Book Review: The Mirror Empire (Worldbreaker Saga #1) by Kameron Hurley

The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley

Rating:  ★★★★

This book took awhile for me to get into.  It’s very dense, and there is a lot of information and characters to sift through.  However, once I got into the flow of it, from about the halfway mark on, I very much enjoyed this.

The plot is rather difficult to explain without spoilers, so I’ll keep it simple.  We follow different perspectives of people living across a single land, in different positions of power and different kingdoms, as they are slowly invaded by a unified opposing force.

The world building here is very complex, if that’s your sort of thing.  There’s three distinct cultures, possibly four if we count the invading force.  They have their own hierarchies, their own customs and rituals, and their own ways of thinking.  One culture is a matriarchy, another a patriarchy, another governed by priests or priestesses. In one culture men are kept predominantly as slaves, and in another you may not touch anyone, even for a handshake, without first asking consent.  There’s a lot of nuance and it can be difficult to keep track of at first.

The characters too are very complex.  A lot of them fall into those shades of gray areas where they’re neither inherently good or bad, not really likable or unlikable.  I felt differently about some characters than my buddies did at any given moment.

Reviews on this one seem to be split, with some loving the way Hurley has subverted common fantasy tropes, and others frustrated with the story.  And I actually do understand the frustration with the story.  It’s very slow for most of the book, mostly character driven.  This first book feels very distinctly like the prelude to the rest of the story.  It doesn’t necessarily feel complete unless you’re willing to continue.  There are a lot of loose threads to clean up in future books.

I do think there are some technical issues with it.  What stands out most for me is the number of POV characters.  I think there were a lot of viewpoints included that didn’t need to be included because Hurley was trying to show us some other side to the story.  It felt like she was going for omniscient and just didn’t quite make it.  Aside from that- we are not given any clues as to which POV we are seeing most of the time.  It resulted in me doubling back several times after reading ahead to figure out who was speaking.

It won me over in the end though, and I’m excited to continue on to book two in December!

Links: GoodReads & Amazon



33 thoughts on “Book Review: The Mirror Empire (Worldbreaker Saga #1) by Kameron Hurley

  1. This didn’t work that well for me, and I haven’t continued the series. But maybe I should! I feel like I need to give Hurley another chance. I read this quite a while ago when it first came out, so I don’t remember details.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You aren’t the only one it didn’t work for. And this is one of those rare occasions where I can see why some loved it and see why others didn’t. The first half of the book I was in the same boat as you, not really impressed, thought it was too slow, too much information was being given, the second half is where the story picked up for me. But you never know- tastes do change! Maybe you’d like it more the second time around?


  2. This sounds like it has a lot going for it. The whole no touching of any kind without consent sounds like an interesting culture and it makes curious as to how different the others are.

    The only thing that puts me off js the slow pacing you mentioned. I’ve had more than my fair share of slow ones 😦

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It didn’t work out for me, sadly. I couldn’t get into the artificial change of gender-related elements of culture as the main axis of the book, and by the end I found myself not caring one whit for any of the characters. I actually thought they were severely underdeveloped, and that all energy Hurley had she poured into her attempt to subvert the usual fantasy tropes :). But I’m glad it worked out for you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • You aren’t the only one Ola! There were a lot of people who felt as you did. I liked that the characters all had their own wants and desires. And I felt the reversal of gender roles really only applied to one Kingdom, so I was okay with it. I think if it had been every culture everywhere within this world I would have felt as you did.

      I think in a big way Hurley was satirizing all the male dominated fantasy societies out there. If those roles had been reversed between her Zezilli and her husband, I don’t think anyone would have thought twice about it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • It’s a great review.

        The way I read the different cultures: Zezilli’s was a full blown matriarchy modeled after historical patriarchies. The Dhai share power, men or women can rule as Kai (evidenced by brother stepping up after sister dies), and then the Saduan (probably spelled this wrong) is a patriarchy, ruled by the “Patron”.

        I think maybe Hurley is setting them all up to be compared side-by-side, but the most shocking of these was Zezilli’s culture, whose name I’ve forgotten, which is maybe why it stuck with us most. I have the sense that what she is leaning towards portraying as the good guys are the Dhai, where men or women can hold power, who for now, are the most virtuous of the three.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you! 😊

        Not sure if I remeber correctly, but the brother stepping into the role of Kai was accused of being weak, at least in some part due to the prevalent gender stereotypes.
        It did look like she wanted to get them all together at some point, and there was this emancipation side plot for Zezilli’s husband – I just felt it was laid on much too thickly. It’s not like we need to repudiate Conan the Barbarian-esque stereotypes any longer, at least judging by the mainstream fantasy of today 😉

        Liked by 1 person

      • I understood the brother to be weak due to his lack of ability with the moons/Stars. I don’t think he had a gift at all, but I could be remembering that wrong. I think it was also thought that he was lazy- or at the very least not at all interested in politics.

        I have been known to read what I want into situations also.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Haha 😀 I thought that his gender was generally the main reason he was thought weak and lazy 😉 As I read it nearly three years ago, however, that might be only the general impression I retained, and one not that firmly rooted in facts at that 😉

        It is very interesting to see the various elements of this novel from different readers’ perspective 😀

        Liked by 1 person

      • It is indeed. Some books, regardless of how people feel about them, do make for very interesting discussions.

        Another one like that is Too Like the Lightning. It’s a personal favorite of mine but I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. It’s just… bleh. I don’t even have words. So complicated.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Oh, man… 😂 Okay, I’m willing to take that risk, but first – The Last Kingdom 😉 And that – not before A Little Hatred and Moby Dick… So – I’m sure sometime next year is quite likely! 😉

        Liked by 1 person

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