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Review: Mirage

Title: Mirage
Author: Somaiya Daud
Rating: 5/5 stars
Summary: 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.

It took me way too long to read this book; I started the first chapter and then landed in one of the worst mental health few weeks I’ve ever had. Needless to say in between all the crying and the mental spiraling, I was not in the mood to read. Once I started feeling better, I checked out the audiobook instead of the ebook from the library, because I figured it would be easier for my tired brain to absorb the story that way. I’m glad I switched mediums, because once I did, I raced through the story in 2 days.

In an interview at the end of the book, the author says something along the lines of “People sometimes say they can’t wait for the space age, when all our cultures are blended and unified and there is no more internal strife based on identity, and I find that horrific. Cultures have immense importance and history, and we should be able to celebrate our differences” (that’s not a quote, but my paraphrase of the discussion). She goes on to say that she wrote Mirage, a space-age novel, as a way of exploring what happens when a specific culture goes into space and manages to keep their religion and culture intact while also being scientifically advanced (and discusses why religion, culture, and scientific knowledge are not mutually exclusive along the way). There are so many details in this book that show how much Somaiya Daud was inspired by her Moroccan heritage and wanted to do it justice. It’s not just in the names of characters, or in the mythology of the world. It’s built into the way the characters think of themselves, as part of a tribe or community larger than a simple nuclear family; it’s in the way poetry holds so much emotion and history, and plays such a large role in this novel. These are the elements that only someone who grew up with a certain culture can do justice to, because someone from the outside looking in would not be able to integrate all of this lived experience and cultural history through research alone.

I also really loved the way the interactions between characters changed so much over the course of the novel. You think you know who the hero and the villain of this story are, but it’s more complicated than that. I loved the immense growth all the main characters underwent, and I thought the character development was really well-integrated with the escalating political instability. These characters are put into increasingly precarious situations, and it was lovely to see trust being both built and shattered throughout the book. This is absolutely a character-driven book, so don’t go into it expecting huge plot twists or a fast-paced plot, but it does do an excellent job of describing life in a colonial empire.

I’ve seen a lot of people call this book YA but it didn’t really feel that way to me. I think it might be a case of “the main characters are teenagers and the author is a woman of color therefore this must be YA” (which unfortunately is the same problem that plagues RF Kuang’s The Poppy War or Tasha Suri’s Empire of Sand). I will say that despite the fact that the colonies were space moons and planets, and a few soldiers were droids, I felt like the sci-fi element was incidental and I was expecting the technological aspect to play a larger role in the story. It’s hard for me to categorize this book, but I guess I would go with “science fantasy”? It feels much more like a fantasy novel that just happens to be set in space.

I’m glad I read this story, and I’m very excited for Court of Lions.

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