Publisher: Flatiron Books
Release Date: August 28, 2018
Received From: NetGalley
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.
GENDER: presumed cisgender
SEXUALITY: presumed heterosexual
ROMANTIC ORIENTATION: presumed heteroromantic
TROPES: love triangle, rebellion, class disparity
TAGS: young adult, fantasy, romance, Moroccan characters, POC characters, Moroccan authors, POC authors, biracial character, ownvoices
WARNINGS: kidnapping, poverty, classism, violence, death, mental illness (panic attack), physical injury, torture, anti-Native language (“savage”), non consensual medical procedures, slavery mention, ableism, racism, mass death mention, genocide mention, ethnic cleansing mention, cheating
“You are not defined by the men in your life, no matter how powerful. You lived before them and you shall live after them. You can’t let them determine your path.”
A Moroccan-inspired fantasy, MIRAGE tells the story of Amani, a poor farmer’s daughter who is kidnapped in order to act as a body double for the princess; Maram, the princess who is universally hated; and Idris, the boy who’s engaged to the princess but in love with her mirage.
As most fantasy novels do, this book took a little while to pick up as the worldbuilding was initiated and cemented in the reader’s sense of the world they’re in. But once it did, this book was a rollercoaster of action, emotion, and mystery. Even though it follows the typical methodology of fantasy novels featuring the insurgence of rebellion, Daud does a fantastic job of utilizing these steps in a way that keeps you on your toes and keeps you guessing. Just when I thought I knew what was going to happen next, Daud seamlessly inserted a different set of circumstances that blew my expectations out of the water. And not only that, but practically every scene is awash in so much emotion that it’s impossible not to become attached to the characters and keep flipping the pages to see what will happen with them next.
Speaking of the characters, all of them, but especially the main three, are so beautifully, wonderfully complex. First, there’s Amani, the main character whose perspective we read from throughout the entirety of the novel. She is a poor farm girl living her life as happily as she can when she is ruthlessly taken from her family, stripped of every distinguishing feature, and is held captive and forced to act as the body double for the princess–her mirror image. Over the course of the novel, we see her transform into a force to be reckoned with–someone who knows how to play the game and uses her every advantage in an attempt to get things to work in her favor. While she still despises the people who destroyed her life, she learns how to live among them, and this ability gives her the strength and power to join the rebellion, acting essentially as a double agent. Yet, through all of this, Amani still retains the softer parts of herself–the girl who loves poetry, who would protect her family at all costs, who can empathize with Maram, a girl who is just as trapped as Amani.
Then there’s Idris, who is engaged to Maram but slowly falls in love with Amani after he reveals that he knows her secret and gets to know the real her. He’s a boy who is willing to marry Maram for the good of his people, for the sole purpose of protecting protecting his family. Idris was an interesting character to read about because he is very clearly putting on a brave, cold face when he’s amongst the Vath and around Maram, but when he’s able to let his guard down, he is so gentle and caring. He knows that he cannot afford to show much weakness, but he cannot become completely resigned and hardened to his fate lest it destroy the rest of him.
Finally, there’s Maram, who was perhaps the most fascinating to read. As mentioned above, she is universally hated–the Vath her for the mere fact of her blood, while the Andalans hate her for the viciousness she’s enacted upon them due to growing up surrounded by the cold, cruel Vath. And this quote from the narration struck me as an excellent observation about her:
I didn’t want to plumb Maram’s hidden depths. There was nothing that could change what she’d done to me when I first arrived, or the way she treated those around her. Despite that, I couldn’t forget how the Vath had shaped her. How early she’d lost her mother. How terrible such an upbringing would be. They’d shaped her into the cruel, hateful creature she was now. I imagined she didn’t believe she had a choice in how she behaved. Survival among the Vath would have ensured that.
As Amani says, there’s no excuse for Maram’s past actions, but it is also important to remember who she grew up with, how they treated her, and the fact that she needed to adapt in order to survive. It was so interesting to me to watch her progression throughout the novel. From the cruel girl who mistreats Amani for no reason to the tentative niceness to viewing Amani almost as a sister. Slowly, slowly Maram and Amani build trust between them. It was devastating, at the end, to see Maram slip back behind the easy comfort of cruelty when she’s convinced that Amani betrayed her. I am desperate to see what Daud will do with Maram separately, and her and Amani together, in the next installment.
While the overall plot of the novel was interesting and an enjoyable read, this book was largely character driven and that worked so well for me, setting it apart from other Young Adult fantasy novels.
MIRAGE is the lush, lyrical, feminist fantasy we’ve all been waiting for, and you must not miss out on this one!
Somaiya Daud was born in a Midwestern city, and spent a large part of her childhood and adolescence moving around. Like most writers, she started when she was young and never really stopped. Her love of all things books propelled her to get a degree in English literature (specializing in the medieval and early modern), and while she worked on her Master’s degree she doubled as a bookseller at Politics and Prose in their children’s department. Determined to remain in school for as long as possible, she packed her bags in 2014 and moved the west coast to pursue a doctoral degree in English literature. Now she’s preparing to write a dissertation on Victorians, rocks, race, and the environment. Mirage is her debut, and is due from Flatiron Books in 8/28/2018.