Book Review – The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley

The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley

The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley

The blurb reflects:

On the eve of a recurring catastrophic event known to extinguish nations and reshape continents, a troubled orphan evades death and slavery to uncover her own bloody past… while a world goes to war with itself.

In the frozen kingdom of Saiduan, invaders from another realm are decimating whole cities, leaving behind nothing but ash and ruin. At the heart of this war lie the pacifistic Dhai people, once enslaved by the Saiduan and now courted by their former masters to provide aid against the encroaching enemy.

Stretching from desolate tundra to steamy, semi-tropical climes seething with sentient plant life, this is an epic tale of blood mages and mercenaries, emperors and priestly assassins who must unite to save a world on the brink of ruin.

As the dark star of the cataclysm rises, an illegitimate ruler is tasked with holding together a country fractured by civil war; a precocious young fighter is asked to betray his family to save his skin; and a half-Dhai general must choose between the eradication of her father’s people or loyalty to her alien Empress.

Through tense alliances and devastating betrayal, the Dhai and their allies attempt to hold against a seemingly unstoppable force as enemy nations prepare for a coming together of worlds as old as the universe itself.

In the end, one world will rise – and many will perish.

First of all (as you can see) the cover is awesome.  I’m not really sure what the big red/yellow thing is (it might be a 1, I guess we’ll find out when the second book is out) but it’s cool.

Apart from the cover the reason I chose to read this book was because I’d read a book by Kameron Hurley previously and was very impressed.  I haven’t finished that series yet, but this book was on sale, so that sealed it.

In God’s War the author shunned the status quo by having a strong female protagonist, mostly female characters and some unconventional changes to society.  The Mirror Empire takes a similar path but much, much further.  Almost all of the main characters are women, some of the societies are matriarchal but even further there are several genders, orientations and family configurations.

God’s War also felt unconventional because all technology was biological and because the dominant religion was Islam.  In The Mirror Empire the author seems intent on not using anything familiar at all – there are very few recognizable archetypes, mythology or technology – a lot is left to the reader to figure out.

The plot arc isn’t really right for a single book but is about par for the first book in a series – the climax wasn’t very dramatic, but that makes sense as just one step in a multi-book story.

My only criticism of the book is that there are so many names and worlds that it’s hard to keep track of it all.  By the time I got 3/4 of the way through I wanted to make diagrams of what was going on and where everyone was.

Book Review – The Shadow Of What Was Lost by James Islington

The Shadow Of What Was Lost by James Islington

The Shadow Of What Was Lost by James Islington

The blurb augurs:

It has been twenty years since the end of the war. The dictatorial Augurs – once thought of almost as gods – were overthrown and wiped out during the conflict, their much-feared powers mysteriously failing them. Those who had ruled under them, men and women with a lesser ability known as the Gift, avoided the Augurs’ fate only by submitting themselves to the rebellion’s Four Tenets. A representation of these laws is now written into the flesh of any who use the Gift, forcing those so marked into absolute obedience.

As a student of the Gifted, Davian suffers the consequences of a war fought – and lost – before he was born. Despised by most beyond the school walls, he and those around him are all but prisoners as they attempt to learn control of the Gift. Worse, as Davian struggles with his lessons, he knows that there is further to fall if he cannot pass his final tests.

But when Davian discovers he has the ability to wield the forbidden power of the Augurs, he sets into motion a chain of events that will change everything. To the north, an ancient enemy long thought defeated begins to stir. And to the west, a young man whose fate is intertwined with Davian’s wakes up in the forest, covered in blood and with no memory of who he is…

The prologue was kind of a mess – full of unpronounceable names and referring to events of which we could have no possible knowledge or hope of remembering for later.

The book was a lot longer than I expected.  Sometimes this can be a bad thing – for example if a book is full of too many unimportant details of plotlines that don’t matter – but in this case it wasn’t.  Although the book went through a couple fairly distinct phases, it didn’t feel like separate books shunted together as much as just a longer, more complex story.

In fact I wasn’t very impressed by the book until about halfway through, when it was revealed that there was a lot more to the story than we had yet seen.  Unfortunately this book does a lot of hinting at things that won’t happen until later books.

There were a few nice twists, especially a big one at the end, but again this really just leads into the rest of the series.

As I said in the beginning there are a lot of unpronounceable names and a lot of characters, so by the end of the book there were people being referred to only by name (as if I should be familiar with them) and I had no idea who they were.

Book Review – The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg

The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg

The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg

The blurb unfolds:

Ceony Twill arrives at the cottage of Magician Emery Thane with a broken heart. Having graduated at the top of her class from the Tagis Praff School for the Magically Inclined, Ceony is assigned an apprenticeship in paper magic despite her dreams of bespelling metal. And once she’s bonded to paper, that will be her only magic…forever.

Yet the spells Ceony learns under the strange yet kind Thane turn out to be more marvelous than she could have ever imagined—animating paper creatures, bringing stories to life via ghostly images, even reading fortunes. But as she discovers these wonders, Ceony also learns of the extraordinary dangers of forbidden magic.

An Excisioner—a practitioner of dark, flesh magic—invades the cottage and rips Thane’s heart from his chest. To save her teacher’s life, Ceony must face the evil magician and embark on an unbelievable adventure that will take her into the chambers of Thane’s still-beating heart—and reveal the very soul of the man.

Before I even started reading the book I was impressed by the idea of paper/origami magic – coming up with an original magic system is quite an achievement.  The reality of it ended up being less exciting, but it’s still original.

The first thing that struck me was the oddly unpronounceable names of the characters and places.  Coupled with this were some difficult to parse sentences which made the beginning of the book slow going, but this got better as the book went on.  I assume this is an inexperienced author and that they will only get better.

The blurb actually mentions that  a major plot point is travelling through someone’s heart/soul to save them, but I’d forgotten by the time I started reading the book.  This meant that I thought the book was going to be about the main character’s education, when instead it was mostly a series flashbacks showing the other character’s life.  This isn’t really bad, it just left me with feeling like the majority of the book was actually an interlude.

I liked that the main character was a woman and that she had agency and sacrificed to achieve her goals.

There is a cool twist at the end that leaves a door open for interesting things in further books.