Mirage (Mirage, #1)by Published 28 Aug 2018
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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.
"Mirage (Mirage, #1)" Reviews
“you are not defined by the men in your life, no matter how powerful. You lived before them and you shall live after them. You can’t let them determine your path.”
3 1/2 stars. Now THIS is the feminist YA fantasy of 2018, not Heart of Thorns. It's imperfect, yes, falling into a number of debut author traps, but it's a slow-burning, diverse fantasy with a rich, Moroccan-inspired setting.
Somewhat surprisingly, Mirage is a character-driven fantasy. Most YA fantasy I read is driven by mindless action and romance, but Daud crafts fascinating relationship dynamics between her female characters. Amani's romance with Idris was unexciting to me, but that's okay because it was totally eclipsed by the far more interesting growing relationship between Amani and Maram (I was kinda hoping the romance would be between them, to be honest).
In this world - a vaguely sci-fi setting that reads like a fantasy (not unlike Meyer's Lunar Chronicles) - Amani is kidnapped from her poor village on the moon, Cadiz, and taken to the royal palace, the Ziyaana, on the planet of Andala. There she finds she is the body double of the cruel princess Maram and must pose as the princess and learn to imitate her at societal events.
The book looks at themes of colonialism and the erasure of native cultures. Andala has been invaded and occupied by the Vathek Empire-- which cannot coincidentally share the name of Beckford's orientalist Vathek. Away from the prying eyes of the Vathek elite, Amani and Idris celebrate Kushaila poetry and bond over their stories of the occupation.
But what I enjoyed most was how Daud develops Maram into such a complex and interesting character. I love "villains" who are more than simply bad. I dislike so much that she does but I care about her, too. Also interesting is Amani's navigation through the political and social world she finds herself in, and how easily she soon finds it to become Maram, even seduced by the power she holds.
As I said, it's not perfect. The sci-fi elements are perfunctory in a novel that otherwise seems to be a straight-up fantasy book. The addition of droids adds nothing of interest, which is disappointing. There is also the standard "character made to recite world history for no good reason" that happens so often in YA fantasy. There has to be a better way to integrate this info.
It's a slower book than the average YA fantasy, focusing on conversations and exploring relationships. Amani must juggle allies and decide who, if anyone, she can trust. And, you know, it was actually really refreshing-- to have both a unique setting and a tale that focuses on character interactions and court politics. I'll be reading the sequel.
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I am, as the poets say, a complete mess over this book.
I love this book for many reasons: least of which that lately I’ve been full of the restless, dissatisfied energy that seemed to move into my heart after finishing a book, I’ve been chasing that particular high you only get from certain rare stories – the ones that make you want to press the book against your chest and try to soak up the gorgeous literature via osmosis, the ones that resonate with you on a strange personal level, like a reminder of a half-remembered memory that was once very dear to you but has somehow been forgotten; and chief of which is the ragged awe of reading something so achingly familiar, a story that feels like home, and the most gentle and glowy emotion in your chest at the knowledge that your culture has found its way into the YA fare and has been brought to an audience who likely would not have known about it otherwise.
So, what is this book about?
Mirage is set in a Moroccan proxy world called Cadiz, a moon of the planet Andala which has been conquered by the Vath, a ruthless empire from another planet intent on erasing the customs and traditions of the Cadiz people. During her community’s traditional coming of age ceremony, 18-year-old Amani is violently stolen from her family in an impoverished village on Cadiz, and held captive in the imperial palace, Ziyaana, where she is shocked to find that she bears a striking resemblance to the half-Vathek princess, Maram vak Mathis, who is known to be as cruel and unforgiven as her Vathek father but with the face of her Kushaila mother. In response to increased rebel attacks, Amani is forced to train to become the princess’s body double.
“I had lost a battle I’d never been equipped to fight. I’d been stripped of all things that were meant to be mine, that Dihya had blessed me with, and now – how could I keep myself, preserve myself, if I had none of myself left?
If all I had was Maram?”
Mirage is drawn from recent Moroccan history, especially a historical episode known as The Years of Lead or the “black years”– the period in Morocco between the 1960s and 1980s under the reign of Hassan II. A very dark era folded in the history of my country that was notable for violent crackdowns against democracy activism and dissent that ranged from poetic expression to insisting on the recognition of Morocco’s many indigenous groups. It was a time of fear, a state of utter terror when officials acting on behalf of the monarchy have tortured, kidnapped, arrested and murdered without a trace thousands of victims. (History fact: In 2006, current King Mohammed VI expressed regret for the human rights abuses that had occurred during his father’s rule in the Years of Lead, and two years before that, an official government human rights committee (the Equity and Reconciliation Commission) has been set to investigate the impact of the human rights abuses committed by the government and administer compensations for victims of unfair policies. While Morocco is still not a democracy by the western definition of the word and human rights abuses occur pretty frequently, a lot of reforms have been set in place since then.)
