This is a powerful own-voices Moroccan inspired SFF tale of culture, family, oppression, and rebellion with a diverse cast of complex characters that you cannot help but adore.
About the Book
Publisher: Flatiron Books | Release Date: August 28, 2018 | Pages: 320
Genre: Fantasy, Science Fiction | Format: eARC | Source: Publisher via Netgalley
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.
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Friends, Mirage is such a beautifully written debut novel from Somaiya Daud and I cannot wait for the rest of you to experience it! Poetically written and instantly captivating, this book draws you into a new world so vivid you feel as if you could walk the streets. This is a powerful own-voices Moroccan inspired SFF tale of culture, family, oppression, and rebellion with a diverse cast of complex characters that you cannot help but adore.
Through the perspective of eighteen-year-old Amani, we are brought into the world of a star system that has been conquered by an alien race known as the Vath after they destroyed their own home, Vaxor. All Amani has known in her life is the oppression of the Vath and their slow erasure of the indigenous cultures, especially the Kushaila poetry that has been used as a rallying cry for rebellion. But for her older siblings and the older generations, they remember what it used to be like, which in my opinion is way worse.
“The occupation is cruel. Its heirs crueler still.”
“[T]he Vath seemed determined to beat our language out of all of us, and the Kushaila in particular, no matter the cost.”
The novel begins with Amani’s coming of age celebration with her family and friends in the village, where she was given her long-awaited daan – the traditional face markings depicting her lineage as well as her parents hope for her in life – and transitioning to adulthood. She has been waiting for this day, but unfortunately, Vathek droids descend upon the ceremony. Amari is kidnapped and brought to the Ziyaana where she learns why she was taken from her family and village on Cadiz: she is nearly identical to Princess Maram. Due to Maram’s unpopularity and rebel activity, it has become necessary to have a stand-in at public activities… and Amani must learn to perfectly mirror Maram to survive (and perhaps see her family again).
“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. I would find my way back home.”
Mirage is at its core a character-driven story and I found the various friendships – especially female friendships – to be powerful and captivating. Each of the characters are complex with rich backstories that shape who they are as we get to know them, and I loved the way that Daud exposes them bit by bit as they get to know one another.
➡️ Amani is our main character, and I absolutely love her to pieces. She is strong and compassionate with an intense love for Massinia and the ancient poetry of her culture. her trusting and poetry-loving. “You do not kneel or bend, I told myself. To anyone. You continue.”
➡️ Maram is our main antagonist, but she is much more complex than a simple villain and quite possibly is my favorite character in the book. I love villains that are more than just evil and are given a backstory. Maram is the heir apparent for the Vath empire as outlined in the peace treaty, but her position is all but secure. As the daughter of the cruel emperor Mathis and the former Andalaan queen, she is between regimes and cultures and hated by both sides for her heritage. To the Andalaans she is a symbol of the oppressors and to the Vath she is impure. She doesn’t remember the before, and her life has lead her to be hard and mistrusting. “Fear and hatred are good deterrents against murderers.”
➡️ Idris is Maram’s fiance, as was decreed as part of the peace treaty that gave Mathis control of the planet. He is from the former aristocracy, and was 10 during the war, old enough to remember what it was like before but young enough to have lost the bits of his culture in the after. While we learn a lot about the backstory of Idris’ family, there is a lot about him that is still cloaked in mystery. “His heritage [is] bound up in blood and misery.”
Everyone seems to be a pawn for something in this world or an instrument of someone else’s will and a running theme is whether or not the characters are responsible for the actions of their parents. Are they able to forge their own destinies? Or are they doomed on the path set for them without their input?
“My life had been a series of events happening to me, and I wanted so desperately to be able to exert the control Massinia managed on my own life.”
The story is crafted so well and depicts the measures that occupying groups employ to exert and maintain control over their conquered land. What I found bizarre though was the treaty itself. I just don’t see Mathis accepting a peace treaty, let alone agreeing to its terms after those who signed it was dead. I was the only person that found this odd in my buddy read though, so I won’t hold this odd character reversal against him (although Maram does seem to agree with me)!
“It is not the Vathek way to let those conquered rule themselves, and with my Andalaan fiance – people say…things”
The descriptive language that I adored during the first 20% of the book I, unfortunately, came to find overwhelming and borderline excessive in parts, to the point of detracting from the plot progression. There were chunks of the book that I felt all I was reading was beautifully written descriptions and nothing else. There is so little dialogue in parts and I think that is why I struggled at times: it is lyrically written but the narrative drags for me when all it does is describe. I was craving more interaction and is the reason that I rated this 4 instead of 5 stars, but I know that not everyone will feel the same way.
Overall I found Mirage to be an absolute treasure. In my opinion, this is the best feminist SFF book that I have read so far in 2018, and I cherish the characters and world. This was a great start to what I am sure will be an amazing series, and I cannot wait to see what is next for Amani, Idris, and Maram! I highly recommend this book and cannot wait to see it out in the world!
Many thanks to the publisher for providing me an electronic advanced reader copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. Quotations in this review were taken from an uncorrected proof and are subject to be changed upon publication.
About the Author
Somaiya Daud was born in a Midwestern city, and spent a large part of her childhood and adolescence moving around. Like most writers, she started when she was young and never really stopped. Her love of all things books propelled her to get a degree in English literature (specializing in the medieval and early modern), and while she worked on her Master’s degree she doubled as a bookseller at Politics and Prose in their children’s department. Determined to remain in school for as long as possible, she packed her bags in 2014 and moved the west coast to pursue a doctoral degree in English literature. Now she’s preparing to write a dissertation on Victorians, rocks, race, and the environment.