Thank you to Flatiron Books for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.
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.
Author: Somaiya Daud
Year Published: 2018
Content Warnings: violence, physical abuse, torture, themes of colonialism
- Plot: 5/5
- Characters: 5/5
- Writing: 5/5
- Overall: 5/5
Mirage was a Moroccan and Amazigh (who are the indigenous people of North Africa) inspired sci-fi (with the feel of a fantasy) and it was quite literally the book of my dreams. I don’t think words can convey how much this book means to me but I’ll give it a go!
I’m half Moroccan Amazigh and reading a book so interwoven with Moroccan and Amazighi culture and history meant the world. From aspects like the food (all the food descriptions made me so hungry!), language, clothes and traditions to more subtle cultural nuances, I’ve never read a book where I felt so seen! There was a specific scene, where one character taught another to cook miloui (a type of Moroccan flatbread), which I could directly relate to because I remembered when my mum taught me to cook it myself!
Mirage explored colonialism, cultural appropriation and erasure, themes that are relevant today and have been throughout history not just in Morocco but all over the world. I loved how poetry was an important motif as a method of resistance and rebellion. Also, there was a religion (that felt slightly reminiscent of Islam) in the book that revolved around a deity called Dihya and historically, Dihya was an Amazigh warrior queen who for many symbolises anti-colonialism and feminism.
“Even your happiness is rebellion.”
The book is set on a planet called Andala (and its two terraformed moons called Cadiz and Gibra) which had been conquered by an empire from another planet called the Vathek, at the time the book is set Andalans had been suffering under their brutal rule for years. Amani was an eighteen-year-old Kushaila girl (Kushaila were the oldest tribe group on Andala) kidnapped from her village on Cadiz to be Princess Maram’s body double at public events as they looked pretty much exactly the same. She was thrust into a completely unfamiliar world that was dazzling on the surface but sinister beneath where she had to navigate court intrigue and politics and weather violence and slavery.
“Change takes bravery, yabnati.”
I loved Amani as she was so strong in the face of adversity. Her identity, agency and future dreams were stolen from her but she survived, she adapted to her situation and made a place for herself. Gradually, she built up the courage and resilience to channel her anger at the injustices her people endured into action. I also loved how she was smart, soft and kind with immense loyalty for her loved ones and her people and a passion for poetry, throughout the book I was rooting for her. I also adored her forbidden romance with Idris. I don’t usually like insta-love romances but theirs was so emotive and poignant without becoming the main focus of the book.
Maram was one of the most interesting characters I’ve ever read about. Her father, the king, was Vathek and her mother was Kushaila. All her life she had been taught to hate her mother’s legacy and people while also being disdained by the Vath for her Kushaila blood. There was nowhere she truly belonged and was accepted as she was. She channeled the turmoil inside her through being cruel so no one would think her weak or see her pain. Gradually, as Amani befriends her and starts to understand her the reader does too. We see her vulnerability, grief and helplessness and instead of a cruel princess we see a boat lost at sea in need of a lighthouse to guide its way home. Maram and Amani’s sisterly friendship was beautifully done.
“It was a cruel person that judged a child by their parent’s legacy.”
The sci-fi aspect of the book was a bit confusing as the boundaries of their technology weren’t established and at times it felt more like a fantasy novel. But this is a very minor observation as it had no impact on my enjoyment or love for the book.
Mirage was a brilliant novel with powerful, uncompromising writing and strong female characters that I love with all my heart. If you haven’t read it yet… what are you waiting for?
Have you read Mirage? Do you like books set on fictional planets? Let me know in the comments!