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review 2019-05-28 06:08
The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley - My Thoughts
The Mirror Empire - Kameron Hurley

I don't think I've ever read something like this in all my years of reading fantasy.  It's a challenging read, no doubt about it.  There are few familiar touch points, few things you can anchor to as you travel through this incredible universe that Kameron Hurley has built.  You have to pay attention to everything - no skimming (not that I'm one to skim anyway.) and put away any kind of judgement you might have.  This is indeed a strange new world and I have to admit, as much as it confused me, awed me, entranced me, it also scared the hell out of reader me.  *LOL*  I haven't had to concentrate on a read the way I concentrated on this for a long, long time. 

This is one of those books where I wish I could write a really stellar review and talk intelligently about the choices and craft and intention and all that stuff.  But I can't.  I can just tell you how the book made me feel.

When I was on Goodreads adding the book as 'currently reading', I came across a review - that wasn't a review - written by the person who edited the book and I'm going to link it here because it's damned fascinating.  Amanda's Review.  And don't worry, there are no spoilers there.

I want to say that this, the first book of the saga, finishes with a cliffhanger, but it didn't feel like a cliffhanger?  Yeah, there were a bunch... I mean, A BUNCH of unanswered questions, but I didn't get that "And then?  And then?  And then?"  annoyingly frustrating feeling I usually do when left with a cliffhanger.  I have the second book in my TBR pile and I will get to it soonish.  I do want to know what's happening with all the characters and what the next step in this 'Worldbreaker' story is. 

Would I recommend this book?  Oh yes, very much.  But it's not for everyone. Like I said, it's a challenging read, but a really good one. 

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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 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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text 2015-08-15 18:10
soon...
The Empire Ascendant: Worldbreaker Saga #2 - Kameron Hurley

The first book in this series was amazing.  ARC on hand for this one, need to get back on top of my currently reading a little so I can get to the priority TBR selections.

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review 2014-08-30 15:18
DISAPPOINTING SHOCK-FEST
The Mirror Empire - Kameron Hurley

One of the difficult things about reviewing books for me personally is having to write a less than favorable opinion. Not that I can’t be just as negative as the next person, because obviously it’s not hard to close a novel and say to a friend “Don’t waste your time. That story sucked.” Nope, my problem is trying to isolate why I did not appreciate a novel, analyze if my issues are just that: my issues, or a real deficiency of the story, and then write an honest review.

 

For those of you who don’t write reviews, please understand that it is difficult to be both honest and also objective. Mainly, because – if you love books – you want to adore every one of them that you read (if for no other reason than you’ve invested your precious time trying them), and, when that doesn’t happen, your initial reaction as a human is to say “I hate it” and leave it at that. But a reviewer can’t do that. It just isn’t fair to anyone interested in reading the book. So, as I sit here wanting to say “The Mirror Empire isn’t that good. Don’t read it”, I know I have to attempt to explain why I feel that way.

 

First, I want to establish up-front that I was excited to read The Mirror Empire. When I initially saw the kick-ass cover and read the novel description, it looked tailored made for my tastes: multi-viewpoint narrative, huge world, cross-world warfare, and gender-bender characters. When you factor in Kameron Hurley’s recent Hugo award, you might understand how an epic fantasy lover like me would be breathlessly waiting to fall in love with the Worldbreaker saga. And to be fair, this novel absolutely delivers on several of its promises.

 

That spectacular new world, it is here. In fact, there are two rather than one for a reader to sink their fantasy teeth into, filled with numerous countries, races, deep history, ongoing wars, and sentient plant-life that range from those symbiotic to womankind to those completely predatory.

 

Naturally, these worlds are teeming with magic: a very well-thought-out system of magic whereby it is controlled by a person’s innate ability and her attunement to one of several moons that orbit the planet. As certain moons ascend and descend in the heavens, a mage’s power waxes and wanes as does her magical sect’s worldly power and influence.

 

As for the warrior-women promised by the book description, they appear one after another: complex and powerful females who take their turn in the spotlight, empowered both physically and emotionally as unquestioned masters of all that they survey. No, ma’am, these ladies do not concern themselves with exerting their equality to their male counterparts, because they are superior in every way: a natural state of affairs that is beyond doubt.

 

But as I slowly devoured and digested all these essential and delectable fantasy morsels, I began to have a little bit of heartburn. (Please pardon the pun, but I couldn’t help myself.) I didn’t know exactly why – though there were a few things nagging at me as I read.

 

First, the complete lack of any strong male characters did bother me. The fact that male characters were taught that they were “unnatural” didn’t sit well with me. Kai Ahkio (the most prominent male character in the novel) being constantly berated for being male and told that he is a poor substitute for a strong female leader was annoying. And yes, the book did read at times like a mirror version of a Robert E. Howard sword and sorcery tale, complete with childlike men waiting for their rescue by muscle-bound females ready to rip their clothes off and mount up on their throbbing manhood. But, I’d known going in that The Mirror Empire was a female dominated story, so, even though the lack of strong men was an issue, it was not enough to trump the good parts of the story.

 

Then something else reared its ugly head: rape – except this time, women were raping men.

 

Now, I’m not a prude; I realize rape happens. In fact, as an attorney, I’ve defended more rapists than I can count on both hands. But, I’m also not a big proponent of rape as a narrative device in literature. It seems so overused as a shock effect that I don’t enjoy it. Even in Mark Lawrence’s grimdark masterpiece Prince of Thorns, I was a bit bothered by Jorg Ancrath’s casual raping of girls at the beginning of the book, because it didn’t seem necessary or relevant to the story. (Jorg doesn’t go on to become a serial rapist but a serial murderer.) Hell, I even agreed with people who very emotionally argued that no one should view Jorg as a hero after he casually went around raping girls. So how could I uphold a female author allowing one of her “female heroes” to rape and brutalize men?

