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review 2017-10-29 20:26
The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley
The Mirror Empire - Kameron Hurley

Series: Worldbreaker Saga #1


I generally expect more from Hurley's books. This was alright but my interest waxed and waned throughout the whole thing. There are some really cool concepts but a lot of stuff I could have just done without, and I wasn't all that keen on some of the characters, particularly Zezili. Even Lilia did some really stupid things. I wasn't impressed by her search for a mother who couldn't know her.


This book follows several characters in a fantasy world where several nations are at war, and the entire world is being threatened by invaders from beyond it. Oh, and there are binary suns that are so close together they form an hourglass shape in the sky. And walking trees that remind me of triffids.


I plan on reading the next book, but I'm not hopeful it'll be up to Hurley's usual standards. Maybe she needs worlds with spaceships to pull off awesome. And more ick factor.

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review 2017-02-02 21:02
The Mirror Empire (Worldbreaker Saga, #1) by Kameron Hurley
The Mirror Empire: Worldbreaker Saga 1 - Kameron Hurley

Where do I even start with this book? I first heard of this book on BookTube. I became intrigued by it because of the gender aspects so when I went to the library, I thought I'd give it a go. Well, the gender aspects are about all I enjoyed from this book.


That's not true. I also enjoyed the writing. The writing is actually quite beautiful. It's very easy to envision the world, its inhabitants, the magic system, everything. I quite like what Hurley does with language and how she uses it to fit this unique world.


Another thing I liked about this book was how gender was portrayed, You have gender-fluid characters and non-binary characters and characters who were pansexual and all of that was fantastic! I also liked the talk of using the correct pronouns for whatever the person identifies themselves as and to no do so was seen as extremely offensive because, guess what, it IS offensive to do that to anyone. I adore that Hurley made that very clear within her writing. 


Continuing with the gender themes, Hurley also reversed the roles between men and women within this society. It is a matriarchal society where the women are seen as superior to men. Now, I personally don't like matriarchies or patriarchies. I think all should be seen as equals regardless of gender. However, I realize Hurley did this as a commentary to our own society where women are seen as weak. I understand the commentary and I do appreciate what she has done here in her book.


However, I don't like seeing rape. At all. And the women do, in fact, rape the men. One character in particular, Zezili, is raping her husband constantly. She beats him, carves her initials into his skin to show ownership, and her husband, Anavha, is of the mentality that she does this because she loves him... something abuse victims tend to say of their abusers. And I get it. This happens a lot in our society. So I understand what and why Hurley decided to include this in her novel, but I'm not okay with any type of abuse. So reading that left me very angry, which is the point, I suppose.


Oh, but there's still more about this book that left me feeling rather empty. Let's talk about Lilia. She's one of the main characters in this book and she annoyed the hell out of me. She does stupid things for no reason. Basically, her reasoning is along the lines of "because I can." She is selfish and cruel to the point of callous. But the thing is there's no reason for it! She is not supposed to be a horrible character. She just is. And I can't say much more but because of her stupidity, she gets so many innocent characters, who are trying to help her out, killed. She gets them killed because of her selfishness. And what makes it worse, she shows no remorse! As long as she gets her way, she doesn't care who she screws over in the end. But we, as the reader, are supposed to sympathize with her? We're supposed to believe she's a good person? No. I don't think so.


The motivations of some of the characters make no sense to me. Going back to Zezili, she is someone that's ruthless. She kills anyone her Empress tells her to. But then she decides she wants to be a hero and save others... what? Where did that come from? Why are you being kind now? I don't get it. I felt like the development for a lot of the characters were not fleshed out enough, which is sad to say since this book is over 500 pages. 


But one of my biggest problems this book has is not telling the reader anything. Like, I get it. As an author, you don't want the reader to know everything. But you also need to give the reader enough to go on so that the reader in intrigued enough to keep reading. After 250 pages, I saw so many forced moments the author put their for the "shock value" that I was disappointed. She inserted what she wanted so much without giving reason to it. Most of those moments left me feeling "Why? What was the point to that?" And that's what most of this book is. What was the point? And it's never fully explained. At all.


