the novel because we acquired it, which means we LOVE it. All of the suggestions come from a position of partnership, rather than criticism.

My final point is to refer to the reviews that I read of The Mirror Empire. Yes, I’ve been reading them! I’m so very glad that people are enjoying this novel and, indeed, finding it clever, complex and challenging. But please do not fool yourself that when I read something that suggests this section is too difficult, or that scene feels surplus, or this, or that, or the other, that I don’t kick myself and wonder if it’s something that I should have picked up as Kameron’s editor. I wanted this novel to be the very best it could be, and I think I helped somewhat, so it feels like a personal failure if readers then fail to engage. Even when it is just one reader. Editors, as well as authors, sometimes read reviews and have to bite their tongue or take a deep breath and accept valid criticism!

Thank you for reading this insight into how I edited The Mirror Empire, and I sincerely hope that you enjoy the novel when you choose to read it.
Profile Image for Stefan.
166 reviews224 followers
November 21, 2017
There’s a certain amount of trust you’ll need when it comes to reading a challenging book such as this.

Book that is a masterpiece in every way.
(But book that makes you feel uncomfortable.)
Clever, political, unapologetic and daring.
(But will achieve that by questionable deeds of questionable characters.)
Packed with vivid imagination and originality like none before.
(But it will be confusing if not given proper attention.)
Book that’s different.
(Book that is very different.)

So you need to trust that author intently wanted to question you, to ask of you, to shake you from most of those fantasy trope narratives you used to read about, and make you follow her story, the way she wanted to tell you – You: unprejudiced, unbiased and uninfluenced by any political or social norm you know of.
And not for the clear sake of aw, or enjoyment of quickly passing time while reading her book.
But simply for the sake of experience of leading an uncomfortable conversation.
Mostly with yourself.

Is it worth it? Trusting this author to read such a book? Book that will ask you to open your mind, clear it perhaps, so that you can question real world around you?

So, what exactly is Mirror Empire ?
Usually here I draw a comparison to what a book mostly resembles to. “It’s This VS That” etc.
In this case such comparison eludes me. There’s nothing I can remember that is remotely similar to a world in this book.

World of two suns: Shar and Mora.
Four moons: blue Para, green Tira and purple Sina.
At the very end of archway, nearly dark satellite, elusive Oma.
When a proper moon is in orbit a certain magic user, so called Jista, can draw power from it.
So when a blue moon Para is in its zenith, now Para-Jista, can draw its maximum power. He can do it either for healing or maybe some other vicious purpose.
All moons, except Oma, quite regularly orbit around the world, and after 2000 years of hiding, dark satellite emerges on the sky.
And when Oma approaches – destruction comes with it.
Oma grants - its few users that cling in the world still – very useful power. They can open gates, portals to another, many of parallel, worlds that exists.
And in one, for them not so merry, day we encounter a mother, an OmaJista user, desperately trying to protect her daughter from attacking foe.
This is how we get introduced to Lilia Sona and watch her escape to another, parallel, world.

Through this book we follow 5 POV characters.
And I will tell you one thing: you will like none of them. Not because they are poorly written, no.
Actually they are extraordinarily written characters and by the end of the book none of them is the same character you met at the beginning. So character progression is there.

For instance, Lilia Sona . She starts as a kind, perhaps a main protagonist type, kid.
You root for her, she deeply cares for others, and she’s smart, naïve and falls in various misadventures, mostly not by her mistake.
And here comes that character progression. At misadventure #973 she decides that she had had enough.
She decides she’ll take matters in her own hands.
But that doesn’t stop misadventure #974 from happening. Neither #975, nor #976 etc.
Funny thing is, as you’re realizing she’s simply going from bad to worse – so does she.
And as desperate times calls for desperate measures she does something that draws out reaction from you like: “B**ch you didn’t!?”. Quite literally. :D
And you lose your interest and don’t want to follow her anymore… but.
That’s not the end of her characters progression.
Take the book, read the rest yourself.

OK, so that’s one. What about the rest of the characters?
Second one is Zezili Hasaria. Awesome name. Terrible person. She’s a….
Wait, have I mentioned this world is run by women?
No? Oh…

So, basically, one of the questions author asks is “What would have happened if a world is run mostly by women?”
Same s**t if it was run mostly by men. Take that however you want.

Zezili. Grand Captain. Lives to serve her Empress. Gets the assignment to slaughter innocent pacifists.
After genocide #15 she realizes that assignment doesn’t sit very well with her.
So, she takes a leave, goes home - and rapes her husband. Repeatedly.

Still here? Fascinating.

Here’s a quote:

“We have one shot at this,” Zezili said, “so don’t fuck it up.” Looking at the filthy, scar-faced girl next to her, Zezili suspected all the girl ever did was fuck up.”
– Zezili’s befitting thoughts on Lilia.

She has few quips.

“I long ago gave up trying to understand her motivations. She is equal parts manic brutality and strategic fuckery.”
– Zezili’s thought on her Empress.

And some random Zazili’s mumbling:
“People do not take actions based on logic. We make choices based on emotion. Every one of us. Then we use what we call logic to justify our choices.”

“And some of us believe in freedom of the individual over the tyranny of the common good.”

Yes, yes, yes, she’s not that bad… no, actually she is, she’s a monster.
But, as I said – characters progression.

Next is Daigan. Cyclical transgender assassin. Yeah, I know – an assassin. One of the few who can use power of moon Oma. Such a badass.

Akhio – man just wants to be shepherd and one of the many husbands of certain Meyna.
Ends up as a substitute leader of an entire nation instead of his now deceased sister.
Oh, and his nation is a nation of cannibals. And they eat their dead. So, he ate his… yeah.
Buuuuuut… exactly – characters progression!

And last, and certainly least interesting, POV character in this book – Rohimney. He’s a d**k.
No, he’s not. He’s just boring. Until he isn’t. Boring that is. He is still a d**k.

So. If you are still reading this - honestly I don’t know why you are doing that - I did everything I could think of to prepare you in case you decide to give this book a try.

I quite often tend to say how Steven Erikson with his Malazan Book of the Fallen series is at least 20 years ahead of all of the rest of fantasy writers.
It seems to me that Kameron Hurley is first that's able to actually catch up with him earlier.
This book is a masterpiece. From worldbuilding, through characterization to prose.
But this book is not for everyone.

As Francis Bacon said:

“Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.”

No, not that one, Goddamn it.

“If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts he shall end in certainties.”
Profile Image for Dara.
216 reviews49 followers
July 30, 2018
I had really high hopes for this book. Powerful women, sentient plants, mirror worlds... but ultimately, I was left disappointed.

Kameron Hurley has created a really interesting world. There are multiple universes, powers that are governed by satellites that orbit the planet, and blood magic. People use dogs and bears instead of horses, women run the government, men are used for little more than sex, and there are doppelgangers. Sounds like the makings of a fascinating book (minus the whole inequality thing... and ritualistic cannibalism).

Unfortunately, the world is populated by boring, forgettable characters. I love the fact that women are so prevalent but they have no personality and are incredibly shallow. I had no investment in any of them and eventually got so tired of reading about them that I speed-read the last 30% of the novel.

