Living up to the EPIC in epic fantasy, The Mirror Empire has lots of things readers can find scary about fantasy:
- Lots of characters with weird names
- Foreign places (unusual names, too)
- Multiple storylines
- Complex politics and plots
- Intricate magic system, including parallel worlds and people
- Cliffhanger endings
- Plus, this story is set in a non-European based world that is non-medieval with matriarchal cultures, gender/sexual fluidity, and role reversals
…And still the story is completely worth taking a chance on, especially when you see the popularity of the Game of Thrones TV series and the huge interest in epic fantasy.
The Mirror Empire depicts a magic system based on four moons that confer magical abilities to people able to channel power during a particular moon's ascendancy, and there are multiple parallel worlds that people can cross over at great cost and if their double in the other world is killed. Oma, a special moon, is coming into power for the first time in 2000 years, and, the last time it ascended, many empires rose and fell. One of the parallel worlds is bent on conquering another world and has sent agents to bring that world's countries down from the inside, and this other world's people are clueless, starting to learn about parallel worlds, and beginning to fight back. There is no unified front from this world’s countries, so dealing with each other and enemy conquerors does not add up to a pretty picture.
This dark and brutal story is well-written, and the world-building is incredible. With non-traditional settings, Hurley takes a more difficult direction, yet she makes these ideas work. She gets into her world and the characters, fleshing out how they would think growing up in a culture different from what readers know, so some of the things the characters accept as normal seem so foreign. These different ideas will challenge, and, yes, even disturb, readers. These cultures took a different developmental path and are not perfect, and it is who and what they are that play a part in this looming conflict. Hurley focuses on the story first, striking a balance between developing these nontraditional cultures and showing how these people are complex, so it is more than just shock value, political statement, or simple good versus evil. Hurley presents her large cast of characters as flawed people who make questionable decisions, but they are all very human, making them understandable and sympathetic. Their separate stories eventually cross with each other, separate, and go in some new direction, but Hurley keeps track of them and keeps the story from losing steam.
Look for The Mirror Empire in the VBPL Catalog. Its sequel is The Empire Ascendant. Also, try Hurley’s Bel Dame Apocrypha. For more fantasy with nontraditional settings, read N.K. Jemisin’s works (see reviews for The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and The Killing Moon) and A Crown for Cold Silver by Alex Marshall.
Reviewed by Tracy V.