Mirage is a beautifully written, feminist sci-fi YA which manages to combine a lush Moroccan inspired fantasy world with stories of colonialism and sisterhood. This has to be one of the best debuts I’ve read in a long time.
Living on the ‘backwater moon’ of Cadiz, Amani is kidnapped during her traditional coming of age ceremony and taken to Ziyaana, the imperial palace on Andala and home of the Vathek royal family, who invaded Amani’s home and erased their culture. Amani learns that she has been taken to be the body double of the cruel, half-Vathek princess Maram vak Mathis, who has the features of her Kushaila mother – and looks identical to Amani. Due to an increase in rebel attacks on Maram, Amani must learn to become Maram for all public appearances, fooling the princesses family, others in the court, and her fiancé, Idris.
As I mentioned, the key theme throughout this book is one of colonialism. The Vathek have erased Kushaila culture to the point where those who grew up Kushaila and are now under supervision of the Vath, such as Idris, can no longer remember their mother tongue. Maram struggles daily with not feeling accepted by either side of her family, after being distanced from her mother’s Kushaila relatives by her father. This book isn’t about action – it’s about interactions, and the parts describing Amani trying to reconnect both Idris and Maram with their Kushaila heritage have to be the most important sections of this book.
The characters are multi-layered and complex; Amani is not just your stereotypical YA heroine, but has genuine motive. She doesn’t follow the trope of acting before thinking – each decision is thought out and she only wants to protect those that she loves. Throughout the book, we see her go from a girl who believes her situation to be hopeless, that she is too small to make a difference, to learning how to navigate the Vathek court and better understand how she can help her people, and she truly understands her strength. However, the character development I was really interested in was Marams. The cruel, unyielding princess is not just a standard villain going along with her fathers machinations. Maram has been forced to feel like an outsider – scorned by those who are fully Vathek and see her as lesser, pushed away from her Kushaila family who mourn their loss of her, putting on an act to those around her in order to bear how she can never feel as though she’s good enough for any part of herself. I grew from disliking Maram at the beginning to really rooting for her, and rooting for her and Amani’s friendship. Although I had nothing against Idris as a character, I didn’t really care for the romance between him and Amani – it was the one part of Mirage that felt too much like a YA trope, plus it’s bound to end in disaster. However, Maram and Amani’s relationship was definitely focused on more, and I’m glad of that.
Overall, Mirage was a very strong debut novel. I was invested in both the storyline and characters straight away, and I’m almost regretting reading the ARC as I know I now have to wait even longer for the sequel!
Lots of Love,