My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Digital ARC provided by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
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.”
Mirage was a surprising read. I think I was going into it expecting something completely different. I’m not sure that that’s all that bad. It was a lot slower and richer than I expected, a lot more focused on the relationships between characters and the lush history built into their world. In that way it kinda felt more like a fantasy novel (and I mean that in the best of ways).
The characters themselves I was actually really intrigued by. I liked Amani a lot as a narrator, I really liked the balance that she struck between understandably afraid and helpless, and embracing the power that being a body double gave her. Her growth throughout was incredible, honestly. It was the kind of growth that I’m always wishing for in YA novels (growing a spine, embracing the power). (spoiler)I mean that she was trained to be harsh like Maram, and she was playing the role of princess… and then she used it? For her own sake? (spoiler)
Maram, though, was (surprisingly) my favourite part of the novel. I hated her, at first, but I think, if anything, that shows the power of this story. Her character was one of the more interesting and complex villains that I’ve read in awhile, and I wanted to see more of her. More so than the romance, even. She had a genuinely interesting backstory, and compelling reasons for the way that she was. And you could see little flicker of hope growing in her as the story progressed. (spoiler)I even liked the whole betrayal arc, after they declared themselves sisters and Maram apologised for her actions earlier on. I don’t think ‘sorry’ is necessarily enough to fix literal abuse, but I think her growth as a character showed she was earning another chance.(spoiler)
What I most liked about her was the shades of grey she added to an otherwise very black and white issue. I liked that she made it more complex than good and bad, and rebellion against total evil. I liked that she wasn’t all that she seemed on the outside, nor were her relationships with the court and those around her (especially when the two sides of her family were compared). These shades of grew allowed the book to explore the mourning and grief of a ‘lost’ family in a really interesting way.
The romance…. I really wanted to like it? Idris was a sweet character, and I liked the complexities of his character (especially in regards to the survivor and captive aspects). I would have liked to see more of him growing up, and more of that struggle, though, to really connect with him. I just don’t think we saw enough, and there was so much potential in him….
And their romance, though, again, very sweet, was very fast. (spoiler)I think it came from his identifying her so quick. Like I get how he would, and I liked that he was that observant, but wouldn’t he have been more careful? Why not let it go on a little longer and observe?(spoiler) I liked their shared culture, and the way that they shared it, and a language that Idris had half forgotten, was a really believable way for them to grow closer. I just wish it’d had a little more time before (spoiler)the declarations of love.(spoiler)
And, okay, I do wish the sci fi element had been explored a little more. Just because I was very excited to see a fantasy-esq premise in a sci-fi world, and I am a fan of the potential that science fiction offered. Though the moons explored and the use of droids was cool, it was kinda only just scraping the surface of all the technology that they could have had. I have hope, though, that this might be something they can explore in future books….
In all, I devoured this book in a sitting, and I am anticipating the next. Not sure that I’d recommend it to people looking for the sci-fi, but I’d definitely recommend it to those fond of fantasy and looking for a bit of a cross over? Or anyone who enjoys a rich culture brought into a “fantasy” esq plot, complete with gorgeous outfits and enough food descriptions to make you hungry while you read….