There's some plot to this book but it's bogged down by uninteresting characters and confusing factions. Some characters change gender randomly and it gets hard to keep track of everyone. I enjoyed Hurley's writing style but it wasn't enough to keep me interested. I wish she spend more time getting the reader invested in the world and characters rather than packing in so much plot.

Another problem I had: characters often did things because the plot demanded it rather than doing something for their own reasons/motivation. Their actions didn't feel organic and didn't make any sense. They would jump from one line of reasoning to a completely different one with no rhyme or reason.

I don't know if this book wasn't for me or if it's truly a dud. I'll give Hurley the benefit of the doubt and say it wasn't for me.

Profile Image for Mogsy (MMOGC).
2,034 reviews2,605 followers
September 5, 2014
3 of 5 stars at The BiblioSanctum http://bibliosanctum.com/2014/09/05/b...

Needless to say, putting this review together was quite difficult for me, on account of how very different it is from the one I thought I would be writing. I made it no secret I had high hopes for this one, not only because of the buzz the book has gotten since the ramp up to its release or all the glowing reviews it has garnered, but also I was personally very excited to finally read my first Kameron Hurley novel. Truly, I wanted to love this book and was set and prepared to add my praise to the chorus, but as a reviewer I also have to be honest with others and with myself when a book does not meet expectations.

In the end, I think The Mirror Empire is one of those cases in which I can recognize its literary merits and applaud the author’s designs to challenge the conventions of epic fantasy fiction, but the story itself failed to connect with me on any deeper level and I found myself strangely dissatisfied when I completed it.

First, a bit about the book: The world is about to be shaken up by a cataclysm, and as the dark star rises to herald this event, you have an orphan girl named Lilia who would anything to fulfill a promise to her mother, even if it means putting herself in danger and having to face down unspeakable threats. In another place, a new Kai ascends to power after the suspicious death of his sister and fights to keep his place and his land together even as legitimacy of his rule is called into question. Meanwhile, a young boy said to be destined for great things undertakes a journey to discover himself and his loyalties, for one day he ultimately must choose between sides. And on the battlefield, an able but brutal general faces a similar predicament, caught between her heritage and her oaths to the Empress.

As you can imagine, there are a lot of perspectives involved, and many more characters besides. That should have been my first warning sign. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t mind a big cast of characters (when you’re into epic fantasy, I think that sort of comes with the territory). However, that also means a greater onus on the author to strike a balance when it comes to giving every one of her players enough time to resonate with the reader, and to pace their sections accordingly. Hurley falters in this area by trying to introduce too many characters, both main and supporting, without sufficiently developing them – especially in the beginning. Not only do the odd-sounding names make it harder to remember who’s who, but ironically they also make it all the more obvious when new major to semi-major characters are still being introduced even past the halfway point of the novel. It makes it that much hard to sit back and just enjoy the story when so much effort is going towards trying to keep all the characters straight.

However, to be fair, you should know that I am a “Characters First” kind of reader. Arguably, I place an inordinate amount of emphasis on characters and how effectively I can engage with them. They absolutely don’t have to be admirable or even likeable, but I have to care. Characters are like the foundation of a story – everything else tumbles like a house of cards if I can’t care about them. Naturally, anything they do or anything that happens to them isn’t going to impact me in any meaningful way. The biggest issue I had with this book is the lack of any strong characters, in the sense that none of them were very memorable. Hurley doesn’t develop any of them nearly enough, and her pacing is haphazard and disorganized, so that many long chapters could go by before returning to a perspective character, and then I find myself asking, “Who are you again?” That shouldn’t be happening.

The only one – ONE out of a half dozen or so main characters and at least four times as many supporting characters – that I found myself interested in was Lilia, and that’s likely just because she was the first to be introduced in the prologue. Zezili, Captain General of the Empress, was a close second, and probably because Hurley went to great lengths to make her memorable but did so by taking the easy way, presenting the general as archetypically evil, the cruel mass murderer and an unfeeling lover. Everyone else faded into the background, which unfortunately made me feel very indifferent towards any events of significance, including plot twists or unexpected character deaths.

But look, I’ve gone on for long enough about the negatives, and I don’t want to make it sound like I downright disliked this book, because I didn’t; so I think it’s time to talk about the positives. There were a lot of things I enjoyed about this book, not least of all was the world building. So much praise has been heaped onto this facet of the novel and I have to agree 100% with everything that has been said about originality, spirit and vividness of the universe and cultures of The Mirror Empire.

My favorite thing about this book is that it is bold, it is epic, and it is refreshingly different. I love the idea of two realms clashing together in a catastrophic world-shattering event, and also the more minute details like the sentient flora and giant carnivorous plants. Hurley is a great writer with an incredible imagination, and she’s at her best and in her element when she’s actually not trying so hard to turn things on their head or to be over-the-top. I can’t stress how important it is for both authors and readers to examine and confront the status quo and current state of fantasy, but doing something for the sake of doing it is also rarely interesting. Admittedly, Hurley is not at all subtle when it comes to her attempt at subversion in this novel, but at the same time I still respect her immensely for her steadfast interrogation of the genre.

These days, one can probably find some degree of social commentary in many works of speculative fiction; however, my favorite ones tend to be those that arrive at their messages organically, part and parcel with compelling storytelling, starting with well-developed characters. Since it’s the characters that fell flat for me in this case, I just couldn’t immerse myself in the story. It certainly wasn’t for the lack of trying, but as I’ve explained, I’m also aware I have some rather nitpicky and particular tastes. Despite my tepid feelings for this novel, I believe the accolades are well-deserved. Sure, I didn’t love it, but then I’m glad so many others did.
Profile Image for Michael Underwood.
Author 37 books254 followers
August 26, 2014
When we held the acquisitions meeting at Angry Robot to decide whether we were going to offer on The Mirror Empire, I told my colleagues that I would knife fight a man to get this book on our list.

Having read the whole revised novel, I would have fought three.

One of my favorite epic fantasies in recent memory. Lush, intense, provocative, sophisticated, and with an opening sequence straight out of a AAA Xbox One game.

Just go ahead and buy this one. Trust me.
Profile Image for Niki Hawkes - The Obsessive Bookseller.
725 reviews1,204 followers
May 28, 2020
[4.5/5 stars] Mirror Empire is one of the most unconventional books I’ve read because of its almost ruthless execution of ideas. Hurley doesn’t take time to explain anything, throwing you straight into the fire on the first page. It reminded me a lot of my experience with Erickson’s Gardens of the Moon. The world-building was rich and vibrant and the plot was so thick, it required a ton of concentration. Even now, after finishing my careful read of Mirror Empire, I still can’t be totally certain I’ve kept everything straight. And that lack of basic accessibility is what makes it difficult to recommend. But in my opinion, it’s worth the effort.

Hurley surprised me in a couple places at her bold plot decisions (a few of which are still lingering with me). She’s not afraid to be unconventional in every sense of the word, and that break-the-mold attitude is probably why I’m so drawn to her storytelling. The thing is, I have seen a lot of the elements she included in Mirror Empire before and have even criticized a few authors lately for trying them. The difference seems to be in execution. For example, the erratic decision-making some of the characters exhibited would’ve driven me crazy had it not been written so deftly. It just goes to show. If you can write superbly, you really can get away with a lot. Hurley gained my trust early, and strengthened it as the book went.