I could go on but I'll stop here. This book had so much potential. Hurley had a lot of great ideas but, ultimately, could not pull off in a cohesive manner. All of it felt too messy and all over the place. I love what she did with gender and sexuality and the world is such a cool concept! But everything else just fell flat for me.


If this book intrigues you, go ahead and give it a shot. You might like it more than I did. Just remember there's a lot of gratuitous violence, gore, and rape. Don't read it is any of those themes are harmful towards you. But if you're okay with those themes, then try it out. Hopefully, you like it even if I had a few problems with it.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2016-09-23 17:24
Star Trek: Mirror Universe: The Sorrows of Empire by David Mack
Star Trek Mirror Universe: The Sorrows of Empire - David Mack

This novel is set entirely in the Mirror Universe, introduced in TOS's "Mirror, Mirror", and depicts the aftermath of said episode, Spock's rise to power and his trying to change the fate of his universe.


The overall theme is whether the ends justify the means: Spock's definitely not hesitant about using the Tantalus field to get rid of opponents (no matter how close they are to home), he's exterminating entire species, he's inciting wars, all in the name of bringing peace to the Terran Empire - albeit a delayed peace because he thinks that the Terran Empire can only thrive out of the fire of opression. It first has to be destroyed, the territory and peoples enslaved in order to rise again as a democracy. And why? Because people in power don't want to relinquish it, and the people enslaved don't know any better. Again quite an interesting spin on modern history. But where's the line? Is it justified to throw whole generations into turmoil so that future generations experience a peaceful collaboration and democracy? Spock gives his own answer, well aware of what he's doing.


As usual Mack poses interesting questions, his prose is easy to read and get into. But one point of criticism remains: He's an author best suited to action, to wreak havoc over the whole galaxy, but the little moments, the ones that give you real insight into the characters, the ones that make me empathize, the ones that engage me, that cause me to be invested in a story on a deeper, emotional level... I kind of miss those in his books.


The novel ends with the Empire (or rather the short-lived Republic) conquered by a Klingon-Cardassian Alliance and Spock executed, Spock's legacy remaining hidden within a few asteroids...


... to be continued in "Rise like Lions".

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review 2016-04-10 18:58
The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley
The Mirror Empire: Worldbreaker Saga 1 - Kameron Hurley

This book made waves when first published, but it took me awhile to get around to reading it because it is brutal and alien and I have to be in the right mood for something like that.

The Mirror Empire will appeal most to those who like high-concept dark fantasy: there are parallel worlds, populated by different versions of the same people; there’s carnivorous plant life everywhere; there’s a large world with widely varying societies. The Dhai, the book’s primary culture, have group marriages, choose their own genders, and eat their dead as part of funeral rituals though they’re otherwise vegetarian. Meanwhile, the empire of Dorinah has a gender-reversed version of the stereotypical patriarchal fantasy culture (men are kept at home as ornamental husbands, unless they’re prostitutes, while the army is made up entirely of women). In one world the Dorinah are a powerful empire and keep those ethnic Dhai within their borders as slaves, but in another the Dhai were triumphant and are on the move, seeking to invade other worlds.

All that is interesting, and Hurley does not hold the reader’s hand, so you have to pay attention to figure out what’s going on, especially in the first part of the book. It’s nice to read a truly imaginative fantasy rather than another version using the same old familiar shortcuts. And it amuses me to see how uncomfortable some of the gender relations portrayed have made some male readers. Suck it up, guys, this is nothing compared to what female readers tolerate in most epic fantasy written by men. Two of the four most prominent point-of-view characters are male, neither is defined by his relationship to a woman (the book easily passes a reverse Bechdel test) and only one sexual assault by a woman against a man is portrayed. There are not any sexual assaults against women in the book, though otherwise it’s as violent and gory as any grimdark fantasy.

