Monday, 23 March 2015

The Mirror Empire (Worldbreaker Saga #1) by Kameron Hurley

Description on Goodreads

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. 

Oh wow, where do I even start? The book was so massive and epic (and not just in terms of page numbers)! The different cultures, political systems, the reversed gender roles – there was so much in this book that it’s difficult to include everything in a single review. But. I’ll do my best to convey my feelings about this revelling new series.

I think the strength of the book was that the world of Worldbreaker Saga is so unique and distinguishable from what the typical fantasy worlds provide. I absolutely adored the idea of different jistas who had their own star and god they worshipped, receiving magical powers from them. And of course, the cherry on top was that there was this one category of jista called Omajistas, who arise so rarely in power yet they are the most powerful jistas known. The cycle of jista powers was so intriguing, getting more power as they star was rising and losing power when another start was rising. It is so difficult to try to explain the system in one paragraph, so if this concept interests you, please pick up the book.

One of the fascinating elements of the Mirror Empire was the fact that the gender roles were reversed. Women traditionally were the army commanders, spiritual and political leaders, usually had multiple husbands, and men were the pretty things who were kept at home. It was so conflicting yet utterly compelling to read about a society like this when you’re used to the norm, which dictates that women are usually the inferior gender. I can’t even begin to describe how I felt about the fact that men were basically treated as sex objects in the novel and treated like second-class citizens, while our society still tends to treat women like that. I felt so bad for the men in the novel, yet I know that women, myself included, go through similar experiences. I think the author wanted to evoke discussion about our society’s gender roles, and I must admit that she did fantastic job doing it.

I did have one problem with the novel though. The characters. The main characters were decent and likeable, but that’s about the only adjective that I can come up with while trying to describe them. Even though the overall concepts and the backgrounds of the characters initially were very different from each other, I didn’t feel like their personalities per se differed very much. I know that the author most likely disagrees with me on this one, but I can’t help but to say that the characters felt very flat to me, with the exception of Anavha (a trophy husband of an army commander). The novel was so concentrated on the world and society building, which in itself is a marvellous thing, but it definitely ate away from the character development. While the characters were okay, I never really felt for them or felt like I needed to root for them (again with the exception of Anavha, bless his soul).

The Mirror Empire’s author most definitely is a fan of A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones, and you can see it – the violence, different cultures and political structures ooze the similar atmosphere that George R.R. Martin’s popular series carries. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, and in fact, I would recommend the novel for the fans of A Song of Ice and Fire. There definitely are similar elements, meaning that both series do not shy away from gruesome things and are not afraid to mix up things without any warning.

Lastly, I want to mention that I’m so stoked that the author is a woman. I’m not sure if I have looked at the wrong places, but it is relatively rare to come across with an epic fantasy book, which was written by a woman. So content at the moment that I got the chance to read this book!  It would be very pleasing to see more female writers in the epic fantasy genre for sure. The Mirror Empire was a very different, but enjoyable read which did have its highlight moments but also some less thrilling times but I think that’s all due to the fact that this was so massive novel which needed the slow world-building element.

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