The Mirror Empire

Kameron Hurley
The Mirror Empire Cover

The Mirror Empire


I haven't had a fantasy novel make me feel as uneasy as this did in a really long time. The Mirror Empire is definitely an emphatic, no-holds barred opening to what promises to be an incredible saga.

As the world begins to feel the effects of a cataclysm two thousand years in the making, a group of unlikely people will find themselves thrust into the brewing storm of war that shatters continents and topples nations. A young mage sets out to fulfil a promise and find her mother. A weak, undeserving ruler takes a throne he does not want and braces for a civil war he must fight to keep it. A buoyant young man whose innumerable possible futures all seem to end in death is asked to put his king before his family, and a general must choose between loyalty to her ruler and loyalty to her land.

Well, there's a lot of hype behind this book, and there's no doubt Kameron Hurley really put together a tickler here. The Mirror Empire is a grim, strange, mysterious opening to what is shaping up to be one of the coolest epic fantasy series around.

Right off the bat, Hurley makes it plain this won't be your standard fantasy. In addition to magic that waxes and wanes with the movement of the moons, we have parallel universes that play a major part in the story. And that's not even touching the ritualistic cannibalism. Ever wondered what would happen if a cannibalistic tribe were to undergo strides towards becoming civilized, but still held close to some of their more superstitious tenets and beliefs? Hurley takes a look at that.

But the most interesting thing about the world is the complete gender reversal. This is very literally a world run by women. That weak, undeserving ruler I mentioned? Their first male ruler in Gods only knows how long, if ever. When I first heard of this aspect, I was worried that what sounds like a great book was going to get derailed in favour of a making a feminist statement. But this for me was Kameron Hurley's biggest coup de grace; it feels absolutely natural. Never at any point did I think this felt forced or strained like I was being fed political propaganda or anything, and that made the story all the more powerful in the long run.

I found her writing very tight and efficient, the reason the book seemed so fast paced yet so slow at times. After an explosive beginning, the book barrels off as events begin to play out with no mercy shown to the throttle. However, as the book progressed and plot threads lain, foreshadowing details sprinkled and the basis for the story set, I found that it was starting to slow, and at times I felt myself just waiting patiently for a shift to another point of view to see where the story goes. It all culminates in a fantastic conclusion that leaves me with major questions that I'll definitely be grabbing the sequel to get answers from.

I really enjoyed how the grim element is handled in here. I wouldn't call this grim dark, but it most definitely is a dark story, and the grittiest moments are those that occur simply because. No rhyme, no reason. Just a natural part of life, and the world. It's not the shock factor of Mark Lawrence or the dour nihilism of Joe Abercrombie. It's more the sort of grim grit you find in the real world, the isolated acts of darkness that coalesce and temper your view of the large scale of things. It didn't pack the same sort of emotional punch out of left field like it did in other cases, but it left me feeling uneasy from inception and each new incident only exacerbated this feeling.

All in all, this is definitely one of the best epic fantasy releases of this year. A refreshing combination of ideas, and tight writing creates a fast paced story literally more epic in scope than anything I've read since finding out about Brandon Sanderson's Cosmere. Hop on the bandwagon before it gets rolling, because any way I look at this book it's going to make waves. Recommended.

ARC provided via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.