 

Perhaps I should introduce our heroic rapist first before I answer that question.

 

Let us welcome Zezili Hasario, Captain General of the Empress of Dorinah, who shows casual indifference to cruelty, a perverted sense of love, and a total acceptance of mass murder – even as she goes about trying to save the world. Where Jorg raped two young girls, Zezili purchased herself a beautiful man, spent her leisure time sexually torturing him, and justified it by saying, “He [is] the one thing in [my] life [I] controlled completely. And [I] loved him for it.” Indeed, after their wedding, Zezili’s husband Anavha says, “[Zezili] made [me] strip in her bedroom . . . cuffed [me] across the mouth, drawing blood . . . told [me] to kneel . . . took [my] chin in her hand and said, ‘You’re mine. All of you. Every bit of you. You’ll service my sisters, because it’s proscribed’ . . . [then] cut her initials into [my] flesh . . . licked at the blood of [my] wound . . . reached for [me], and found [me] . . . erect [then said] ‘Well . . . they paired me well.’ ” And then Anahva goes on to describes his continued life with our hero Zezili as follows:

 

“Zezili was a brutal mistress; demanding, violent. She entertained herself with [me] until [my] vision was hazy, pain and desire twisting [my] insides, turning [my] voice to a high-pitched wail, begging for release. Yet when she finished with [me], [I] felt somehow obscene, disassembled. . . [I] sat awake at night and cut [myself] while she was away . . . wondering if Zezili would mourn if [I] died, or simply have [me] replaced, as she would her dog . . .”

Yeah, Zezili’s behavior sounds at least equal to Jorg Ancrath’s psychopathic rape of two girls. Actually, there is even more about Zezili and her husband, but I think the above illustrates the nature of their relationship. Just so you know, later Anavha also gets raped by another woman-warrior, but it wasn’t Zezili, so I didn’t see the need to quote that section of the story.

 

So, after reading all that, did the accepted brutalization of men, their sexual torture, and casual rape at the hands of women bother me?

 

Well, I’m sorry to admit that I once again talked myself out of holding the brutalization against this book. “Stop having such a closed mind,” I told myself. “Okay, men are sex toys. There is probably lots of fantasy out there that still portray women that way.” Hell, I even used this one. “Ms. Hurley has put a little bit of Fifty Shades of Grey in a fantasy and Zezili is Christian Grey, so what? It is her pushing the boundaries of the genre; nothing wrong with that.”

 

But even as I convinced myself to put aside the lack of male characters and the brutalization of men, I was slapped in the face by something else: ritualistic cannibalism.

 

Yeah, these fantasy people cannibalize each others. Okay. Certain Native Americans did it before the arrival of the Europeans, I know. I’ll just put that “shocking” fact on the list with the others. I’m sure human hearts taste like chicken anyway.

 

Next on the “shock” list, we have (Drumroll please) no heterosexual characters.

Okay. It seemed a little odd that no one – even just one person – might be heterosexual and not bisexual. But that was fine, I accepted it and moved on.

 

Bit by bit, it also became apparent that everyone in this world practiced polygamy. Okay, Old Testament of the Bible reversed with the women marrying multiple males and females.

 

Then we have a male character Roh being taken as a sexual slave to an adult near the end of the book.

 

Anyone else beginning to see a pattern here?

 

Ms. Hurley appeared to be pulling out all the stops to “shock” her readers. Now why would an author do that?

 

Perhaps it is because the story itself is deficient?

 

Unfortunately, that was the case, in my opinion. Let me explain.

 

First, none of the main characters in this epic were very compelling. In fact, they were almost instantly forgettable. Zezili? I’m not big on rapist and mass murderers, but even setting that aside, the general was fairly boring, doing little except killing defenseless people in prison camps. Ahkio? Everyone around him thinks him a weak, whiny man, and even though he tries, he spends a great deal of time pining away over men and women, his horrible fate, and generally being exactly what all his enemies accusing him of being: a weak, whiny man manipulated by his female handlers. Roh? According to the women in the book, he is an idiotic boy, not much else you can add. Lilia? I actually liked her, thought her story was compelling but lost interest in it by the end due to the constant back and forth nature of her travels. Naturally, there are other characters, but these are the ones I actually remember.

 

Second, the concept of mirror worlds and their convergence had some glaring inconsistences in its explanation and application that kept cropping up in the story. Things that I would read and go “Wait, that can’t be the case because of the explanation two chapters ago.” After a while, I stopped caring whether the cross-world action made sense anymore.

 

Third, the multi-viewpoint narrative. Almost all epic fantasy series seem to have this type of setup these days, and it definitely can work. However, the writer must make the individual tales relevant to the narrative as a whole but keep them different enough that each one is compelling on its own and filled with new situations. In The Mirror Empire, it seemed that the numerous stories got away from Ms. Hurley; they began to spread out into a mass of tangled threads that I personally needed a flowchart to keep up with, but they also began to get so repetitive that they blurred together until I found it hard to recall whose story I was actually reading at a given time.

 

Needless to say, I did not love The Mirror Empire. With its mirror world concept, the book had a wonderful foundation upon which to build a riveting, fantasy epic. However, just like a solid foundation does not assure a beautiful house, Ms. Hurley’s spectacular, fantasy ideas did not guarantee an engrossing story, and perhaps she realized this, which is why she began to rely so heavily on “shocking” elements. However, all the reversal of sexual roles, rape, sexual torture, ritualistic cannibalism, mass murder, and teenage sex slaves in two universe can’t conceal when a story is convoluted and dull at the same time.

Source: bookwraiths.com/2014/08/30/the-mirror-empire-worldbreaker-saga-1-by-kameron-hurley
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