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The Mirror Empire (The Worldbreaker Saga) Paperback – August 26, 2014
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Nominated for the Locus Award for Best Fantasy
Shorlisted for the Gemmell Morningstar Award
“With vividly inventive world building and a fast-paced plot, The Mirror Empireopens a smart, brutal, and ambitious epic fantasy series. Book two is already on my must-read list.”
– Kate Elliott, author of the Spiritwalker series
“The Mirror Empire is the most original fantasy I’ve read in a long time, set in a world full of new ideas, expanding the horizons of the genre. A complex and intricate book full of elegant ideas and finely-drawn characters.”
– Adrian Tchaikovsky, author of The Shadows of the Apt series and finalist for the 2014 Gemmell Legend Award
“The Mirror Empire is epic in every sense of the word. Hurley has built a world – no, worlds – in which cosmology and magic, history and religion, politics and prejudice all play crucial roles. Prepare yourself for sentient plants, rifts in the fabric of reality, and remarkable powers that wax and wane with the stars themselves. Forget all about tentative, conventional fantasy; there’s so much great material in here that Hurley needs more than one universe in order to fit it all in.”
– Brian Staveley, author of The Emperor’s Blades
STARRED REVIEW: “This is a hugely ambitious work, bloody and violent, with interestingly gender-flipped politics and a host of factions to keep straight, as points of view switch often. Although it is a challenging read, the strong narrative thread in this new series from Hurley (God’s War) pulls readers through the imaginative tangle of multiple worlds and histories colliding.”
– Library Journal
STARRED REVIEW: “Hurley (Rapture) reuses old tropes to excellent effect, interweaving them with original elements to create a world that will fascinate and delight her established fans and appeal to newcomers. Readers will blaze through this opening instalment and eagerly await the promised sequel.”
– Publishers Weekly
“The Mirror Empire is an extraordinary novel. The scale and invention here makes it essential reading but the characters make it remarkable. None of them are heroes and none of them have the comforting sense of having read the book they’re in. They’re all flawed, terrified people doing what they can to survive. Seeing them struggle even as the stakes are raised makes for a reading experience as packed as it is tense. Book 2 can’t get here fast enough.”
– Alasdair Stuart
“Taking epic fantasy down challenging and original paths. Thoughtful and thought-provoking with every twist and turn.”
– Juliet E. McKenna
“Hurley intelligently tackles issues of culture and gender, while also throwing in plenty of bloodthirsty action and well-rounded characters. This is a fresh, exciting fantasy epic that’s looking to the future and asking important questions. 4****/5”
– SFX magazine
‘‘The novel achieves what the most important fantasy strives for: it gives us a world the like of which we have never quite seen before, but that offers us some often unpleasant and provocative shocks of recognition.’’
– Gary K. Wolfe, for Locus magazine
“The Mirror Empire is a fresh, vigorous, and gripping entrant into the epic fantasy genre, able to stand toe-to-toe with any of the heavyweight series out there. I cannot recommend this novel highly enough.”
– SF Revu
“For me [The Mirror Empire] did all the things a fantasy should do – holding our own societies up to the light by reflecting off worlds that are very different. Add in a magic system where the users are only powerful some of the time, and semi sentient vegetation that is possibly more of a threat than the magic users, and I happily sank into this book with a satisfied sigh.”
– Francis Knight, author of Fade to Black
“Bold, merciless, and wildly inventive, Kameron Hurley’s The Mirror Empire begins an epic tale of worlds at war that will linger long in readers’ imaginations. If you’re looking for original and challenging fantasy, this is definitely the series for you.”
– Courtney Schafer, author of The Whitefire Crossing
“There’s a powerful yet elegant brutality in The Mirror Empire that serves notice to traditional epic fantasy: move over, make way, an intoxicating new blend of storytelling has arrived. These are pages that will command your attention.”
– Bradley Beaulieu, author of The Lays of Anuskaya trilogy
“The Mirror Empire takes look at epic fantasy patriarchy & gives it a firm kick in the balls… [it] will be the most important book you read this year.”
