Time to get cracking on that Fairy Loot Box read, and it was fantastic.
Customary warning: This is a reminder that these reviews are my personal opinions. My thoughts and feelings are not your thoughts and feelings. I may not always be the target audience for a book; sometimes I am. If I do not like a book, that doesn’t mean you’ll dislike it. If I love a book or simply like a book, you may hate it. Take everything I say with this in mind. If it sounds interesting to you despite what I’ve said, then go ahead and read it. You’ll only know you like something if you read it yourself.
Spoilers ahead, be warned.
That being said…
Mirage by Somaiya Daud
Synopsis From The Book
The crown of Dihya had been stripped from me, my face changed, my body broken.
But I was not a slave and I was not a spare. I was my mother’s daughter, and I would survive and endure. I would find my way back home.
In a star system dominated by the brutal Vathek empire, sixteen-year-old Amani is a dreamer. She dreams of what life was like before the occupation, and of receiving a sign from Dihya that one day she, too, will have adventures and travel beyond her isolated moon.
But when adventure comes, it’s not what she expects. She is kidnapped and taken in secret to the royal palace. There, she discovers she is nearly identical to the cruel half-Vathek Princess Maram. The princess is so hated by her conquered people that she requires a body double to appear in public, ready to die in her place.
As Amani is forced into her new role, she can’t help but enjoy the palace’s beauty — and her time with the princess’ fiancé, Idris. But the glitter and the royal court believes a world of violence and fear, and she soon realizes that one wrong move could lead to her death…
Short Synopsis By Me
For Amani the day she becomes an adult is the day that changes her life. Living under the regime of the Vathek Empire — one that has taken so much from her people already — it is one of the few moments of true happiness to remain. Marked with the blessing of her family and history, she is ready to step forward into her new life but it comes to her in a way she least expects it.
Stripped from her family, her culture, and blessing, Amani is forced to become the body double of the cruel Vathek Princess Maram, with whom she is almost identical. Her role is be perfect so none may tell the difference. To fail would mean her death. To succeed may change the world.
It is here in the palace of fear that Amani is taught forms of love that she did not know, and how to care for those she once did not. It is here in new identity, stripped of all that once made her, her, that Amani learns that masks made hide the heart, but the marks of one’s blessings are never truly erased.
Initial Thoughts Before Reading:
Space? Check. Evil Empire? Check. Body doubles? Check. This was going to be a ride. I could tell. I already love sci-fi (although I suppose you wouldn’t know that with my lack of sci-fi on my recommended reading list). Something about space operas is fantastic. I’m not typically one for star-crossed lovers. I don’t tend to like the drama. However, it’s a sci-fi with an evil empire. Body Double stories are so interesting when told well. I figure keep an open mind and everything will turn out fine.
Initial Thoughts After Reading:
Space? Check. Evil Empire? Check. Body double? Check. This whole star crossed lovers that I don’t typically like: sign me up! Perhaps I’m biased, simply because this is a sci-fi novel, but I was in love. The cultures, the history, the religion. It was simplistic to understand, with a premise that is no where near complicated to follow. Girl gets taken by the royals for something she can’t control, made to play a part she never wanted, and brought into the rebellion. Sound like a bunch of books? Probably.
I can not wait to read the sequels that will come out. I can not wait to see where the story goes. Chances are it will end in a way much like these novels tend to end, but I am excited.
What I Liked:
What Mirage does so clearly, is it builds the world. I’m have a great love for beautiful histories and cultures. Spoiler: this book had that. The world is established instantly. You are thrown in, jargon and all, with no room to do anything but hold on and keep going. The religion is solid, clear cut, and mythical. The cultures are vastly different and in their own ways charming and understandable. Then there is the history that is simple, but very important. Together we get a very well established world for what we do see.
Speaking of culture I want to talk about daans. What is a daan? It is the marking of a skin (think tattoo) that marks a child into adulthood. In Kushaila culture the designs are elaborate, beautiful, with symbolism, heritage, and blessings wrapped up into one marking upon the face: the daan. What strikes me as so important about a daan is the cultural significance. In Kushaila culture it is so packed full of meaning but for the Vath? For the Vath, our beautiful evil empire, it is savagery or barbaric. They are considered ugly amongst so many other things, and within the few remaining Kushaila nobles: outlawed. It is an erasure of their culture and from my perspective I understand both sides. Perhaps the Vath did it because of their lack of knowledge on the markings, but for an empire such as their’s, I’m more inclined to believe it is because they did know. What better way to take a person’s identity and history, than to literally strip it away. I’m a sucker for beautiful metaphors wrapped in culture and myth.
