Published by Flatiron Books on August 28, 2018
Genres: Fantasy, Science Fiction
FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own.
I have to confess that when I first requested an ARC of Somaiya Daud’s Mirage, I did so because the hints of rebellion and the need for a body double revealed in the synopsis gave me Star Wars/Padme Amidala vibes. Being a huge Star Wars fan, I was immediately intrigued. What I got instead of just a story with a bit of a Star Wars vibe, however, was an absolutely gorgeous science fiction/fantasy story set in a Moroccan-inspired land and filled with complex, well drawn characters that captivated me from the moment I met each of them.
Mirage follows eighteen year old Amani, who lives on a moon that has been occupied by the brutal Vathek empire. Because of her resemblance to the Vathek’s princess Maram, Amani is kidnapped from her home and taken to the royal palace. There, she is told that if she wants to live, she will learn everything there is to know about Maram – mannerisms, her history, her relationships, etc. – so as to prepare herself to serve as Maram’s body double. Why does Maram need a body double? Because the people who have been conquered by the Vathek hate her and would love nothing more than to be able to assassinate her. Amani’s job is to serve as a decoy, ready to die in Maram’s place if need be.
The story follows Amani as she is forced into this new role and as she meets the princess and suffers her wrath for the first time. It is easy to see why someone would want to kill Princess Maram, and it makes the reader all the more sympathetic to the plight facing Amani. The few bright spots in Amani’s days are those moments when she can sit back and admire the beauty of the palace and those when she is in the company of Maram’s fiancé, Idris. One of Amani’s first tests was to see if she could fool Idris and Maram’s father, and while she succeeds with the King, Idris, on the other hand, suspects after a very short time that she is not Maram. As Amani gets to know Idris better, an unexpected bond forms between them that starts as friendship but could easily become more if either of them were to give in to the temptation.
But when the Vathek threaten Amani’s family if she doesn’t do her job to perfection, Amani knows that she needs to focus and not let affairs of the heart guide her choices, especially if she ever hopes to see her family again.
As I already mentioned, Mirage is filled with complex, well drawn characters. In fact, I’d have to say it’s more character driven than it is plot driven. Sometimes that doesn’t work all that well for me, but in this case, I loved it because I was so into Amani and Maram and the complexities of their relationship. I loved how real these characters felt and how nothing was simple or black and white with them.
Amani was my favorite character, no surprise there. I fell in love with her right away. She is of course strong, smart, sassy, passionate, quite simply everything I love in a feisty heroine, but she’s also so much more than that. I love her passion for all things related to her people and their beliefs. She knows that the Vathek would love nothing more than to erase all of her people’s traditions as if they never existed and that they have banned so many things that they believe could lay the seeds of rebellion. And yet, she doesn’t care. She still reads the forbidden poems whenever she can and she refuses to forget the ways of her people, including their language. I loved how strongly she clung to all of these things and turned to them for strength whenever she felt like giving up. She’s also not perfect by any means, which makes her feel all the more human. The fact that she’s so tempted by her attraction to Idris shows that she is prone to make all-too-human mistakes, as is the fact that she really wants to make a connection with Maram even though she knows Maram could turn on her like a viper at any moment.
What probably comes as more of a surprise is that Princess Maram was actually my second favorite. And OMG, talk about your complex characters. At first she seems like the most evil, vindictive person alive, but as Amani gets to know her a little better, she starts to sense that there may be a lot more to Maram than originally meets the eye. Amani actually starts to feel sympathy for Maram and wants to connect with her, but it’s impossible to tell whether Maram will let Amani in and possibly become friends or if she’ll cruelly reject Amani and lash out at her as everyone has come to expect from Maram. I loved how unpredictable she was and that I could never decide which Maram was the real Maram, the one who lashes out at everyone or the more open and vulnerable one who occasionally came out in Amani’s presence. I think my fascination with Maram is only going to continue to grow in the next book too.
In addition to these amazing characters, there is also a dash of forbidden love in Mirage that really appealed to me. That is of course between Amani and Idris. I mean, seriously, of all the people you could feel attracted to, you have to pick the guy who is engaged to the woman you are pretending to be? How completely awkward but yet, oh so entertaining!
The worldbuilding in Mirage is some of the best that I’ve read. Daud has woven together a rich and beautiful atmospheric setting that is inspired by Moroccan culture. It is also complemented by elements of science fiction and fantasy, with a subtle magical system also included. I was utterly captivated by this world and every detail in it.
Finally, since I mentioned the whole Star Wars vibe thing, yes there are definitely hints of rebellion and resistance to the Vathek in this novel. Like Amani, those who have been conquered by the Vathek are clearly tired of being treated like dirt on what was actually their own land before the Vathek descended and took over control. I don’t want to spoil anything so that’s all I’m going to say, but it screams to me that even though this first book was mostly character driven, the action is going to ratchet up in the next book!
I almost hate to write anything in this section because I really did adore the book overall, but since I pride myself on honest reviews, I will say that there were a couple of spots along the way where I felt the pacing was a little slow. Thankfully there were only a couple and those centered around some of Amani’s training/study sessions where she was studying up on how to be like Maram and the “tests” that she had to take to see if she could actually fool anyone. Most of those sessions and tests were pretty interesting, but after a while, I was definitely ready for the story to move along and get to something more exciting.
Somaiya Daud is truly a gifted storyteller whose writing style was just such a good fit for me. The words in Mirage flow so smoothly and beautifully that I was drawn in immediately and couldn’t put the book down. Mirage is a beautiful and moving tale with characters that command your attention and whose plight you can’t help but become fully invested in. It’s one of my favorite reads of the year so far and so I highly recommend it to any fans of fantasy and science fiction, but especially to those who love character driven stories.
In a star system dominated by the brutal Vathek empire, eighteen-year-old Amani is a dreamer. She dreams of what life was like before the occupation; she dreams of writing poetry like the old-world poems she adores; she dreams of receiving a sign from Dihya that one day, she, too, will have adventure, and travel beyond her isolated moon.
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.