Review of The Mirror Empire: The Worldbreaker Saga by Kameron Hurley (August 26, 2014, Angry Robot)
Your humble reviewers apologize for not posting this with their young adult appropriate fantasy column shortly after it was released. We wrote and edited the review but in the midst of the fall craziness it didn’t get posted in the column. The book has been nominated for a Gemmell award, and that made us go back to see where our review went. We loved the book, and knew we had reviewed it, but unfortunately had forgotten to share it with everyone else!
This book is set in a fantasy world where not only are there many different cultures and languages, but also alternate versions of the world where there are duplicates of almost everyone. People can only cross between parallel worlds if there is no version of them in that world, so this leads to intrigue and murder across the worlds as power groups try to go across to get more power, larger armies and more magic users. Some worlds have lost many magic users because of large scale genocide events in the past, so they try to get replacements from neighboring worlds. Magic is controlled by the satellites of the planet, with different magic users able to control things when a certain satellite is visible. A satellite with a very long and unstable period is coming into range so its powerful magic users will be getting strong and every time this happens, invasions occur in many worlds.
Lilia was raised as a drudge in the Temple of Oma (the satellite with the very long and unstable period). She has memories of her and her mother being attacked, then her being sent to her mother’s friend who took her to the temple. As a drudge she has access to all the books and strategy games that the students have and she takes advantage of them. She remembers her mother placing a sign on her hand, but she can’t see the sign now. When she is a teen, she asks a friend to research what the sign means. This leads to a mystery that isn’t solved until late in the book. Her friend Roh is a good fighter and good mage but not so good at the books. This makes them a good team, but unfortunately she is forced to leave the temple in order to save him.
When she leaves the temple riding a bear and in the company of a mage, her agenda is of course not that of the person with her. She travels around the world, gets injured, makes friends and enemies, learns to be a healer and learns more about her own magic. She is trying to follow the promise she made to her mother that she would return to her, but this involves many battles and travel through a portal into another world several times. The people she meets up with at the end have their own strands of plot through the book and these strands are woven together well, with all of the characters learning the true nature of their world at different points before the final scenes.
The magic system and parallel world setup make this a very interesting setting. It has rich and complex characters from many cultures, even the same cultures from parallel worlds are different. We are really looking forward to more books from Kameron Hurley, hopefully in this same universe. This is an amazing novel.