Series: Mirage #1
Published by Flatiron Books on August 28, 2018
Source: Publisher, Netgalley
Genres: Young Adult, Diversity, Own Voices, Romance, Science Fiction, Fantasy
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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: something that appears real or possible but is not in fact so.
The title of MIRAGE may suggest an optical illusion of sorts, but the story in this book felt so real and touching when I read it. This Moroccan-inspired fantasy brings readers across planets and kingdoms. It touches upon colonization, oppression, and the underlying belief of hope. We follow the adventure of Amani, a poetry-lover from a poor village, who gets taken on a day of celebration to act as the body double of the cruel princess of the realm, Maram. This book was exciting from start to finish, and Daud’s exquisite prose only contributes to the exhilarating atmosphere that MIRAGE shares. I highly recommend this book to fantasy readers looking for a refreshing, unique read!
In the wake of this – of life – I had no need for a sign. I wanted something else, something more tangible and immediate. I wanted the world.
Told from the first person perspective of Amani, MIRAGE is less on the action side and more on the introspection and court politics side. That’s not to say it’s slow-paced, as events are constantly happening, but much of the scenes stay in the Vathek court. The background of the story features the domination of the Ouamalaich System by the Vatheks. Under the strict regime of King Mathis, a Purge was formed that wiped out the powerful royals of the Andalaans who resisted the Vathek takeover. Amani is Kushaila, one of the oldest tribe groups in Andala. Because of the Vatheks’ domination, much of their customs and traditions have dissipated. Amani keeps her heritage close to her heart though, especially with the rare book of poetry. While Amani longs for adventure, the one she gets isn’t what she was quite looking for.
The crown of Dihya had been stripped from me, my face changed, my body broken. But I was not a slave and I was not a spare. I was my mother’s daughter, and I would survive and endure. I would find my way back home.
Amani’s a strong and resourceful girl that really grows into her character throughout the story. Although she’s scared when she gets taken by the Vatheks, she remains defiant. She turns this nervous and angry energy in becoming a successful body double of the cruel Princess Maram, who is biracial (half-Vathek and half-Kushaila). The story is very driven by the characters and the relationships that they make. While Maram is first introduced as very mean and spiteful, she also has a lot of inner turmoil that is explored later through dialogue. I thought Daud did an amazing job in bringing Maram to life. She has doubts and insecurities, and her upbringing guided her to the cruel lifestyle that she uses as a defense. She begins to slowly open up through interactions with Amani, who has her own agenda in mind.
Another galvanizing relationship is Amani’s slow-growing attraction with Idris, who is betrothed to Maram. Idris seems like a wild card at first, especially as Amani is untrusting of anyone in the palace, but he turns out to be an awesome advocate and overall sweet guy. The role of fiance was thrust upon him after most of his family was killed off in the Purge, and he’s taught himself to play by the games of the Vathek court to survive. My heart really went out to him, and I loved his playful and empathetic interactions with Amani. There’s a major forbidden-love component in their romance, which brings a nice twist of angst, but overall both characters complemented the other very well. (And their scenes were so sweet!)
All choices had been taken from us, and still we’d found a way to forge paths independent of what our masters wanted.
There’s a hidden rebellion that comes into picture later on, but the majority of the book is Amani just trying to survive. She goes from being a poor village girl to the body double of the princess of the star system. That’s definitely an adjustment, and I think Daud did an incredible job of writing her character development.
The world-building in terms of kingdom hierarchy was really well-done, although the outer space aspect wasn’t explored as much. We traveled to different planets in the book, but other than some superficial descriptions, their discoveries and function wasn’t very in-depth. The atmosphere felt more like a historical fantasy than space fantasy, although I guess I would describe it as a traditional fantasy set in space? Because of this, the technology was a bit of a moot point. There were some instances of sci-fi gadgets, but they were always small, convenient inventions put on the sides of the storyline.
I really enjoyed this fantasy, and definitely urge readers to pick it up! (If anything, just look at the gorgeous cover!) Daud’s voice is extremely refreshing as she stirs up the beginnings of a rebellion set in space. The character and relationship development is basically all I ever want in a novel, and I can’t wait to see how Amani’s adventure continues in the sequel. There’s a hint of a cliffhanger, but for the most part the story provided a satisfying resolution that got me ready for the next book!
Content Warning: abuse, violence, trauma, torture
Rating: 4 out of 5
Thank you Hachette Australia, Flatiron Books and Netgalley for the review copy!
Mirage is available from Australian bookstores for RRP$19.99 or from The Book Depository.