Mirage also addresses the enduring wounds of colonialism, appropriation, injustice, suppression and erasure along with orientalist tropes. And Amani’s experiences of prejudice and structural inequalities draw vivid parallels with our world, without allowing a didactic message to dominate.
But what is most fascinating about this book is the way the author taps into a rich imaginative lineage as she weaves Northwest African mythology into a bespoke world that resonates with our own. Andalan is truly a treat of a fantasy world, fully-formed and entirely thought-out, with a thematically rich mythology and a gorgeous imagery. Many elements of the story are modeled on concepts specific to the Amazigh – an ethnic group indigenous to North Africa that predates the Arabs of Morocco but that’s been historically left out of the political process and severely marginalized, like the warrior queen Dihya (also known as Kahena) who still serves as a symbol of empowerment and feminism and anti-colonialism.
With a propulsive pacing and a compelling narrative, the story felt like a gaping chasm of possibilities, fearful and breathless and awed. There was a sense of magic, of possibility and of anxious danger as Amani enters a world that is as alluring as it is treacherous, as she learns to navigate the complexities of court and the machinations of politics, as her days as a prisoner in the imperial palace become increasingly bleak and she finds solace in poetry. Throughout her journey, Amani slowly develops the resilience needed to fight back. I love how she starts out as someone who is furious at the injustices being committed against her indigenous community but feels as if she is uncapable of doing anything about it, that she is too small for the skin she wanted to carry. But by the end of the novel, she becomes a person who can be a rebel, a person who not only has found the strengh to endure – but to act.
“The crown of Dhiya has been stripped from me, my face changed, my body broken. But I was not a slave and I was not a spare. I was my mother’s daughter, and I would survive and endure. I would find my way home.”
I also loved how the rest of the characters have been humanized by giving them the room to be fully fleshed and multidimensional instead of diminishing the full spectrum of their personality and presence. The reluctant friendship that emerges between Amani and Maram, the princess, positions itself structurally as the heart of the book, as Amani finds out that Maram is a forgery. The half-Vathek, half-Kushaila princess has lived her life being too foreign for her conquered people, too foreign for her conquering empire, never enough for both. Her cruelty is merely her last attempt at hardening her heart into armor and chiseling herself into a harder but ultimately, a less truer version of herself.
The romance between Amani and Maram’s fiancé, Idris, is definitely trope-based and kind of insta-lovey which would have otherwise made the cynic I am at heart cringe inwardly. But honestly? I loved how it wasn’t the crux of the book. Amani, as a strong female character with a strong, compelling narrative is a teen navigating love, intimacy, and affection without being denied depth of character.
And all of it makes it so exciting to remember that this is just the first book of a duology. We’ll get to see the author develop her mythological system and work out the first-book kinks over the course of this series. There’s definitely a lot to look forward to.
“Happiness is rebellion.”
✨ Thank you so much to Mel for sending me this arc in particular and for being her lovely, generous self in general 💛
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ARC provided by Flatiron in exchange for an honest review.
You all should check out this amazing ownvoices review from Em! 💜
“On a small moon orbiting a large planet, in a small farmhouse in a small village, there was a box, and in this box was a feather.”
Mirage is a magical, wonderful, important, gift to the YA SFF world. From characters I fell in love with, to the messages about the importance of your culture and your family, to the most lyrical and beautiful writing. I loved this story with my whole heart, and I can’t wait for the rest of the world to fall in love with it.
This story is an ownvoices Moroccan inspired story about a young girl named Amani, who has known nothing but oppression on the moon that she and her family live on. She and her family are farmers, trying to live the best life possible, even with the constant heartbreak surrounding them.
“You learned a different sort of fear when you grew up in a village like mine. Fear of hunger. Fear of Imperial droids. Fear of the low hum that came with Imperial probes. But that fear taught you endurance—you could let its unwavering presence wear you down, or you could learn to stand up despite it.”
In this galaxy, the Vathek rule, and are slowly trying to erase other cultures, religions, and beliefs around them. While also trying to do any and everything to ensure there is no uprising or rebellion. But the rebels have been planning, and calculating, and waiting, and will do anything to make sure that the Vath do not continue to oppress and rise.
Amani has finally turned eighteen, which means she gets to finally celebrate her coming of age with others in her village. She has been looking forward to this day, and the blessing that will be bestowed upon her, for her entire life. And Amani is able to get her daan, a tattoo that means everything to her; her family, her faith, her inheritance. But the celebration gets crashed and quickly comes to a terrible end.