Our main character Amani is stripped of her culture, identity, and existence in a multitude of ways when she is taken to be Maram’s body double. The cumulation of this stripping happens in the early chapters when her daan is taken from her. Amani changes. She hardens. She becomes unlike the village girl she once was, with sharp words and a mastery of cruelty. Only she can never be truly cruel, and that shows in the way she treats others and treats her own culture and identity. Her change to become Maram may change her, but it does not erase her, only strengthens her. Early in the book Amani reflects that she will never be like her mother who was hardened by two wars having to survive horrors Amani could never fathom. The trails Amani faces and will face will harden her to become someone like her mother: hardened.Too often in books like these I’m dragged along trying to believe that the main character is smart, or changed, or different with little to no real belief on my part. I find these transformations of MC beginning to MC end, as little more than a farce — at least as of late. I don’t feel as if the main character has changed despite how much she says she has and repeats she has to herself. Amani feels changed to me, changed in a way will retaining what made her Amani, and that is important for me. How she develops from here will either break or reinforce my beliefs, but I have hope.
Amani, however, was not my favorite character but before we get to Maram, I will speak of the other characters. I liked this cast. Idris was dreamy, Nadine was horrific, and Tala was a great support. Each character played their role of support, with Idris getting a lot of development — which I loved, by the way. I can not wait to see how each of them go on from here.
Maram. When I was introduced to this character I knew I was going to like her. I did. I love her. I still love her. I see her. I see her hardened heart that was starting to open before Amani sealed it shut and I say to her, “I still love you.” This is a girl hated on one side (Vath) for not being pure, and mourned on another (Kushaila) for not being her mother. This is a girl who was taught to be cruel because she believes everyone hates her. This is a girl forced out of both cultures because she doesn’t belong and she can’t embrace the other while trying to belong. (i.e. she can’t embrace her Kushaila to be Vath.) She is hard. She is cold. She is cruel. She is beautiful. She is a true ice princess, and she will be Queen. This is to say I hope she becomes Queen. I hope in some way Amani is able to redeem her trust, and get Maram to be the Queen the people deserve to have, the Queen she is destined (in my opinion) to be. I believe it is possible. I love her and I will go down loving her.
- Amani’s love for Idris and vice versa was nicely developed, in my opinion, and was not the focus of Amani’s story.
- Poetry is so big in this book. I love it.
- The imagery and other metaphors
- The jargon that you are thrown into. I can not reinforce that for me, the best built worlds are the ones that exist outside the bounds of the pages.
- The book begins where it ends, which is always nice for me. I love it, when things come full circle.
What I Would Have Liked or Changed:
I want more on the Vathek Empire. I want to know more of their history and culture outside of what I know about the royal family. Amani doesn’t know much, other than their cruelty but they were not always cruel. It was alluded to that at one time they were peaceful upon their own planet. I want to know what God or Gods they worship. What histories and myths do they tell? Where does the cruelty come from? I want more on this empire so I can understand them better outside being the “evil empire.”
To say I was surprised with the King, King Mathis, having killed his family to succeed the throne, would be a lie. I am not angry with this plot development. I feel that it is placed to make him seem cruel and redeemable, but I don’t always like this plot. I want to know more of why, other than just a want for the throne. However, I would have been more angry by this if it was his only displayed form of cruelty. However, his immediate decision to kill hundreds of people when dissonance occurred later in the book was good enough for me. He is cruel. I suppose I’d just like to have seen more of him.
More Vathek politics. What is happening with the other colonies? What is happening with the other planets?
I don’t particularly love first person narratives, but I do understand when they are necessary. I do think, however, that this book could have been told in the third person.
Why You Should Read:
Culture, world building, and strong female leads. If what all I said above interests you, then that is fantastic. Mirage captivated me, and held me in. It made me excited from beginning to end. I would recommend this to my friends in a heart beat. Maram as a character is enough to recommend this to my friends. If you love Sci-fi and a bit of romance, this book is for you. Does it read as a Sci-fi novel? No. It reads more like a fantasy.
Only that matters naught, for fantasy and sci-fi are often one in the same.
Time Taken To Read
” ‘I wonder which of us is more cursed,’ She said, soft enough that Nadine would not hear. ‘You for looking like me, or I for looking like my mother?’ ” – Maram
“Silence is the most damning criticism.” – Idris
“Change takes bravery…” – Naimah, a woman of Kushaila
“And so I lost the game before it ever began.” – Amani
“All may see the stars, but few will see their forebears. And to those whose eyes see golden fire We say heed Us and listen.” – Words of Kushaila