With this novel, Kameron Hurley becomes a seminal voice in the Fantasy genre.
I can barely contain my excitement about this book, so while I’ll attempt to keep the gushing to a minimum, there will be no promises, dear reader.
First, it feels so good to read epic fantasy again. But The Mirror Empire does everything so much better than I had remembered or anticipated. It’s like it takes all of my favourite bits and amplifies them, reminding me why I fell in love with and continue to love the genre. This is world-building at its finest—an imaginative and fantastical world that is unrelenting in its immersiveness.
And oh boy is it DARK. If George R.R. Martin, Joe Abercrombie, Matthew Woodring Stover, and Mark Lawrence are sitting around a table muttering and laughing maniacally to themselves while they torture characters, Kameron is sitting to the side, chiding them with a whispered “oh, my sweet summer child.”
This book has a wicked twist of horror when it comes to the world. We’re talking organic buildings and weapons—something to keep you up at night and away from forests for the rest of your life. Add blood magic to the mix, and you get a wonderfully visceral masterpiece that you’re attracted to despite your rational inclinations.
It is also spectacularly confusing in a Malazan sort of way. The author is in full control, and we’re just along for the ride. There’s a constant feeling as if the book is always two steps ahead of you. Not so far that you’re hopelessly lost, but far enough that you’re always chasing and always so close, but never close enough.
The Mirror Empire moves quickly—it dramatizes what it needs to and gets the story going, letting your imagination catch up along the way.
But what we really need to talk about is how this book treats gender, because it does so many things so, so right.
The Mirror Empire takes a look at the epic fantasy patriarchy and gives it a firm kick in the balls.
The discussion of gender may be my favourite part of this book. (A quick note that it’s not explicit in the text since it’s just an assumed part of the world. It’s up to the reader to make those connections and comment on them, which makes it all the more powerful.)
It’s not just strong female characters or the spectacular failure of the reverse-Bechedel test. It’s full-on role reversals to the tune of men being shushed for having silly opinions, men being kept inside for their own protection, and my favourite yet: a line of succession that follows the “most gifted male or female.” It’s a system of merit, and well, it just so happens that we’ve only had female leaders. But we don’t care about gender or a quota, we’re just going for the best! (Where have we heard that argument before…)
Consent is also an unapologetically huge part of the culture, and I’m glad it is. Another issue that often gets swept under the rug, or even worse gets the Game of Thrones treatment.
I’ll stop there since I don’t want to spoil too much or colour your reading of this novel—you have to read it to experience it, and I guarantee it will be worth your time.
Though I had an extremely good time with this novel, the only minor problem I have is that I wish it went a little slower. The pace is at breakneck speed (literally), and I’d have liked more time in each scene, revelling in the moment. It’s part of the reason why it’s a bit difficult to keep track of the action and therefore get properly excited.
In the end, this is a culture and a world that I want to read more about.
The Mirror Empire drops on September 2nd from Angry Robot Books, and I strongly suggest you go pre-order it right now.
It will be the most important book you read this year.