- Series: The Worldbreaker Saga (Book 1)
- Mass Market Paperback: 608 pages
- Publisher: Angry Robot (September 1, 2015)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0857665642
- ISBN-13: 978-0857665645
- Product Dimensions: 4.1 x 1.5 x 6.9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 121 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #212,651 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Mirror Empire: Worldbreaker Saga 1 (The Worldbreaker Saga) Mass Market Paperback – September 1, 2015
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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
About the Author
Kameron Hurley is the author of the novels God's War, Infidel, and Rapture, a science-fantasy noir series which earned her the Sydney J. Bounds Award for Best Newcomer and the Kitschy Award for Best Debut Novel.
She is a two-time Hugo Award winner (Best Fan Writer and Best Related Work) and she has been a finalist for the Nebula Award and the Locus Award. The Mirror Empire was nominated for a 2015 Locus Award for Best Fantasy and the David Gemmell Morningstar Award.
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The setting premise is a universe of parallel (or “mirror”) worlds that over time move closer and farther to one another, that distance affecting the ease of travel between worlds. The astronomical geography (akin to astrology, really) is also the basis of the novel’s magic system, as certain people known as “jistas” can use the satellites that orbit their planet to perform magic, their power waxing and waning with the satellites’ appearance in the sky. Now in ascendance is Oma, the dark star not seen for several millennia. Its prior arrival brought chaos and violence and this time appears to be no different, as one race invades their counterparts in another world in an attempt to flee their own dying one.
The Mirror Empire is set in that invaded world, home to three (that we see) lands. Siduan, ruled by the Patron, is facing the brunt of the invasion and losing pretty badly, while it is unclear at the start just what, if anything, the other two lands even know about the otherworldly attack. Those two lands are Dhai, a small country settled by former slaves (also called Dhai) and ruled by the Kai; and Dorinah, the brutal empire that still runs on Dhai slaves, ruled by an Empress.
The world as presented is richly complex. People ride large bears and dogs, herds of dangerous walking trees roam the countryside while other plants are just as mobile and deadly, blades sprout from forearms, fortresses/holds are living organisms. Meanwhile, gender is fluid in some cultures, with one culture having three and another five (female passive, female assertive, male passive, male assertive, ungendered). And Taigan is someone even a bit more different, in that he/she changes gender in cycles. Adding to the complexity are the family/kin relationships. For example, in Dhai one can have multiple spouses, each of whom brings his/her own kin connection.
In terms of characters, the main POVs include:
• Lilia: a young girl who is an omajista (unknown to her early on) who seeks to come into her own power and avoid becoming a pawn in larger events
• Ahkio: the new Kai of the Dhai people, who must also find his way into power, though in his case political not magical, as he tries to deal with threats both internal and external
• Rohinmey (Rho) a young Dhai novice who dreams of a life of glory and adventure
• Taigan: a Saiduan assassin/magic-user
• Zezili: a Dorninthian general (though of mixed-race) tasked by her Empress to exterminate all the Dhai in the slave camps
This is not an exclusive list, and Hurley does a nice job offering a wide spectrum of views in terms of sides, personalities, genders, and ages. Each has a singular voice, Rho’s youthfulness for instance distinguishable from Lillia’s, even if both fall into the somewhat familiar coming-of-age character type. My two favorites are Taigan and Zezili. The former for the sense of “apartness” the character feels and the latter because she I’d say grows the most, or at least must rethink her place and prior beliefs the most. I also like that Hurley doesn’t feel the need to make her characters “likable.” When ordered to basically exterminate the Dhai, for example, Zezili has no real moral qualms; her concern is about the impact the genocide will have on her people’s economy and lifestyle. The cultures are just as rich as the individual characters, with a sense of both breadth and depth in their traditions, their mores, their familial, racial and political structures.
