Series: Mirage #1
Publisher : Flatiron Books | Macmillan
Genre : Young Adult |Fantasy, Science Fiction
Page Count: 320
Synopsis : 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. (From Goodreads)
CW: Death, colonialisation, cultural appropriation, violence, attempted murder.
I delayed writing this review until the last possible moment because I simply do not feel worthy of writing it, my words will never do this brilliant book justice. I wasn’t okay when I read it. And I’m still not okay now, two months later. Mirage broke me and put me back together in the most amazing away, it felt like something I have been missing, longing for all my life, that I have finally found. BUT I can’t delay it anymore, because I DO want to talk about it. I want people to know about it, read it and love it.
Somaiya Daud’s writing style is absolutely breathtaking, it’s majestic and lyrical. It fits the story and its emphasis on poetry like a glove. It’s so atmospheric that while reading I found myself mesmerized, completely sucked in and wraped up inside the story, the prose keeping me tightly in, flipping page after page until ungodly hours of the night. I just couldn’t get enough of it.
The worldbuilding in Mirage must be one of the best ones I’ve read in my life, it’s complex and infused with culture from start to finish, moroccan culture, and specifically amazighi culture (indigenous people of North Africa), my culture, and I cannot put into words how important that was to me and how emotional it made me. Every time I saw something, even little, that was directly drawn from it, the recognition felt like a warm hug, put a huge smile on my face and made my heart swell with joy and pride. Language, parties, food, traditions, instruments, EVERYTHING. All of those as well as Northwest African mythology were weaved into the narrative with elements unique to the story.
The book doesn’t only draw from Moroccan culture but also loosely from our actual history. The importance of poetry as a means of resistance in Mirage was directly inspired by the Years of Lead, a period of time in the end of the 20th century (mainly between the 60s and 80s) that is quite painful to the people who lived through it. People were oppressed and strongly discouraged (I mean, forbidden) from forming and voicing their own opinions so people would use art and media as a form of rebellion and resistance, and poetry was one of the more proeminent tools they used during that time period. And faced violent repercussion for doing so.
It was also a time when the indigenous tribes were erased more than ever (the groups are marginalized all throughout post-Arab Moroccan history) and fighting for their recognition, so I thought the mention of Dihya as such an important figure in the book was invaluable as she is an important figure in Amazighi history and a symbol of anti-colonialism, liberation, and feminism.
Morocco also has its fair share of colonialism throughout history. Many times over, actually. And you can see the juxtaposition of that in the book because the plot at its core is one of resistance. Not only for Amani against the people who are keeping her captive but also for the Kushaila against their invaders. The plot paces itself, it has its fast pace and high stress moments but uses this first book mainly to set a solid ground for events to come in the series, and trust me, the setting is one of the best parts so you’ll love every bit of it. You see Amani navigates her captivity, adjusting to it and pushing against its limits to see how far they stretch, which definitely backfires more than once and is equally heartbreaking and full to the brim with hope.
Speaking of Amani, she’s an amazing main character with a compelling voice. She is thrown into the lion’s mouth, away from everything that’s familiar to her, with her sharp mouth and poetry, which are ultimately deemed by the bone deep fear that came soon after she entered the palace and was faced with soul shattering violence. I loved her character growth as she found her way through the palace, learnt the politics around her and found away to make a space for herself, even if small. She grew into herself and found the courage and witts within her as the days passed to speak her mind with diplomacy and ways that didn’t get her in trouble. She also gained the confidence to stand up for herself and take matter into her hands and you could see her radiate with it in the second half of the book.
Then we have Maram, the ruthless princess, who happens to have both Vathek and Kushaila blood (her dad being the invader and her mom, kushaila). She’s hated by her people but once we get to know her we discover that there’s much more depth to her than what we’re led to believe at first. The Kushaila hate her for her Vathek blood while the Vaths hate her for her Kushaila roots which led her to be deeply insecure and guarded and cruelty is the only way she’s taught to deal with anything. The author analyzes the complexity of her character while never once excusing the vicious ways with which she treats people.
Their reluctant friendship is a pilar in the book. They obviously start as ennemies, but as Amani learns more about her she sees that every bad thing about Maram stems from her solitude so she tries to get her to warm up to her. Maram in turn, finds a genuine companion in her which isn’t something she’s ever had and starts trusting her and seeking her outside her duties. There’s also romance in the book, between Amani and Maram’s fiancé Idriss (Maram and Idriss are arranged and don’t have any type of romantic feelings for each other), and I found it really swoon-worthy, they both understanding each other perfectly and finding a solace and a piece of home in one another, the forbidden aspect of it is also something I am a complete sucker for.
With how everything was handled, and how much potential the book has especially with that ending, I cannot wait for the second book in the series.
That’s it until next time.
Did you read Mirage? If so, what did you think?
Hope you enjoyed, write to you soon.