Let’s talk about the world-building for a minute. It was easily my favorite element, but that’s usually the case with me. I absolutely loved all the unique flora and fauna (which played an active role in the story), the different cultures and mannerisms, the magic system, and the general concept of the story (alternate realities… my fingers are crossed it doesn’t get too convoluted). Reading this truly transported me to an alien world and dazzled me while I was there. I may not have a full grasp on what the plot is doing, but the cool atmosphere is definitely going to keep me coming back for more. I’d also like to mention the radical way Hurley played with gender roles. It put into a poignant perspective all of the abuse women suffer in fantasy (and real life) that I usually kind of just glaze over as “typical” in my mind. Reading about atrocities done to men in these manners was a bit of a shock because my pre-conditioned brain wasn’t prepared for it. I’m sure this element will be a point of controversy for some readers, but for me it provided an insightful food for thought on some deeply ingrained biases. To be clear, abuse in any form is unacceptable, and I don’t particular enjoy reading about it, but I do think it’s good to shake up the status-quo every now and then to challenge those biases.

Another thing I’d like to mention is Hurley’s character construction. These people are really flawed (aka, somewhat normal, lol), which creates an awesome story of duality where you’re not quite sure who to root for. The further I got into the story, the more unlikable some characters became (and vice versa) and it perpetuated my interest in them because I don’t have it all figured out at this point. That’s actually another reason this book might be hard to recommend – the characters aren’t accessible at all. The book gives you a pit-in-your-gut feeling while you’re trying to figure them out – what’s their motive?! What are they going to do next?! Add to that a few fascinating enigma characters, and we have a cast guaranteed to keep you on your toes.

Recommendations: this book hit the spot for me with it’s great world-building, unconventional writing style, and interesting (flawed) characters. It’s hard to recommend because it’s rather dense and inaccessible. If you’re looking for a light read, this won’t be your jam. However if you’re looking to really immerse yourself in a unique new world(s) and don’t mind books that require a bit more concentration, give this one a go! I’m reserving final recommendations until I finish the series, but so far it’s a strong start!

Via The Obsessive Bookseller at www.NikiHawkes.com

Other books you might like:
Gardens of the Moon (Malazan Book of the Fallen, #1) by Steven Erikson When the Heavens Fall (The Chronicles of the Exile, #1) by Marc Turner Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell by Brandon Sanderson Daughter of the Empire (The Empire Trilogy, #1) by Raymond E. Feist A Shadow in Summer (Long Price Quartet, #1) by Daniel Abraham
Profile Image for Choko.
1,203 reviews2,583 followers
May 9, 2020
*** 3.75 ***

This is a very imaginative and ambitious project the author has tackled. I think I didn't get the full intended experience from it, because for some reason I went into it thinking it is an Epic Fantasy. I made that mistake when the story started with the change in circumstance for a little girl and there is a grand scale war going on in at least two parallel worlds. My brain naturally tried to find characters to root for, and I was even OK with them being very flawed, expecting them to grow into people I could cheer on. That was my mistake. The deeper into the book I went, I started getting aggravated with the choices characters were making, with the seemingly needless violence and the rashness of actions which were never concerned with possible consequences... Those are the ones that usually led to tragedies and I felt were used as shortcut to rise ire in the reader or to put the character in unobtainable situations... If any of them just stopped to think for a second, we would have a much shorter book...

So, after I read for a while, I realized that the predominantly female dominant characters had lulled me into not accepting the very obvious - this is not an Epic Fantasy with characters fighting for the Dark or Light sides. This is a very well though out Grim-dark Fantasy, and if we didn't have the swap of the traditional male-female roles in this world, which is going through a cyclic cataclysmic event, I would have accepted it as such much faster than I did. Once my perception was adjusted, it became a much more interesting and fulfilling read.

In this system of alternate worlds, there are two Suns and at least 4 moons/satellites, which ascend or decent according to their natural orbits... The magic system is connected to those moons and the people who can access their power can draw on it best while their moon is in Ascension. The dark moon Oma only ascends every two millennia and every time this happens, some of the alternate worlds die and their inhabitants try to open a gate to the world least likely to be destroyed. However, every person on every world has a doppelganger on every other world and can not cross over unless their double is already dead on the other side. Thus mass murders ensue and depending on which side you are on, they either seem like the only choice for survival, or cruel mindless slaughter... This dilemma leaves very little space for characters who are "good" or "evil" ... You as a reader are put in a position to understand all sides and not necessarily agree with their actions, but be able to put yourself in their shoes and think what would you do in order to stay alive and help your loved ones survive... There are only gray characters with gray choices and murky morals...

I would not recommend this for very young readers, despite some of the main characters being young. The violence is a bit too much for the new reader. The world is very interesting and the story is fascinating, so I am looking forward to the next book.
Profile Image for Monica.
387 reviews84 followers
August 24, 2014
This review was originally posted on Avid Reviews: www.avidfantasyreviews.wordpress.com

Every once in a while a novel comes along that is so innovative it has the potential to redefine and an entire genre. Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley is such a novel; an epic fantasy that is truly unique and remarkable. Hurley’s first novel God’s War won several awards for best debut novel in 2011, and was nominated for an Arthur C. Clark award, a Nebula award, and a Locus award. Hurley is not a newcomer when it comes to writing amazing novels that make the speculative fiction community take notice, but Mirror Empire is even more ambitious and groundbreaking than any of her previous work. In fact, her writing style alone is so distinctive that it alone will most likely cause this novel to be polarizing among its readers, much like the Malazan novels by Steven Erickson. There will be many readers who absolutely fall in love with Mirror Empire, but I also anticipate that many readers will find Hurley’s writing style too hectic, be weighed down by the number of POV characters and the scope of her world building, or find her reversal of gender roles and exotic setting too strange. It is definitely not a novel that everyone will be able to engage with, but those that do are in for a spectacular treat.

The story begins with Lilia, a young girl whose home is attacked by invaders. Lilia’s mother is a blood witch, and to save her daughter she opens a portal to another world and shoves Lilia through it, only to orphan her in a place that is both alien and eerily like her own. Lilia’s memories of that night are incomplete, and she is unaware that she has been thrust from a world on the brink of destruction. It is not until her old world starts to seep into her new one, and brings the threat of annihilation with it, that she starts to uncover her bloody past and the rising of a dark star that will bring power to a few, mayhem to all, and a war between two worlds.

Though this novel is everything that I could wish for and more in an epic fantasy, I have to warn potential readers that the disparate plot lines and chaotically fast paced writing style will confuse the hell out of you for some time before the beauty of the story starts to unfold. It is similar to Erickson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen in that way, but luckily the complete foreignness and alien wonder of Hurley’s world building made me want to stick with the story from the very first chapter, no matter how baffling the plot was at times.

