Author: Somaiya Daud
Age Range: Young Adult
Genre: Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Romance
In a star system dominated by the brutal Vathek empire, eighteen-year-old Amani is a dreamer. She dreams of what life was like before the occupation; she dreams of writing poetry like the old-world poems she adores; she dreams of receiving a sign from Dihya that one day, she, too, will have adventure, and travel beyond her isolated moon.
But when adventure comes for Amani, it is not what she expects: she is kidnapped by the regime and taken in secret to the royal palace, where she discovers that 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, someone to appear in public as Maram, 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 of the royal court belies a world of violence and fear. If Amani ever wishes to see her family again, she must play the princess to perfection…because one wrong move could lead to her death.
Content warnings: Themes of colonialism, graphic violence and injury
Before I start with this review, I want to thank the gorgeous Aimee for letting me be a part of the Mirage blog tour! As I said in a previous post about 2018 releases I’m dying to read, Mirage is one of my most anticipated reads for the year, and I’m glad to report that it did not disappoint!
In this Moroccan-inspired fantasy set in space, peasant girl Amani has the immense bad luck to look almost exactly like Princess Maram, heir of the cruel Vathek Empire that conquered Amani’s home star system. She is taken from her village on a desolate moon to the imperial palace on the capital planet and groomed to be the princess’s body double, ready to die in her place. But while Amani begins to enjoy the palace’s beauty, and finds herself falling in love with the princess’s fiancé Idris, danger lurks around every corner. Redemption and salvation might be close at hand, but Amani might have to risk everything for a chance at freedom for her home and her people.
One of the things I positively adored about Mirage was the world-building. If you’ve been reading my blog for quite some time, you already know that I am a sucker for a lushly described, perfectly drawn out universe and Mirage has this in spades. I was already interested in Moroccan culture, art, and history (Morocco is actually my dream destination!) but this book easily dialed up that interest to a hundred. I particularly loved the majority ceremony described in the first chapter of the book, as well as the legends of Dihya and Massinia. I also enjoyed learning about the importance of poetry and tattooing in their culture – I was really gutted by the scene where Amani’s daan were removed from her face so she would look more like Princess Maram.
As someone who comes from a collectivist culture herself, the emphasis on the importance of tradition and cultural practices was really wonderful to read about. I fell in love with how Amani loved the legends of the Dihya and the prophetess Massinia, her dreams of becoming a poet, and the importance of her family to her. Let me tell you, it is refreshing as hell to read about a main character and know and relate to on some level the cultural experiences that that character goes through and talks about.
The themes of invasion and suppression by a foreign power also really hit close to home. The Vathek Empire is a thinly-veiled metaphor for colonial forces that, both in the past and the present, subjugate countries in the global south for their own personal gain. Everything that Amani’s people experienced at the hands of the Vathek comes straight out of the colonization playbook: demonization of freedom fighters, propaganda describing traditional practices as barbaric and locals as less intelligent, suppression of things like language and music and literature. Literally every country that has a colonial past knows this – and may even still experience the aftereffects.
Fair warning: although the summary makes this book sound like an action-packed adventure, it’s actually not. This book is very character-driven, instead focusing on Amani and Maram’s own internal conflicts. This isn’t a bad thing. I love character-driven plots; they’re usually more introspective, well-developed, and lead to a more emotionally satisfying ending, and Mirage definitely delivers on that. Throughout the book, we see Amani’s terror harden into determination, and her passivity enflame into a desire to see her people free.
However, my favorite character was actually not Amani. Instead, it was Princess Maram. Maram’s conflict is unique in the world of fantasy. She is half-Vathek and half-Kushaila; half conquered, half conqueror; feared by the people her father has subjugated because they see her as nothing as his heir, and despised by the Vath people for her half-breed status. We are shown quite clearly the conflict she experiences, both wanting to be accepted by the Vath and wanting to be a good queen. This internal conflict, this realization of hers about being a good ruler and not needing to follow in her father’s footsteps, is what kept my attention throughout the book. The resolution of this conflict, and the answer to the question of whether or not Maram will renounce her father in favor of her people, is one of the major reasons why I’m looking forward to reading the next book.
If there’s one thing I disliked about this book – and the reason behind my rating of 4 out 5 stars – it’s that the romance between Amani and Idris felt forced. There was literally no chemistry. It felt like Amani and Idris had to be together because that was what the circumstances of the plot demanded. Idris himself felt like a boring, one-dimensional character with no other purpose than to serve as a love interest, and a possible source of future conflict between Amani and Maram.
Instead, I ended up shipping Amani and Maram. After all, it was Amani who turned Maram onto the path of accepting her heritage, and it was Amani who started making Maram truly question why she wanted the Vath people’s approval so badly anyway. Plus, those scenes where Amani teaches Maram how to make traditional Kushaila meals? So kilig, as we say here in the Philippines.
Check out Aimee’s review of Mirage for details and mechanics of the giveaway! You could stand to win a lovely finished hard copy, so get clicking!