“I’d dreamed forever of leaving Cadiz, of visiting other star systems in our galaxy. But I’d never thought I would be taken against my will. I was dragged through the building, pulled onto a ship, silent and numb, then finally deposited in a holding cell.”
Amani gets kidnapped by imperial droids and flown to the royal empire. Upon arrival, she soon realized the reason she was taken; she is nearly identical to the Princess Maram, the heir to the throne, a girl who is cruel, and is wicked, and is disliked by both sides of her people, because she is half of the other. Maram’s father conquered Andala, and violated galactic law, so the only way he could keep the planet was to marry and have a child, so Maram was born. And Maram has a half-sister that very much does not think that Maram should rule, and she might be willing to do anything to make sure of it.
Maram is in fear for her life, so she rationalizes abducting Amani and forcing her to make her public appearances, while promising her death if she fails to be convincing. Amani is thrown into a world that she has never known, while being constantly reminded of the family, culture, and traditions she had to leave behind.
Maram’s father also murdered most of the families that lead the resistance against him conquering their planet, even though they did surrender. A boy named Idris, was spared from the Purge, as a reminder what would happen if people tried to oppose this new ruler. But he was also promised to be married to Maram once she comes of age, so she will forever be tied to the planet her father bloodily conquered.
Trigger warnings and content warnings for kidnapping, physical abuse quite frequently and heartbreakingly, war themes, death, murder, forced body alterations, talk and depiction of sever grief and trauma.
“He a prince and I a slave in all but name. There was no happy ending to this story, no way for the two of us to make one.”
And Amani is forced to play so many roles, while she convincingly has to pretend to be a princess whose father has taken so much from so many. And Amani is therefore thrown into a world of politics, betrayals, secrets, and even love.
This book beautifully illustrates that we are not the actions of our parents and the terrible things that humans are capable of doing. We are only our actions, and we are only held accountable for our actions, and for the actions we choose to repent for.
“We are not responsible for what cruel masters enact in our name.”
This book perfectly talks about family, culture, religion, traditions, and the things we are willing to do for them and in the name of them. Honor and believing in something are one of the most powerful, if not the most powerful, forces in any galaxy. And standing up for your convictions is sometimes the only thing we have in this world. Never, ever, stop believing.
“When Dihya wanted to give you a sign He slipped the feather into your hand. When He wanted to command you to a calling, to take action, He sent the bird itself.”
The book amazingly showcases how important friendships can be, and how loneliness can take many forms. Everyone deals with depression, grief, and trauma differently. And sometimes an unexpected friendship can be the thing that makes you feel even a little bit better. Kindness truly is sometimes the best thing that we can give to another living soul.
Overall, Somaiya Daud’s debut SFF novel blew me away. I loved this with my entire heart and soul. This book is beautiful, this book is powerful, and this book is completely captivating. I never wanted to put this down, and I can’t wait to see what comes next. Don’t sleep on this book, friends. Preorder this before it’s August 28th release!
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The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication
Buddy read with Julie from Pages and Pens, Lilly at Lair of Books, Jules at JA Ironside, Amy at A Court of Crowns and Quills, & Chelsea at Chelsea Palmer! ❤
Somaiya Daud didn’t have to come for us like this..... im just livin my life and she’s like “here take this amazing multidimensional narrative about colonization and agency and internalized hatred for one’s culture, driven by a fantastic lady lead and her complex relationship with a fantastic lady antivillain, featuring fantastic setting descriptions and a really good romance, and also I write like a fucking Pulitzer Prize winner and this is my debut” and im just. out here eating a bag of chips
I know I just gave you a really long recommendation for this book, but seriously - let’s talk about this book.
I absolutely totally am in love with the meta-narrative here about colonization. Amani lives on a planet that has been conquered by the white Vathek, who have attempted to homogenize her homeland into something resembling their world - and when they can’t, brutally repressed those they can’t change. And here is where Mirage does something quite brilliant. Instead of simply focusing on Amani’s narrative, her kidnapping, and villainizing those around her, this book chooses to focus on how the Vath rule has fucked over everyone around her.
Imperial prince Idris has grown up without his language, Kushaila, being taught to forget and to push himself into a narrative he will never be accepted within. And Imperial princess Maram, both Vathek and Kushaila, has attempted to mold herself into exactly what her cruel father wants in an attempt to gain his acceptance. For this, she is hated by her own people, trapped in a narrative that is not her own.
And meanwhile, Amani is trapped in a situation where she is forced to play-act and do whatever she is told. But she never stops fighting to win back her own agency in a world that is desperate for her to have none.
I am not Moroccan and don’t have the specific cultural knowledge of how this book plays into the history of Morocco, but I would like you all to read this amazing explanation of how this book mirrors actual history by my best friend Em. And the setting really truly does take you there.