I also found the intellectual ambitions of the novel kept me occupied during the places in the plot where the sequence of events became too dislocated. I was especially impressed with Hurley���s reversal of gender roles, where women are the warriors and heads of households, and the men have to deal with issues like rape and virtual ownership by their wives. I loved that Hurley made gender dominance just as horrifying from the opposite perspective, while at the same time showed the reader that both men and women are capable of both good and evil, and that to be human is to be subject to one’s society and the fight for survival at any cost.

Mirror Empire is very dark in tone, and the violence and detailed depictions of the horrors of war are the common thread in the novel’s otherwise disparate plot lines. Hurley’s writing rivals the darkness of authors like Mark Lawrence and Joe Abercrombie, and she manages to multiply their gritty brutality to a worldwide scale. In Mirror Empire there are no characters that are untouched by war, and therefore none that can escape both causing and living through atrocities.

It is amazing how Hurley can take ideas that are so universal for the basis of her plot and setting, and from them create a world that is so utterly foreign to the reader. The idea of mirror realities or dimensions is far from original within the fantasy genre, and basic human qualities like moral ambiguousness are the foundation for many of the story’s themes. Despite this, more imagination and ingenuity was put into the novel’s world building than any other book I have read. From structures and weapons made/grown from organic materials, to walking bloodthirsty trees, dogs and unrecognizable bears substituted for horses, and a magic system that is derived from the planet’s moons, you are unlikely to come across a fantasy set in a world so aesthetically different from our own. The cultures of this world are vastly dissimilar as well, with the reversed gender roles, and one of the prominent societies being unabashed cannibals. But the basic human tendencies are still present, and Hurley’s ability to highlight human nature by putting it in the middle of a completely alien setting is both clever and fascinating.

Obviously, I would not recommend this novel to anyone looking for a light and fun read. Mirror Empire is an epic undertaking that will sweep you away even before you read enough to make sense of the plot and multiple POV characters. It is a very dark book, and an extremely imaginative one, and it is only the very beginning of a series that promises to be vast and wonderfully weird. If you are looking to kick back with some easy entertainment, I advise you to look elsewhere. I would recommend this novel to anyone looking for a challenging read in a dark but epic setting.

My rating: 8.5/10

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley and the publisher in return for an honest review.
Profile Image for Silvana.
1,151 reviews1,118 followers
November 16, 2019
Reread with SFBC folks (November 2019)
Still loved it! Found another thing I like from this book i.e. it has several POV characters who are mature, older women. As I am in my 30s now, it's great to see the women in my age group (or beyond) represented in the books I read.

First read (March 2016)
Kameron Hurley's books always blew my mind with her gender reversed roles. Maybe because I live in a country/region in which women are still widely marginalized in every strata. In this first salvo of the Worldbreaker Saga, a reminiscence of the Bel Dame Apocrypha series (which are excellent!), she completely reconstructed what it means to be a woman or a man, or even a person. In this book, I read about a society with five gender roles, husband-consorts/slaves, unusual polyandry/gamy/multipartnership, and other interesting combinations. The interactions, the customs, the taboos (or non-taboos) captivates me completely.

And the magic system. Holy crap, it was marvelous. Magic that controls the element or whatever living being is not new in fantasy. Or even magic that draws power from celestial beings (I could only think of Sailor Moon, so sue me). But here, the description of how it works and what can the magic-user can do with their power is so vivid and enthralling. Someone who is gifted can call on the power of his or her star. Just in case you ask, I'm a tirajista.

Plot, characters, action scenes, dialogue, and obviously worldbuilding, I guarantee you'll love them. Hurley is a master of all of these important factors; factors that all readers must take into account when reading and rating a book, not just fantasy.

My only complaint is that the many clan and people's long names sometimes confused me. There is a glossary at the back, though, maybe that would be helpful. I found out late. And like the A Song of Ice and Fire series, expect LOTS of names. With vowels. No annoying apostrophes though, thank Oma.

I'll definitely continue reading the next novel, which is already available, yippee!
Profile Image for Kitty G Books.
1,551 reviews2,937 followers
January 17, 2016
This is a book I really, really wanted to love becuase it started out so very strong. I read this as a buddy read with Paul and Mercedes too, and we all agreed that right from page one it was incredibly gripping, original and very filled with fun stuff. However, as it went on I felt as if although Kameron Hurley was doing some very original things with gender, mental health, deformity, and acceptance and LGBTQ characters and moments, these elements felt more thrown in to shock the reader, rather than as an important part of the story. I really wanted to have an excellent reading experience with this becuase there was so much which I felt was done well. Unfortunately, it was one of those books where the complexity got to be too much and I didn't feel like the author had full control of her story at times. The world was took over the plot and characters to the extent that in the end I didn't really care about what happened to who.

The basic premise of the story is that we follow a couple of characters; Zezili, Lilia, Roh and Ahkio in their rather original world where there is an ongoing and mounting wartime ahead. Each of the characters is unique in some way, for example Lilia is crippled, Zezili takes on a 'traditionally' male dominated role (she's a commander and not afraid to subject her husband to terrible things), Roh can see through magic, and Ahkio gets a position he never wanted or asked for. They are all interesting at first and yet as their stories went on I felt that the only two who still stood out to me by the end were Zezili, as I loved to hate her for all the things she did, and Lilia, who's story I just got more and more annoyed with.

This world has all sorts of original ideas such as whimsical plant-life, peculiar creatures, interesting magic and different dimensions, but these elements don't all work as well as they could, had they been thought about or explained further. We see a lot of potential from the set up of the story and we know that there's a lot of room for the development of the characters, but this quickly becomes overshadowed by 'Look, shock factor #1' 'Wow, shocking moment #2' etc. and so the development suffers.

I also felt as though we never truly get to know our characters becuase there are very few moments where we get to see a genuine friendship forming or any inner monologue which would have helped you to feel more connected. I just wanted to know more about their motivations, and then maybe that connection would have strengthened the overall story.

At the end of the day I now Hurley was clearly going for world-building before everything and I think that this definitely worked at the start, but then when the story got involved it just felt lacking as it wasn't as developed or explained as the world. Things became murky and convoluted, and sadly it just didn't have the payoff moment I was waiting for at the end and the characters actually did things which really didn't seem realistic or sensible to me.

I wanted to love this, but in the end I had to give it a 2.5*s becuase even with all the very original ideas, the story and characters just fell too flat for me, especially at the ending, and I don't really feel any urge to continue on with the series sadly!
Profile Image for Eon ♒Windrunner♒  .
423 reviews467 followers
December 23, 2014
2.5 Stars

This book was a bit of a roller-coaster ride that I really wanted to love, but it didn't happen.

I had heard wonderful things about this book and author and was very excited to read it. We're talking mirror worlds, sentient trees and plants that want to eat you at every possible chance, magic systems linked to satellites, bears and dogs that are ridden for transport, infused swords and kick-ass females fighting wars, ruling empires and protecting men who are the weaklings of this world. Unfortunately it just never came together for me.

My biggest issues with this book, were the characters and the pacing. The author was just never able to make me care much about the characters and I never liked them much. I need at least one character to root for and just could not find one. Then there was the pace of it all, which just dragged for most parts of the book. Sure, there were glimpses of promise and I admit that I had moments where I thought the book might still surprise me and scrape out 4 stars (via a Brandon Sanderson-like final 100 pages), but these just fizzled out.

