Mirage

3.5 Stars
Somaiya Daud
Published August 2018

ARC provided by Flatiron Books in return for an honest review
Quotes may change before publication

*Review by Tiffany*

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.

Have you ever wondered if you have doppelganger? What if there is an exact body-double of you walking around out there? What if you came face-to-face with them and what if they were Terrible?! The whole scenario makes me uncomfortable just thinking about it and yet, that is what this book is about, somewhat. Oddly, the two protagonists don’t seem as weirded out and horrified by this revelation as I would be.  Then again, the book probably wouldn’t work very well if they spent the whole time staring at each other with morbid curiosity.

Everything about Mirage has called to me since it started getting massively hyped a few months ago. The cover is beautiful, the description is riveting, the authors recommending it are ones I respect and adore. But, because I am old and salty and hyped books often let me down, I went in to it with a lot of trepidation and kept my expectations crushed down in a deep dark place. Luckily, it was better than other overly-hyped books I’ve read! *coughCaravalcough*

Mirage is a mix of many things: it’s a little bit sci-fi and a little bit fantasy, with unexpected friendships, a dash of romance, and a violent backdrop of a world. It also contains a deep religious system with influence from the author’s Moroccan background. I really don’t know exactly how to categorize this book in a simple way because, despite some of the tropes it falls in to, it is also wholly unique.

If you sat me down and asked me to explain what I loved about this book (I am physically sitting here, asking myself to do that) I wouldn’t have a good answer for you, but I will try my best!

“And endurance was strength, to be sure, but even a rock wore away to nothing if asked to endure enough rain.”

First, let’s start with a big topic weaved throughout this book: it is frequently, both prominently and subtly, addressed that the Vathek Empire is trying to erase the culture they have conquered. More than that, they are slowly trying to strip away the strong religious beliefs and traditions of the Kushaila people. Daud did a beautiful job with this very large topic. It is written in such a way that it is not the main focus of the story, but a bigger underlying reason for so many of the choices of our main character, Amani. Too often in history we have seen the persecution and murder of Native Tribes all over the globe and, for a YA Fantasy book, Daud wove in this topic in a subtle, but still relevant, way. Mirage addresses the enduring wounds suppression and inequalities can leave in a society, yet doesn’t allow that message to dominate the story.

What surprised me most about this book is how much it is driven by character. The world of Andala seems vast and incredible, but there is very little focus on any of it. I imagine somewhere there are thousands of words of deleted scenes that would tell us about the planet and cities and moons, the sci-fi robot soldier things, the lives of the commoners in this world. They aren’t in here though, and it left me really wanting.

BUT, the characters! Amani and Maram are both three-dimensional, and if this book is about anything at all, it is about them: two girls who look identical but are, by nature and society, complete opposites. One is a poor Kushaila with deep religious beliefs and a strong love for family. The other is a half-Kushaila, half-Vathek princess with a dead mother, a cruel father, and a heart she was taught to close off to the world. I thought the development and character arc for both of them was beautiful. Maram particularly ended up being so complex and interesting to me in that she was very much the villain, but was also a child who had been abandoned and never really had the chance to become anyone else. Amani’s navigation through the political and upper-class social world she is thrown into was written beautifully.  There was nothing fast or easy for either and the lessons learned often came with a price (and sometimes a slow plot-progression).

“The crown of Dihya had been stripped from me, my face changed, my body broken. But I was not a slave and I was not a spare. I was my mother’s daughter, and I would survive and endure.”

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I want to briefly cover the things in this book that did not work for me at all, which was mostly this one thing: INSTA-LOVE. Can we please stop it with this trope? Amani’s “romance” was not only way too rushed, but it was boring and forced. It would have served the story better to make it more subtle or to leave it out altogether. While the bond she has with the boy in question does evolve around their pasts and religion and shared commonalities, Amani does what most YA-tropey characters in this situation do and puts all her trust in to some man she barely knows. I was more irritated in this particular book because outside of this unnecessary romance, Amani is actually a very strong character.

The plot of Mirage overall was great. There’s politics and violence, drama and friendships, and a plan to change the world for the better that led us down many dark paths. Deceptions were adundant, but so too did we see characters placing trust in one another where you would not have expected it.

“…everyone in the Ziyanna will tell you to resign yourself to being crushed. … Do not. Even your happiness is rebellion.”

So my thoughts on a broad spectrum are this: Mirage is a slow burn that focuses so much on characters and conversations that the action is fairly minimal overall. The sci-fi parts added little interest or depth for me, but they might have if they’d been explored…which leads me to my biggest want from this book: more. There simply was not enough world building (the book is only 308 pages, after all). Andala is a completely new realm and a reader goes in knowing nothing, but hoping to discover this new place page-by-page. Unfortunately, I left this world still knowing little to nothing about it. I can’t, for the life of me, picture a single part of it in my mind. As connected as I feel with the two main characters, I am hoping the sequel to this book actually shows me the world those characters come from.

As I said, this is a book generating a lot of hype. From established authors to credible reviewers, it is being called everything from “masterful” to “heart-wrenching” to an “exhilarating page-turner.” I am not quite there with all those adjectives, but I did find Daud’s writing to be absolutely stunning. This is a wonderful debut with a compelling narrative, and I have an immense amount of anticipation for what this author goes on to create.  Mirage is a book I recommend if you are looking for a fast, character-driven story. Or for that friend of your’s who likes fantasy but can’t do high-fantasy.  The potential for a great sequel is certainly there and Daud shows a ton of potential as a writer. I look forward to reading the next one.

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