– Alex Ristea, Ristea’s Reads
“Hurley has bitten off an awful lot with her ambitious The Mirror Empire. And for those of us who are bored with a linear and predictable narrative, this is a very good thing. Hurley seems determined to supplant nearly every fantasy troupe, even down to her five-gendered social structure with group marriage and funerary cannibalism. These bold rejections of what we take for granted in our own society are illuminating in Hurley’s hands.”
– Sword & Laser
“In the two worlds of The Mirror Empire, we get Deadly Plants, Blood Magic, and yes, Brutal Women. The Mirror Empire is both a chance for fantasy fans to get to know Hurley’s writing, and for previous fans of her work to see what she can do in a new vein. And for readers new to her work, this is in many ways the best place to start. 4.5****/5.”
– Paul Weimer, SF Signal
“One of the most stunning epic fantasies I’ve read this year. The setting is unique and plays a major role in the story. A spectacular novel.”
– Books Without Any Pictures
“With her new epic fantasy series, Hurley has shown that she is no one trick pony. The Mirror Empire is a fresh, vigorous, and gripping entrant into the epic fantasy genre, able to stand toe-to-toe with any of the heavyweight series out there.”
– SF Revu
“There is so much to talk about in The Mirror Empire — whether you stick to the complexities and layers of its unfolding plot, or delve into its ideas about family and sexuality and human intimacy — and it’s Hurley’s staunch insistence on following her own drumbeat that has resulted in such a rewarding reading experience.”
“I can’t even tell you how much I liked this book. It was long, yes, but I didn’t mind it because there was just so much awesome happening. I classify it as a fantasy, but it could also be considered science fiction, what with the parallel universes and binary star system and all.”
– In Case of Survival
“At its best this novel is as good as anything I have read this year. Expect to hear ‘ambitious’ a lot; I couldn’t imagine the mental and physical mapping it would take to hold all these pieces together but hold together they do. The world is alive, the world is unique, and the world is actually built rather than borrowed.”
– Fantasy Review Barn
“The Mirror Empire is an interesting, raw-nerved work of epic fantasy built from the ground up…By the end of this first volume in her new series, the author leaves each of the main characters with a satisfying conclusion while putting to each of them new problems… May the author not keep us waiting too long for the second instalment”.
– Borrowed Worlds
“If I had known how good The Mirror Empire was going to be, I would have waited until after the sale and paid full price as a show of support to the author. As it was, I bought one of her other books to make up for it”.
– The Illustrated Page
“The Mirror Empire is a fast-paced and exciting read, and the start of quite possibly one of the greatest political dramas I have ever picked up.”
– Coffee on My Keyboard
“I loved this book. It’s a wonderful book. Kameron Hurley’s The Mirror Empire is essentially what I wanted Game of Thrones to be: it’s a truly epic fantasy which grapples with fraught ethical questions while immersing me in a meticulously built out world of wonder.”
– Clatter and Clank
“There is plenty of originality here, and a vivid, sweeping quality of culture that cannot go unnoticed and unrecognized. In terms of worldbuilding, it was top notch, and without a trace of the western aligned molds fantasy so often falls so neatly into.”
– The Waking Den
“The world-building is incredibly creative and, sometimes, brutal. I love it.”
– Mental Megalodon
“One of the best epic fantasy novels I’ve read in a long time. It’s the sort of fantasy with the perfect balance of violence and horror that gives you chills and thrills down your spine.”
– Fairy Bookmother
“A saga that fascinates mainly by its striking and original setting. An unstoppable mix of action, mystery, magic and adventures.”
– El Caballero del Árbol Sonriente
“Hurley forcefully flips every genre trope in her sights to create a work simply exploding with a kind of anarchic, creative ferocity. This is not your grandad’s epic fantasy.”
– To Boldly Nerd
From the Back Cover
In the end, only one world will rise - and many will perish.
- Publisher : Angry Robot (August 26, 2014)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 544 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0857665561
- ISBN-13 : 978-0857665560
- Item Weight : 1.25 pounds
- Dimensions : 5.16 x 1.67 x 8.56 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #338,752 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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I really, really tried, for over a year and a half, to finish this book. For three times I began reading it anew, went further in each time, but I just can't finish it.
I give up.