Ms. Hurley has written something truly unique, but just not to my taste. Luckily, there are many glowing reviews and I urge you to give it a try and hopefully your experience will be better than mine.
Profile Image for Mpauli.
157 reviews458 followers
September 20, 2014
The Mirror Empire is one of those books that plays heavily into my personal preferences of what I look for in reading Fantasy. It has a unique sense of wonder and one of the most imaginative world-buildings I've encountered in a long time.

Hurley hurls us into a world of bear and dog riding female warriors wielding energy-infused wooden swords. She offers us a seat at the table of a ritualistic society of cannibals. She lets us wander through organic buildings made up of vines and mushrooms.
She offers a fascinating magic systems based on ascending and descending sattelites that is very easy to understand, but offers a lot of depth. I could go on and one, but lets not run wild too soon.

The novel is very demanding of the reader, due to Hurley's huge cast. We have 6-8 pov character, with 4 of them being the main focus of the novel. Around each of them there are a lot of side-characters, factions and organizations. We visit 3 different countries and also another universe. That sounds intimidating? It kind of is, but the constant sense of wonder immerses you into the world and learning about the different cultures is fascinating and a lot of fun.

Let's talk a bit about the characters, cause they seem to be the main issue for the people who didn't connect as much with the book as I did.

First off we have Lilia, an orphan working in a temple within the nation of Dhai. She lives as a drudge and has a broken foot that she got while being exposed to poison in the prologue of the novel, where her mother, a blood-witch, tried to defend her from invaders.
Lilia is all about the promise she made to her mother on this day and wants to get back to her, not knowing how far away her mother really is.

Her best friend at the temple is Roh, noble-born and an acolyte who trains to be an Ora (priest) and is able to channel Para, one of the 4 sattelites that bestow magic upon the world.
But secretely his wish is to be a sanisi, a warrior-assassin. But those are only part of the Saiduan military and the nation of Dhai and Saiduan only have a reluctant peace agreement.

The third major character is Akhio. After the sudden death of his sister he's the last heir to the seat of Kai, the leader of the Dhai nation. But in Hurley's world male and female stereotypes are switched and Akhio's rule as a weak male leader is not unopposed, so he needs to navigate the court very carefully while also investigating his sister's death at the same time.

The last major character is Zezili, a general in the army of Dorinnah, the third important nation we get to know. Dorinnah enslaved a huge amount of the more peace-loving Dhai. Zezili is a brutal warrior, who is loyal to her empress and abusive towards her husband.

With Hurley we always seem to remain a bit outside of the characters. There is some internal monologue for each character, but mostly we only get to know their thoughts on current events and have to deduct a lot of their attributes by their behaviour.
That seems to be off-putting to a lot of readers, but I found it rather interesting, cause the characters are more like people we meet on the street and the reader is encouraged to make up his mind about them.
So if you're a reader for whom the connection to the characters is the most important feature of a novel, you might want to lower your expectations for this book and might deduct a star from my rating.

For me the character issue was not that bad, but is still the major reason, why I didn't give all 5 stars to the novel. But regarding world-building, plot and atmosphere the novel earns the full score from me.
And please keep in mind that the novel is targeted towards adults. The bleakness of the world, the brutality and violence is in no way meant for under-age readers.

If you're looking for themes, gender-equality is of course one of the main topics of the book by the reversal of male and female roles. And if we perceive it like a swap, then the novel actually shows us our own bias towards gender-roles and abilities.
If we say "She just puts male characters into female bodies" we actually acknowledge our own gender-bias and Hurley lets us look into the mirror of our own misconceptions.
"The Mirror Empire" is therefore not a random title, cause the author constantly askes questions of the reader and shows us a bit of who we are and how we look in that mirror.
This also plays into the theme of the parallel universes, where different versions of ourselves exist. Those other egos of ourselves show us how different certain changes could make or lives and our perception of ourselves, so issues of self-awareness are another important theme of the novel.

So, overall I can highly recommend this novel, especially if you're looking for unique world-building, sense of wonder and themes of self-awareness and gender-equality. Can't wait for book number 2.
Profile Image for Rob.
848 reviews535 followers
August 1, 2016
Executive Summary: This book didn't really live up to the hype for me, but it might for you. I'd like to give this a 3.5 star rating, but I just can't round that up to a 4 star.

Full Review
This book was getting a lot of hype from my circle of friends. Several of them seem to read nothing but ARCs these days so I always seem to get reviews and recommendations of books that are coming out. That coupled with the very reasonable ebook cost made picking this up a no brainer.

This book took a very long time to click with me. I really liked the last 25% or so, but the first 75% was good but not great. I had no problem picking it up every night, but it was never really a book I hated to put down or was rushing to pick up.

The world building is pretty different from most of the stuff I've read, and that's hard to do these days. I like the concept of mirror worlds a lot. That's probably the thing that will keep me reading this series. It's really a sort of epic fantasy novel with a sci-fi twist.

My main issue with this book was the characters. I just never connected with any of them. It's one thing to make "grey" characters who are neither good or bad, but they have to be likable. I need to understand why they live in that gray area, and it can't be because they are selfish and do whatever they want to without any thought to the consequences or how it will impacts others.

I was pretty excited at the idea of a matriarchal society to change things up. This may be an unpopular opinion, but it just came off feeling gimmicky to me. Maybe the idea was that you can put female characters into the same roles as male ones and nothing would change, but if so that doesn't work for me. I want it to be different.

Her characters didn't feel like women to me. That isn't to say they needed to be defer to a guy, or staying behind while men do all the fighting. Several other writers have created vicious women, strong women, smart women that break the tropes for women in fantasy while still feeling like women to me.

Most of Ms. Hurely's characters felt like male characters shoved in women's bodies. She plays with gender in this book a bit too. People can sort of choose what gender they want to be, and one of the character's genders is constantly changing. None of that bothers me, but I am sort of confused about it's relevance to the story. Maybe there isn't one, or maybe we'll find out later. I'll be curious to see which.

The book is very well written. It's very dark though. I wasn't expecting that. There are a few pretty cringe worthy parts. Overall this book had a lot of potential that just fell a bit short on the execution for me.

