Synopsis: A fantasy world is invaded by its own recently(?)-divergent parallel universe.
Book Review: The Mirror Empire had a lot of promise. It starts with interesting societies (one where the social norm is that there is no physical touch without explicit consent beforehand! I know a number people who would love that), an awesome post-post-apocalyptic world (a thousand years ago it was made nearly uninhabitable via magical warfare, now society has recovered but is under constant strain), and the promise that these people (the entire populace, in fact) are going to have to fight their own doppelgangers! That’s a hell of a way to start!
But it bogs down very quickly, and soon becomes a chore. There are several ethnicities across multiple countries (and two worlds) which are never well differentiated. Everyone is basically baseline human without distinguishing features. I found myself longing for elves that are tall and thin, and dwarfs that are short and hairy. Yes, they’re stereotypes, but they help distinguish peoples quickly and definitively. This is further complicated by every ethnicity having several internal factions working at cross-purposes. And each faction has complicated familial ties and alliances with outsiders. I felt like I should be taking notes.
Making the problem worse is that Hurley creates new words where currently-existing words in common usage would suffice. Why create the term “Ora” when the word “Priest” already exists? Why use the term “-jista” with the term “-mage” already exists? It’s another thing for us to have to mentally catalogue in a book already full of complex plots, double-dealing, and extended family trees.
There are some really great moments in the book. I love realpolitik and cynicism, and The Mirror Empire has them in spades. But it began to feel very tropey very quickly. If you’ve read much grimdark the action quickly becomes very easy to predict. None of the characters are all that relatable (except the character who gets the least amount of screen time), and this is a much bigger problem with grimdark than with other genres IMHO. If you don’t viscerally want the protagonists to do the terrible things they are doing despite yourself, you aren’t getting that kick of horror-as-you-look-in-the-mirror that we relish. Not Recommended.
Book Club Review: Almost no one in the book club finished the book. In addition to the problems I mentioned above, it’s quite long, which led to a high drop-out rate. Even those who finished didn’t have all that much to say about it, as there was nothing very divisive or controversial about it. Not Recommended.