World-building is choppy, usually figuring out an established world is interesting, but this one is just too alien for me, I guess. She took her idea of women playing male roles and used it here, but in Bel Dame the idea felt necessary, there was a reason for it - all of their men shipped to war so they became precious and women had to pick up their roles more or less - but in this book, there is no foundation for the idea.
The characters were also too weird for me, I couldn't relate to any of them or even like any of them. I don't understand why they do what they do. Why Zezilii is beating her husband if she loves him, for example? That would work in reverse, if she was a man, asserting claim to property, but women are supposed to have a different psychology, we don't have the same instincts like men do. And author here just plain swapped genders and made women into men and vice-versa, with no changes to their action that come with the gender, and it feels convoluted and unnatural.
Other themes relating to other characters, like violence and cannibalism are just too much for me to relate to. A young cannibal sorcerer, who later finds out he's also gay. A gay cannibal sorcerer, seriously? Wow. Just, wow.
The main character is plain revolting. I trudged through her escaping from someone who kept helping her in the forest while leaving them gravely injured, but when she killed an innocent child with a portal by tearing the child apart, that's when I gave up and couldn't continue further. What a waste of time and effort.
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!
Top reviews from other countries
I really felt the author wrote clipped chapters, one character was tasked with genocide, but that just got mentioned in a few sentences while trivial things hot much more space, if it was written properly then it would be a longer book but would be much more emotionally engaging story.
Worth a read for originality but could be so much more. Don't feel the urge to read the next one in series.... Could have be great and that's a shame, so many average stories being published which could be great with little help from editors but they just seem to be glorified spell checkers.
The Mirror Empire is the first novel in The Worldbreaker Saga, Kameron Hurley's follow-up to her splendidly weird science fantasy Bel Dame Apocrypha trilogy. Worldbreaker is wholly fantasy rather than SF and features a lot of standard fantasy tropes, but it mixes these in with fluid gender definitions (some of the inhabitants of Grania are a third sex, or change gender depending on circumstance) and also makes use of the idea of alternate timelines and quantum ideas. Some of the villains of the story are the alternate-universe versions of some of the heroes, which is an interesting idea, especially because there are "good" and "bad" guys on both sides of the mirror and many of the characters are morally nuanced, with good guys doing despicable things and bad guys occasionally showing moral courage.
So far, so standard and so grimdark (if intelligently-realised). Hurley is different in that she seemingly has no interest in making this book easily accessible. In fact, I'd go as far as saying that the first hundred pages or so represent the densest and most-confusing entry to a fantasy series since Steven Erikson's Gardens of the Moon in 1999, which famously puts as many people off reading his Malazan series as it does entice them in to read more. The Mirror Empire opens in media res, features explosive flashbacks without providing context and features an absolute motherlode of invented terminology and nomenclature which will have you flipping to the glossary on a very regular basis. Entering a fantasy world and spending the first hundred pages wading through stodgy exposition is quite a dull experience, so I can see why Hurley took this course. However, this book arguably goes too far in the opposite direction and I can see some readers being alienated by the opening.
Once the book calms down and relents a bit from machine-gunning the reader with under-explained ideas and concepts every five seconds, it radically improves. The characterisation of our four key characters - Roh, Lilia, Zezili and Ahkio - is first-rate and we learn more about their motivations and foibles that makes them more interesting characters than it first appears. Hurley enjoys setting up archetypes - Lilia as the callow low-class girl with unusual powers and a destiny, or Ahkio as the inexperienced young heir thrust into ruling without adequate preparation - and then undercuts them. Lilia does some pretty horrific things in her quest for self-realisation and Ahkio applies his skills from navigating household politics to the greater nation at large and this helps him become a better ruler, as well as being clever enough not to trust the temple officials and to call upon his allies when necessary.
The book unfolds from that point with Hurley's customary vigour and her aggressive, take-no-prisoners approach really makes the book stand out from the fantasy crowd. By the end of the book it has achieved a significant narrative drive that will make you want to press on to the sequel, Empire Ascendant, immediately.
The Mirror Empire (***½) is a robust, entertaining and relentlessly original fantasy, playing with concepts of identity and destiny in a fresh manner. It's also a big that takes no prisoners and almost overwhelms the reader with concepts and invented nomenclature that can be alienating. Stick it out and you are rewarded with one of the better fantasy novels of recent years.