I'll likely be continuing on with this series, but I probably won't be rushing out to get the next one when it comes out.
Profile Image for carol..
1,537 reviews7,880 followers
Shelved as 'don-t-count'
January 29, 2015
I give up. I'm just not an epic-war kind of reader. I made it to about page twenty. Certainly an interesting beginning with the magic-infused plants. The mother-daughter sacrifice can be a bit of a turn off for me. I feel like I want a different kind of story--back to the library with this one.
Profile Image for Althea Ann.
2,232 reviews1,016 followers
September 1, 2014
Hurley goes epic with 'The Mirror Empire'!
Previously, I've read her 'God's War,' and absolutely love it - it's one of those books that I randomly recommend to people looking for groundbreaking new sci-fi. Personally, I think I prefer the more personal, closer focus.
As the title might indicate, this is a tale of Empire - Empires, actually. It's big, sprawling and very, very ambitious.
The main story is one that's definitely in keeping with the epic fantasy genre: One world is at threat from a parallel world. Through magic, denizens of one world can cross-over to another - but only if one's doppelganger on the other side has been killed. Cue lots of military action, invasion-planning, and nasty, nasty politicking.
Did I say 'nasty'? Nearly everyone in this book is a horrible, amoral, vicious person. If they haven't actually murdered anyone, it's probably just by coincidence that they haven't gotten around to it, or no one's ordered them to kill anyone yet. This is not one for the people who demand 'likeable,' 'relatable' characters (luckily, I'm not one of those people.)
I have to admit, it even took me a while to get invested in the characters. It takes a while to introduce everyone involved, and to get the scene set. (This is quite a long book.) However, I did feel that the payoff was worth the invested time. I'll also definitely be reading the sequel (no, nothing gets finally settled here - this is definitely first in a series.)
The striking aspect of the book is the worldbuilding. (As I said, the plot, while good, is fairly standard fantasy fare. The setting, however, is bizarre and fascinating - and not like anything you've read before.) The descriptions of poisonous, motile plants and freakish animals are wonderful. There are several very distinct races of people as well, and their cultures and conflicts are painstakingly drawn. Some of the tropes and themes will be familiar to readers of 'God's War,' but many are unique to this book.
Recommended for fans of Glen Cook, Gene Wolfe, and maybe Joe Abercrombie as well.

Many thanks to NetGalley for the opportunity to read an advance copy of this book. As always, my opinions are my own.
Profile Image for Sade.
312 reviews220 followers
May 26, 2023


"This game is bigger than you"

Kameron Hurley new book The Light Brigade is currently making waves as an amazing book. After reading The Mirror Empire, it's really not hard to see why. She's one bloody amazing writer.

"Oma, the dark star was creeping back into orbit"

and shit is about to hit the fan.....
I've read reviews that say the plot is confusing? the writing a bit meh? but that's not what i found when i read it.
Kameron introduces bad ass women, with political scheming and fuck all attitude that you can't help but marvel at. She doesn't drop the ball in engaging the reader with whatever machinations the characters are up to and i fully believe if you're looking to get out of the whole, same old same old fantasy trope, this book right here, this book is the one for you. No questions whatsoever.

When i pick up books written by women in this genre, this is what i want to see. Female characters who are unapologetic in their being. More than how amazing the plot is, Hurley has created characters who are unapologetic with their sexuality and gender. We have gender fluid characters, characters who get to choose their genders. Where sexual relationships are explored, its's not the typical heterosexual relationships you find in other books. For me this is a big win, because Hurley doesn't shy away from it, it's there it's bold and above all, it's beautifully normal.
This is what i wish the most for fantasy authors who decide to put in, whether it's family relationships, sexual or even conversations about gender, that they would go more out of what the "normal" construct for these relationships are or as normal as what the larger society needs them to be in any case.
You find that most fantasy authors, even though they create worlds with amazing magic systems, worlds from nothing & for the most part that could not be linked to our reality, are still so stuck on the biases you find in society today. So you would read a fantasy book that is out of the world (literally), that could never happen in this world but then they would still be stuck on women not being able to rule, women not being able to fight, and it absolutely baffles me that authors can create these amazing, amazing amazing worlds and cultures but still be so stuck on these biases.

😂😂😂 I got all carried away with my yay for equality preaching. But honestly this book hits all the spot and i went into it with blind faith. I think there may be a tendency to ex the book when you start because it does honestly get a tad confusing but i told myself, Sade you started Malazan without knowing jack shit about that world. Erikson basically started that book like everyone knew what's up and you loved it. So really how hard can understanding this book be?

All in all, if you're looking for something amazing and different from your usual fantasy reads, give this book a go....

Anyways i loved it, loved it, loved it.
4.5 Stars

Profile Image for Brian Staveley.
Author 24 books3,978 followers
June 2, 2014
I had the great pleasure of reading the ARC of this remarkable novel. From my blurb:

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.
Profile Image for Nathan.
399 reviews123 followers
July 21, 2014
Fantasy Review Barn

‘What one woman believes is evil, another thinks is for the greater good of her country.’

Nothing about this quote should stand out on its own, a fairly typical sentiment that tries to seem profound but really says nothing at all. A quote very much like it has a good chance of being found in most books with a defined protagonist. So why would it be pulled from a book to start a review? As always it is all about context; in this case two men having a very general conversation. See it?

‘What one woman believes is evil, another thinks is for the greater good of her country.’

There it is, such a simple change from the societal norm. A hundred times a reader will see a quote like this, and ninety nine times years of convention have set the default gendered pronoun. But there is nothing lazily done in The Mirror Empire. If women hold a dominating place in a world it would follow that the language should reflect that. Little details matter, and Hurley stuck to them.

The Mirror Empire will make your head hurt in a very good way. A nasty little puzzle that takes days to solve, the world slowly comes together to give the reader a fuller picture. Layers upon layers are there to dig through. And when you think it is sorted out expect to have your mental map redrawn again. Entire alternative dimensions have to be taken into account here. Typically when people speak of steep learning curves in fantasy it is because a lot of names are thrown their way. The steep curve in this book tosses in cultural conventions that require a completely different thought process with each character that is followed. Fear not though, at times the characters are fighting this learning curve right along with the reader.

It isn’t just gender getting a giant convention mix-up, though it is often in the mix. A few fellow cis male readers will no doubt squirm at times while reading the plight of the abused husband. Three genders appear to be the minimum within the various societies; at time up to five are present. Race is a spark for conflict as well, confused by the different roles each have within their own world. Even cultural taboo’s that are seemingly universal are taken to task, though I will leave a few surprises on that front for other eager readers. Something that made me laugh though, in this world where almost anything can happen, being called a sheep fucker is still an insult. So go ahead and use that if you need an anchor into this reality while reading.

Mental gymnastics aside there is a wonderful fantasy story here; a mix of old familiar tropes and unexpected turns. A world with carnivorous, mobile flora doesn’t change the political ambitions of the people living in it. Rulers rise, war is waged, magic is felt. The rising of a dark moon is giving way to magic more powerful (or perhaps easier to use) than the magic provided by waning moons. Eventually the various characters roles began to come together to provide a complete picture. From the young girl seemingly raised by her enemies to the war hardened general sent out to commit atrocities by her queen, no one’s role is apparent from the start but all clear up as the layers are unraveled.

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. This book deals with gendered expectations on every page yet could be read for the story alone; different conventions and expectations are ingrained into the societies portrayed so naturally that they shouldn’t even raise a brow. The world is alive, the world is unique, and the world is actually built rather than borrowed.

At its worst, and be clear The Mirror Empire is still very good even at its worse, it starts to bog down in its world. Taken at face value everything works out fine. But much like time travel there are certain lines of questioning that can kill the plausibility of alternative dimensions. Accepting the facts as laid down is something a reader can either do or not; for me I started questioning the ‘why’ of certain situations and had to step away from the book to get back into a state of mind that allowed me to stick the story as presented.

