Mirage is Somaiya Daud's debut novel and boy, is it a stellar way to burst onto the scene. Full of rich detail and a diverse, nuanced mythos, Mirage is the type of science fiction and fantasy book that I think a lot of young women have been waiting for. Read on for my full review! Note: I received an advanced reader's copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions below are my own.
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.
First off, Somaiya Daud is clearly a master storyteller. Her detailing is intricate and her writing is absolutely beautiful. She describes scenes with vivid detail, but my favorite descriptions by far are the sumptuous gowns and fashions of the star system. There are differences between Kushaila and Vathek attire, one being more striking while the other is a bit more modest, and Daud takes care to use their differences to emphasize the differences in these two cultures as well. Most of Mirage takes place in a royal setting, so you can imagine the gorgeous gowns that we were treated to! It was basically like reading a fashion show on paper.
I adored Amani, our protagonist. She is spunky and strong- clearly, if she has any chance of surviving the cards that fate has dealt her in playing the part of a cruel princess. At the same time, she does not lose sight of her convictions and her love for her family and religion. I haven't read enough fantasy and science fiction books where an MC is able to rely on the strength of her faith and religion to help her get through emotional turmoil, so this was a great revelation. The fact that religion and mythology can still play a role in a setting with science fiction elements is very interesting and it certainly takes skill to be able to blend fantasy and science fiction in such a way that it all feels seamless and believable.
However, there were a few things that I wasn't completely satisfied with. Though the setting was innovative, the plot was completely predictable. I won't spoil it, but the way this first book rounded out gives me a pretty good idea of how the next book will continue even potentially how the entire series will play out. I have my fingers crossed that this isn't the case and that I'll be pleasantly surprised with some plot twists in the next two books!
I was also extremely lost while I read Mirage because of the space politicking. I had no context for the names of peoples and races, colonies and stars, religious figures and terminology. None at all, and I don't think the book did a great job of giving the reader enough background as the story progressed and specific nouns became more integral to the plot. 320 pages isn't a ton of room to expound on an entire religion, mythos, and history, so perhaps we'll get more background in the next two books. I will also note that the ARC I received had a placeholder for a map, which I am sure would have helped somewhat!