So I think those looking for unique and imaginative fantasy will enjoy this. As for the plot, it’s most interesting toward the beginning and end, but sags in the middle. In particular, the plotline dealing with Roh in the country of the Saiduan seemed like a distraction to me. But although the fighting-an-evil-invasion aspect of the plot is standard epic fantasy, in its details it is original and I was rarely able to guess what would happen next. The writing is simple and no one is likely to be delighted by Hurley’s turns of phrase, but the starkness of it suits the story. Although 500 pages long (plus a lengthy glossary at the end), fairly short chapters and a reasonable font and spacing mean the book moves quickly.

But the character development is the book's weakest aspect. Even the protagonists are mostly flat: what you see at the beginning is what you get, with the rest of the story adding little in terms of layers or nuance. Lilia, the first protagonist we meet, is your basic orphaned teen with magical powers she doesn’t understand. (She’s the book’s most sympathetic character, mostly just because she has asthma and a bad foot and these limitations humanize her; like everyone else in this brutal world, she’s quick to take desperate measures.) Akhio is your basic scholar thrust into a powerful position for which he’s unprepared, and Roh your basic teenage boy seeking adventure. Ghrasia the war-weary militia leader, Zezili the villain protagonist and killing machine, and Anavha the none-too-bright battered husband are not the gender you'd usually expect for such characters, but otherwise are flat and standard-issue. And those are the major characters; the many secondary and minor ones have no personality and few distinguishing characteristics, which makes keeping track of them a challenge.

I’m calling it a 3.5 because although usually a character-oriented reader, I’m curious enough about what happens next (there’s little resolution here) that I probably will read the second book. I have no hesitation about dropping a series after the first book if it doesn’t seem worth the time, so on some level the storytelling clearly worked for me.

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review 2016-04-03 21:20
The Mirror Empire - Kameron Hurley
The Mirror Empire - Kameron Hurley

I struggled with rating this.


On the one hand, I really didn't enjoy it very much. As in, every time I picked it up to read it I had the urge to go and do something else.


On the other hand, I think this is more of an issue with my thoughts on epic fantasy than with the book.


Because, let's be clear, The Mirror Empire is not a lazy work of epic fantasy. By which I mean: Hurley takes the trouble to imagine societies, worlds, which are culturally very different from our own, as opposed to recycling sanitised medieval societies in which women are more or less optional (*cough*Magician*cough*). The first in a trilogy (I think?), The Mirror Empire is set in a world where plants are carnivorous, and where magic-users (I like that Hurley uses the word "gifted" for these - because if you grew up with magic you wouldn't think of it as "magic") are dependent on the movement of the stars for the strength of their power. The dark star Oma is rising, meaning that hundreds of parallel worlds are coming together, which has always signalled cataclysm in the past. Three enemy countries (Dorinah, Saiduan and Dhai) with very different social mores find themselves having to cooperate (sort of) to save their own world.


Very different social mores, did I say? Yes - and this is where Hurley is particularly awesome. In Dorinah, women are the default just as men are the default in our world (and this isn't necessarily a good thing, note - Dorinah's women enslave and sexually abuse "their" men); in Saiduan, the language allows for three genders, male, female and ataisa; in Dhai, polygamy is normal, with adults of either gender commonly marrying into already polygamous family units, and having lovers as well. In both Saiduan and Dhai, gender is separate from biological sex, and the Dhai can choose their own gender identity. There's a Saiduan character who feels that they don't fit into any of the three gender options, "neat little boxes" as they describe them. Hurley's work with gender and sexuality, and the various power relations involved (I'm thinking also of God's War, which I loved) is spot-on and much-needed and if only The Mirror Empire were a different story.


I think what the issue was, for me, that there was simply too much going on. Hurley doesn't do infodump, which is great, but it's also exhausting if you're going into a 500-page novel covering three countries, about a million different characters, an unfamiliar magic system and a highly complex and involved political situation.


I also thought Hurley's prose was (I'm sorry) turgid: it was an effort to wade through, and I found some phrasing occasionally clumsy.


Which all, essentially, boils down to: I just don't think epic fantasy is my bag, and that's OK. But, if you are an epic fantasy reader, definitely, definitely, read this, just for the gender politics.

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