The relationship between Amani and Maram is one of the best dynamics of the book. I feel like we’re often very low on amazing female antiheroines and especially antivillains [basically, a villain who is redeemed / doesn’t always take up that role within the narrative] and it was so great to see that dynamic here.
And Amani has so much agency. Seriously, in a book that is about Amani’s loss of agency, it really amazed me how much space she is allowed to take up within the narrative. I love that she rebels. I love that she doesn’t lie down for Maram, even when she realizes she really does pity her. I love that she is aware of her feelings for Idris and yet careful and realistic about how she deals with them. She is such a sensible, well-written, well-developed lead, and I love her.
Listen, in general, this book is one of the most feminist things I have ever read. It’s essentially about an indigenous girl learning to rebel against oppression, and about her friendship with a fabulous biracial lady antivillain. I was in heaven.
And this might go without saying, but the writing and world… is gorgeous. It’s just so sensuous, and the setting is amazing, and I was so in the book. Lovely.
There are other elements within the book, like the family dynamic and the romance, that intrigued me as well, and I’m excited to see where they go in the future. And while the romance almost felt like it should have annoyed me, Amani is such a fantastic lead and Idris is so sympathetic that I wasn’t at all bothered.
This would be great for fans of sensuous, gorgeous, and theme-focused fantasy-adjacent space-opera. I have a good feeling this is going to be one of the best YA scifi duologies of our current time and I am so here for it.
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⭐Look out for my review of book two!
Science fiction can be hit and miss for me, so I don’t request ARCs from the genre terribly often, but when I heard the synopsis on this one—and the fact that it has own-voice Moroccan rep, which I’d never seen in a story before—I knew it was one I couldn’t afford to miss out on, and for good reason. I don’t say this lightly in my advance reviews, but honestly, I believe Mirage is going to be one of the best, and most important, releases of 2018.
The crown of Dihya had been stripped from me, my face changed, my body broken. But I was not a slave and I was not a spare. I was my mother’s daughter, and I would survive and endure. I would find my way back home.
First, let’s just go ahead and get this out of the way: the writing in this book is fantastic. Especially with this being Somaiya Daud’s first novel, it is evident from page one that the woman was born to weave stories. I read this in a scheduled buddy read where we split it into sections, and at the end of every single day’s reading, it was a literal struggle to keep myself from continuing because I couldn’t get enough of this world, these characters, and the suspense of the unfolding plot.
Endurance was strength, to be sure, but even a rock wore away to nothing if asked to endure enough rain.
It’s not just a beautiful story, but a haunting one, as Amani’s people have been steadily erased by their Vathek conquerors; more and more of their cultural expressions are becoming outlawed, and nearly all of their political figures have been de-throned to make place for the Vathek king and his family. In YA releases, I think we frequently see these “brutal” kings that don’t actually do much of anything brutal, but that’s not the case—Somaiya Daud goes there, and the Vathek people are absolutely awful, murdering innocent citizens left and right just to prove a point.
The blood never dies. The blood never forgets.
Maram, the half-Vathek princess who Amani is taken to become a body double for, is no exception, but she’s also young and mother-less, with a father who resents her very existence. I love the portrayal of her character as this ambiguous villain, who we’re never quite certain what to make of—is she as vicious as she seems, or is she misguided and looking for her father’s approval? It doesn’t excuse her actions, but watching her develop into this incredible, complex character was a brilliant experience.
And this, poetry like this, was all we had to preserve our stories, our music, our history.
There’s also a surprising amount of love shining through the bleakness of Amani’s circumstances—not only for the man she is pretending to be betrothed to, Maram’s fiancé, Idris—but also for the forbidden poems and stories she clutches in her heart to remember not only the ways of her people, but also the beliefs of her religion. The representation of her faith was beautiful and empowering, and I never tired of the stories-within-a-story of her deity, Dihya, and the emboldened women of the past that Amani looks up to.
“You are not defined by the men in your life, no matter how powerful. You lived before them and you shall live after them.”
Altogether, Mirage is such a gorgeous tale of faith, family, love, loss, betrayal, and endurance. Amani and her loved ones are so inspirational and strong, and each of the primary players in this game are complex and evocative in their own ways. I was hooked from cover to cover, and know that it’s going to be a long, cold wait until the sequel, because I positively must know what happens next. I wholeheartedly recommend this book to any fans of YA sci-fi and/or fantasy—and would like to add that the science fiction elements are soft enough that even readers who don’t reach for sci-fi would be able to thoroughly enjoy this book.
Content warnings for cultural erasure, physical abuse, imprisonment
All quotes come from an advance copy and may not match the final release. Thank you so much to Flatiron for providing me with this ARC in exchange for an honest review!
Buddy read with Danielle, Kelly, and Kaleena! ♥♥♥