I would expect people mostly have an idea of what to expect going in. Hurley’s world is brutal and dark. Even characters that nominally can be considered protagonist do very nasty, yet very human things to stay alive and reach their means. Physical action is present but sparse; the whole book is a slow build to a quasi-conclusion that leaves as many questions unanswered as not. Well worth a read, and probably well worth the hype train that is slowly building around it.

4 Stars

Review copy received free from publisher.
Profile Image for Ryan.
137 reviews52 followers
March 14, 2018
The Good:
Like all Hurley’s stuff, this is absolutely all quality. It is intelligent. The storylines and the setting feel authentic despite big magic everywhere, and the scope is truly epic. Great ideas abound throughout the book, right down to tiny details; fork-tongued riding bears let you know that these aren’t in any way related to the bears of Earth. And if you like to see convention subverted then this is the book for you.

The Bad:
There was an undercurrent of bitterness to this work that made it read like a 540-page lecture from an angry ideologue. The grim spectre of gender identity takes the stage in just about every scene as these premodern characters live their lives in complete defiance of the human reproductive ecosystem, and the reader is aggressively berated every time xir suspension of disbelief falters. I tried thinking of these characters as a nonhuman species (elves perhaps) but unfortunately for me they were explicitly identified as human on more than one occasion. Maybe I skimmed the bit where they were shown to have forked tongues?

'Friends' character the protagonist is most like:
Lilia is equal parts naïve and awesome, like so many YA heroines, so she reminded me of Phoebe. Ahkio is sensitive, vulnerable and submissive but says all the right things – he is the postmodern alpha male, meaning he is like Ross, only not quite so ahead of his time.
Profile Image for Amanda.
236 reviews
July 16, 2017
4.5 stars

After reading Stefan's review I had to have this book! I can't do the book as much justice as he can, so read his review to be convinced. However, here's my two cents on the book:

Gender roles are totally thrown out of the window for this book and boy is that weird, then interesting and then totally cool and normal. Women that are assholes and treat their men like fragile possessions and others that have a neutral gender or mutate from one gender to the next throughout their lives. Really interesting to experience.
The book caught me and carried me away to this strange land where the vegetation is alive and deadly (beware of this book if you're a vegan!). The characters are well fleshed out, not necessarily lovable, they are all flawed, but I want to know what happens next to them!
I had read that this book is difficult to follow, and as I am currently reading Malazan all I could think was, challenge accepted! However, it didn't seem like much of a challenge. The book flowed very well and I understood pretty much everything I think. Seeing as how much there is going on I could probably get more out of a second reading, but thats how it works with almost all books.

Conclusion: awesome book, can't wait to read the next one! And I can blindly trust Stefan's judgement, thanks man!
Profile Image for Rosalyn Kelly.
Author 11 books82 followers
February 12, 2018
The Mirror Empire confused the crap out of me! But the worldbuilding was refreshingly unique and weird. So, although some of the time I wasn’t sure entirely what was going on, I really enjoyed it.​

It is set in a world (lets call it world 1) where the main action happens in three countries: Dhai, Saiduan and Dorinah. These three countries have a troubled relationship. The Dhai people were once all slaves and a rebellion 500 years in the past established the country of Dhai. It has a matriarchy although the new ruler is a man. Dorinah is a fierce matriarchal society led by an Empress where men are treated as objects and possessions. The country still has Dhai slaves. Saiduan is led by a male patron and is currently being invaded by a brutal, seemingly unstoppable force.

​HOWEVER, there is a second world/parallel universe, or mirror world, (world 2) that has the same people in it but has a different past. This second world is where the ruthless invaders in Saiduan are coming from. These invaders also want to take over Dhai and Dorinah.

The plot is basically how the three countries in world 1 come to realise about world 2 and work together, or not, to try to stop its invasion as well as deal with lots of internal issues and political wrangling in their own countries. Where this gets confusing is that we have multiple POV characters from each of these three countries – so many I can’t face going back in the book to count them. And some characters are both in world 1 and in world 2. These characters all have similar names and all sound exactly the same – there is zero distinctive voice to distinguish them (at least, imo).

The two most memorable ones for me include Lilia, a young girl who is in Dhai in world 1 but comes from world 2 and made a promise to her mother to find her again. But Lilia is wanted by Taigan, an assassin from Saiduan, to aid his/her own country (Taigan’s body changes from male to female). Gian also wants Lilia (but I was never clear which world Gian came from or why she wanted the girl?! And who was the Gian at the end?!). Lilia is a stubborn brat and does her own thing. Secondly, Zezili a female captain from Dorinah who, although vicious, loves her pet of a husband. She goes rogue. I didn’t actually like either of these characters, but was entertained by them.

It was the crazy weird world that I liked reading about: the matriarchal society in Dorinah that treats men like, well, like women are generally treated in most fantasy novels. They are secondary to the women, are stay at home husbands with zero responsibility and not able to travel without a female guardian, are uneducated and aim to look meek and pretty - Zezili’s husband wears a corset to keep his waist slim. The women are cruel and unforgiving.

There are also interesting takes on gender. In Dhai there are five genders and each person gets to pick theirs: female-assertive, female-passive, male-assertive, male-passive and ungendered. In Saiduan there are three: male, female and ataisa.

The plantlife is also alive and sentient walking trees thump around the landscape destroying things, as well as plants that try to eat people. The homes in Dhai are mostly made from living things that have been twisted and coaxed into buildings by magic. There is also a ‘Line’ made from vines and plants that people take to get from place to place.

Ah yes, the magic. Those who are gifted can draw magic from the four moons/stars/heavenly bodies in the sky, but only when their star is ‘in ascendant’ otherwise their power is weak. The three main stars come and go in the sky every decade or so, but the fourth star, Oma, comes around every few centuries and those who can channel Oma are very powerful. And when Oma is in ascendant bad things happen in the worlds. It’s on the rise, which is why the people from world 2 are now invading world 1.

I was pleased that there is a glossary at the back of this book as I referred to it continually to remind myself who was who and where was what. I found some of the scenes to be pointless (Luna falling through ice, Zezili’s husband’s escapade) and some of the writing to be frustrating when the same word was repeated multiple times in quick succession (e.g. in the prologue, ‘fence’ is used six times on the first page) and also when a character’s name was used over and over instead of the pronoun. Plus, there were some unanswered things – how did Zezili get so easily back from world 2 to world 1 to face the Empress? And why wasn’t the world 2 leader more pissed off with her?!

This is a book that I’ll likely remember for a while. I recommend it to those who want a change from the standard, textbook fantasy worlds and who aren’t intimidated by a huge cast of characters.

This review and more on my blog www.rosalynkelly.co.uk/blog
Profile Image for Olivia.
709 reviews120 followers
August 24, 2022
4.5 Stars.

Incredibly original, absolutely my jam. I need to re-read this and finish the series and then jot down all my thoughts.
Profile Image for Alexa.
481 reviews121 followers
Shelved as 'dnf'
August 8, 2016
DNF @ 30%? 40%?

I'm not sure if it's because I've been reading while commuting on the tube, but lately I've found it very difficult to commit to any long fantasy series (or any series at all!) But I think even in the best reading conditions I'd have struggled with this one.

