Mirage, Somaiya Daud

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For a sliver of a moment I wasn’t Maram or Amani. I was a girl in a temple, filled with nothing but want and expectation

Amani is a dreamer. 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.

* * * * *
5 / 5

Mirage is a simply beautiful novel. Daud paints a vivid tale of a girl torn from her family to serve her conquering oppressors, but it has so much more than that; Mirage is about hope and resilience, about myth and religion and tradition, about power and duty and sacrifice. Above all else, it is the simple beauty of the writing that elevates this book to one of my favourites of the year.

Amani is a farmer’s daughter from a minor moon of Andala, a planet recently conquered by the Vathek empire. She is stolen away from her family by intergalactic droids due to her eerie similarity to the half-Vathek, half-Andalaan Princess Maram who is hated by both sides of her blood. Imprisoned in the royal palace, Amani is stripped of her identity, her familial tattoos, and her culture as she is taught to mimic Maram. Amani is a kind girl, one who loves poetry and the stories of her people; Maram is cruel and haughty and afraid.

Did she feel it – was a war being fought in her blood every time she looked at me?

The setting reminded me of the book The Diabolic by Kincaid because of the futuristic space environment, complete with blaster guns and robots, and the body doubles aspect. However, these are two seriously different books. Mirage has Moroccan-inspired roots which lend the novel a very fresh and authentic feel, and is the source of much of the beauty; there is poetry woven into the narrative as well as local myths and traditions. So often authors go wrong in attempting to make their writing interesting by littering it with purple prose and ridiculous metaphors – Daud manages to keep her writing elegant and simple and evocative without being absurd.

Idris was as Tala had said: beautiful and tragic. But he wasn’t mine, and there was no world or reality where he ever could be

Mirage has some very clear themes. In Amani we see rage and fear when she is taken from her home, but we also see understanding and an incredible amount of empathy. In Maram I saw cruelty and entitlement but also the instability of power and the loneliness of a woman who has grown up without kindness or family. Amani becomes involved with a rebellious plot against the Vathek and it causes her a lot of inner turmoil: she thinks of her duty to her people and her duty to Maram, she thinks of sacrifice and the cost of freedom.

I loved that we, the reader, could see different facets of oppression. So often in fantasy novels we read about it from the point of view of the lowest of society – the farmers, the peasant boy with the murdered family, the orphan raised communally – and  these are important stories and we do see this in Amani. We see the fear of her brothers, the grief of her parents, her community’s fear of losing their traditions, of their practices and poetry and rituals being slowly eroded by the conquerors and it’s so sadly portrayed. We see Amani see the highest of Andaalian society, the makhzen who are the noble caste of the native population, who have adapted to life under the Vathek rule. She sees them and hates how they are still rich, still bedecked in finery, but then she sees their oppression; Amani sees how their families have been pruned until only one child remains from each family line, how they hardly dare to speak Kushaila to each other. The sensitivity and thoughtfulness of Mirage is evident in every page. 

“The world will decide what becomes of us.”

I am tired of being at the mercy of the world”

Mirage is a fantasy novel that carefully straddles that line between YA and adult. It is an elegant, thoughtful, passionate, and action-filled book that absolutely deserves your attention.

My thanks to Netgalley for an ARC of this book.

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