Monday, February 2, 2015

Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley

Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley

A coldblooded, brilliant general has to decide if her loyalty lies with her Empress or her people. An orphan has to come into her mother’s powers and decide how to use them. A young man inherits his sister’s throne and must lead a pacifist people into war. These, mixed with a world ending cataclysm, enchanted weapons, and mysterious immortals might seem like just another trope laden, fantasy novel with easily discernible good guys fighting the obviously evil bad guys. Yet, Mirror Empire breaks from this tradition, arguably set by Lord of the Rings, with a glorious, violent way.  Kameron Hurley’s take on fantasy inserts you into the middle of a world that is truly unfamiliar and menacing.
We come into the story on the eve of a reoccurring, world-shattering event, heralded by the rise of the dark star. As a relentless enemy ravages the lands in the north, Hurley’s characters have to navigate fractious politics, perfect assassins, ruinous betrayals, and the collision of worlds. Hurley does some excellent world building, creating a fascinating realm complete with sentient plants, bear cavalry, blood magic, and much, much more. As soon as you start to settle the rules and the situation in your head, she switches things around. But what makes Mirror Empire truly unique is the take on gender. The two main civilizations that you meet have vastly different conceptions of gender. One has four different pronouns while another has three, in each case, their application is not just societal, but personal. As if this gender fluidity was not enough, one of the characters gradually changes his/her physical gender characteristics.  While not for the faint-of-heart, this gritty fantasy novel is decidedly a good read and is definitely worth picking up.

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