Interestingly, the strengths of The Mirror Empire are sometimes also its weaknesses. The world is richly complex, but at times that enjoyably challenging complexity edges over into a lack of clarity. This is less of an issue with the just-as-complicated plotting, as the characters themselves are often at sea in terms of what is happening and why, so in this case any confusion felt by the reader simply, um, “mirrors” the same feelings by the characters. That said, readers can expect to be challenged by the shifting settings, the number of characters, the similarity of names, the intricacy of the whose on whose side questions and the like. I don’t mind a challenge, but I do think the novel bogs down thanks to the intricate plotting and the number of POVs. Though the characters feel individual, we shift amongst them so much that I can’t say I truly felt much for any of them. Their plots might have engaged me, but the characters themselves less so. Some streamlining would have gone a long way toward a clearer, tighter, sharper, and more consistently compelling story. And, as has been my usual complaint lately, I’m pretty sure the book didn’t fully deserve its length.
The gender fluidity is a welcome bit of originality and outside-the-box thinking (something one expects to see more of in a genre such as fantasy/sci-fi), but sometimes seems a little too easily glossed over. The gender inversion is equally welcome, with gender roles often flipped, women being more powerful than the men. But I felt Hurley was hitting this point too hard in spots, waving the flag of “See?! See?!” rather than letting the inversion play through naturally. Zezili’s husband, for instance, is a painted doll left to molder at home (where he cutes himself) while his wife goes out a-soldiering. But he really pushes the edge of absurd caricature, and a near-rape scene feels wholly gratuitous. Now, I’m the first to agree that female characters are also presented as caricatures, and there’ s no need to convince me that rape is far too often gratuitous, but I like those characters/scenes about as much as I liked these — that’s to say not at all — and if this was merely to make the point more clear, I’d say Hurley should have trusted her audience more. We didn’t need the hammer.
The Mirror Empire has more than its share of flaws, and I do wish it had pulled me in more than it did, and sooner (the last quarter really had me pretty fully). But I’ll take a flawed work of intelligent ambition, one with layers of complexity and depth, filled with images and concepts, over a too-safe, easy-to-swallow, same-old same-old fantasy. I look forward to the sequel and just hope the execution matches the ambition a bit more closely.
(originally appeared at fantasyliterature.com)
I think this book has a lot of merit. The magic system is relatively fresh. The world has varied geography and languages and history and culture. There are some interesting commentaries on tribalism, mixed children, dehumanization, gender, and what makes effective leadership. There are some interesting omissions -- no horses! Almost no rape! (those are not equivalent in weight, but about equally common in genre) I really enjoyed the worldbuilding on a lot of levels, although I am not living anywhere with that many murderous trees. The arctic wastes for me!
All of that said, this book is unremittingly, unflinchingly bloody. Of our four main viewpoint characters, the body counts are:
* Hundreds, plus at least one little kid
* Thousands of refugees, hundreds of soldiers
* Around ten, but he wishes it were so much more, bloody mayhem is way more fun than anything else in life.
* Maybe only a couple, and this lack is what makes him a weak leader
So, last week I went on a twitter rant about how if your book has more than 500 pages, you really need to be justifying this with half-a-dozen viewpoints or a sweeping generational story?
Be careful what you wish for. By my rough count, this book had 8-10 viewpoint characters. Some of them die relatively quickly, but it's a LOT to keep track of. I thought maybe some of them could have been cut without affecting the entirety of the story.
One thing that is really going to help you if you read this book is understanding right up front it's about parallel worlds. I think Hurley wants you to pick that up as you go, but it makes the first quarter of the book massively confusing because sometimes you switch worlds and think you are just switching viewpoint characters, and BONUS POINTS for the characters in all the worlds all have the same name, but different circumstances. So, um, sorry if that's a spoiler, but I don't think it's a super major one.
Read if: You like books that acknowledge and depict the hell of war. You also liked the God's War books by Hurley. You are interested in how patterns of oppression mark patterns of dehumanization.
Skip if: You do not want to read a book with a cast of thousands of dead people. You like your palace politics small-scale. You are annoyed by stupidly stubborn characters driving the plot.
Read also: Glen Cook's Black Company books.