For starters, this author doesn't do explanations. I don't mind being thrown in the middle of action, I prefer it actually! But wow, was this difficult to follow...

One of the things that is usually toted as interesting is the reversal of female/male roles. Which I'd have found interesting... if women in this book were more than just men without beards. The women are only powerful at expense of the men. And isn't that sad?

And the main characters! Sadly I found none of them interesting: one keeps crying for her mother, the other keeps trying to marry someone who obviously doesn't want to marry him... and the last? Well the last is just horrible, and you don't get to see enough of anyone else to actually care.

There are, of course, things I like: The fact that the author is not writing a book for the readers, she writing a book for the characters; this is their story and you're just along for the ride!

It just wasn't one I was interested in.
Profile Image for Mark.
486 reviews83 followers
September 14, 2014
This a very hard book to write about, others have done better than me.

Its very complicated, confusing and annoying irrating at times.

its a book with multi pov from a lots of characters who are very flat hopefully they will mature in future books.

but I did enjoy it, great world(s) building good plotlines and tension to keep us hooked.

its going to get a wide range of ratings from abandoned to 5star+++++ and I will understand why. This is not for everyone.

Profile Image for Markus.
473 reviews1,526 followers
December 13, 2021
This was definitely not bad but I'm not sure if I'll continue. There were a lot of positive things to say about the book, but it also had some considerable issues. Interesting concepts sometimes taken in rather problematic directions (which was simultaneously interesting and a bit offputting). I also did finish it months ago, so I cannot claim to remember everything that happened.
Profile Image for Nicky.
4,138 reviews1,009 followers
June 13, 2015
It took me long enough to get round to this one, I know. Props to Ryan from SpecFic Junkie for poking and prodding me to finally get round to reading Kameron Hurley’s fiction. I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy it, because I had read the start of both this and God’s War before, and bounced off. That seems to have been a timing/mood thing, because I found a lot to fascinate me this time. Hurley can really do weird, in ways that come to feel more organic than, say, China Miéville’s brand of weird. I can never forget that’s weird. Reading The Mirror Empire, carnivorous plants and mirror worlds and all the other details quickly settled into feeling normal for the reality I inhabited while reading the book. It was never not fascinating, but I learnt the rules, and I didn’t feel like bizarre things were there just to be bizarre. It was part of building a whole world with a coherent mythology.

The contradictions that other reviews I’ve seen have mentioned… well, I didn’t notice them. To me, the whole concept of the mirror worlds came together well. Likewise, the stuff people accuse Hurley of putting in just to be shocking. Like, the ataisa, people who are neither male nor female but somewhere in a grey area. That’s not new in speculative fiction at all, and it’s baffling when people say it is. It isn’t even new in the real world for people to feel that way. What’s shocking and new is apparently just the fact that Hurley includes them, matter of factly, and it doesn’t have to be plot-relevant. I’d love to know more about Taigan and why she is the way she is (I use ‘she’ because that’s how she identifies at the end of the book), particularly the fact that unlike other ataisa, her transformation is physical. But it doesn’t have to be plot relevant: it’s character relevant, it adds another layer to the world. Why not?

There’s also polyamory, queer relationships, female-led societies and relationships. None of that is shocking — or rather, if it is, then you’re living your life with blinkers on.

I did struggle with the rape elements in this story. The degree to which particular characters consent or not, whether we’re meant to see one character in particular as heroic. In the end, I felt that Zezili — for example — was a character with nuance; her relationship with Anahva was unequal, and it didn’t seem to matter whether he gave consent or not, to her. But I didn’t see that as being excused by the story. It was a part of the character, like killing innocents, like opposing the Big Bad of the book. Good and bad in one person, and not always distinguishable.

As for the complaint about a lack of strong male characters… uh, Taigan? Roh? Ahkio? Oh, I see, your problem is that they aren’t all traditionally strong (or male all the time, in Taigan’s case). But it’s nothing like the straight flip that people are making out: the female characters aren’t all one brand of strong, either.

In the end, I enjoyed this a lot. It does feel a little too dark for me at times, but there��s a lot to enjoy too; loads of world-building, interesting characters and relationships, etc. I’m looking forward to the next book, and to going back to God’s War.

Originally posted here.
Profile Image for Sarah.
639 reviews148 followers
December 2, 2019
This book took awhile for me to get into.  It's very dense, and there is a lot of information and characters to sift through.  However, once I got into the flow of it, from about the halfway mark on, I very much enjoyed this.

The plot is rather difficult to explain without spoilers, so I'll keep it simple.  We follow different perspectives of people living across a single land, in different positions of power and different kingdoms, as they are slowly invaded by a unified opposing force.

The world building here is very complex, if that's your sort of thing.  There's three distinct cultures, possibly four if we count the invading force.  They have their own hierarchies, their own customs and rituals, and their own ways of thinking.  One culture is a matriarchy, another a patriarchy, another governed by priests or priestesses. In one culture men are kept predominantly as slaves, and in another you may not touch anyone, even for a handshake, without first asking consent.  There's a lot of nuance and it can be difficult to keep track of at first.

The characters too are very complex.  A lot of them fall into those shades of gray areas where they're neither inherently good or bad, not really likable or unlikable.  I felt differently about some characters than my buddies did at any given moment.

Reviews on this one seem to be split, with some loving the way Hurley has subverted common fantasy tropes, and others frustrated with the story.  And I actually do understand the frustration with the story.  It's very slow for most of the book, mostly character driven.  This first book feels very distinctly like the prelude to the rest of the story.  It doesn't necessarily feel complete unless you're willing to continue.  There are a lot of loose threads to clean up in future books.

I do think there are some technical issues with it.  What stands out most for me is the number of POV characters.  I think there were a lot of viewpoints included that didn't need to be included because Hurley was trying to show us some other side to the story.  It felt like she was going for omniscient and just didn't quite make it.  Aside from that- we are not given any clues as to which POV we are seeing most of the time.  It resulted in me doubling back several times after reading ahead to figure out who was speaking.

It won me over in the end though, and I'm excited to continue on to book two in December!
Profile Image for Jason.
1,179 reviews256 followers
October 20, 2014
3.5 Stars

Kameron Hurley is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. There are some really outstanding aspects to this book. The world building and the magic are simply phenomenal. I really enjoyed this book even though it does not achieve top marks for me. For a first book in a series things can be forgiven and seeing that the base that Hurley has built is amazing, I will surely look to book two for redemption.

This book suffers in that the world and the magic within overshadow almost all the characters within. Taigan, will be the only one that I remember. He had all the best chapters. I loved her backstory. I wanted so much more of him.

The imagination and the writing style are top notch. Hurley has created an amazing universe that i cannot wait to explore. She knows how to write real Female Leads. Women to fear. Women that can carry the load. Women that can fight. Awesome stuff.

I enjoyed this book even with a few faults. I highly recommend fans of dark fantasy or strong female leads to run out and pick up a Hurley novel. You will be sure to love it.

Oh, yeah, Hurley dabbles in the new weird with all of her books as well...
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