Blurb from Goodreads:
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.
A novel that is a blend of sci-fi and fantasy with a touch of Moroccan history? Sign. Me. Up. Before this book came into my radar, know that my knowledge about Moroccan culture and history is next to nothing. I came across an interview with Somaiya Daud wherein she talks about how much of Mirage is influenced by her Moroccan roots—you can listen to it here. Later I found myself googling and trying to know more about the pieces of history that Daud shared in that interview. Mirage is my first Moroccan inspired read. And I have to say, with that bit of research on the background, I was able to appreciate the book even more.
Sci-fi books are often confusing to me especially those that involves time travel or intergalactic politics or whatever you call it. Mirage was not confusing at all because the author didn’t hold back with the world-building. It was a wonderfully detailed world—rich, lush, and vivid. It was totally immersive. Daud really put in some extra attention with the cultural details as she seamlessly incorporates true events into fiction. She didn’t just paint a culture, she painted one that is dying because it’s being gradually eradicated from the world. And you can see how this eradication of their language and culture affected every Andalaan—from royalty like Idris, down to simple farmers like Amani.
The next best thing about this book is its amazing cast of characters. They’re more than just your first impression of them. They’re a complicated bunch. Just when you thought you’ve figured them out they will surprise you by baring a part of themselves that you thought didn’t exist—the part that is hidden deep beneath their mask and shield, the part that makes them relatable.
Endurance was strength, to be sure, but even a rock wore away to nothing if asked to endure enough rain.
Amani is everything I like in a protagonist—smart and resilient but not entirely perfect. She’s compassionate and she’s got a big heart which, in a way, made her vulnerable. She’s not a fighter. She’s a dreamer with silent hopes of seeing Andala free from Vathek rule one day. Amani has an admirable inner strength—a trait that good protagonists always share. What makes her different from the others was she wasn’t brave and strong and heroic right from the start. We saw her helpless, and constantly fearing for her life after she was forcibly taken away from her family. But she learned to adapt to the changes. She learned to protect herself by knowing her captors and carefully considering who to trust. She learned how to protect others but she doesn’t act rashly to do it like most protagonists do.
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.
I love villains—that’s no secret. But I only love the ones that aren’t just there for the sake of having a bad guy in the story. That’s what Maram seemed like at the beginning of this book—a privileged brat with a quick temper who can hurt anyone at her whim and get away with it without any punishments. But as the story move forward, Maram surprised us by becoming the most complicated character in the entire book! A different side of her slowly emerged—the side of a sad and lonely young woman who has never felt love in her life. A woman who has to constantly live with the hate from Vath—simply for not being a full-bloodied Vath—and Andalaans—for being the daughter of Mathis, their conqueror. While there’s definitely some darkness in Maram’s character, she also held a naturally good heart deep within. So I’m not entirely sure about which side she’d end up, which made her more intriguing.
“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.”
The romance wasn’t very impressive though. It didn’t draw any emotion from me. It’s something that I can definitely live without in this story. Idris is a bit plain and basic for a love interest and a character as a whole. Amani surprised us by having the strength and courage to secretly defy her masters despite her fear. Maram surprised us by showing that she’s capable of love and friendship despite her upbringing. Even Idris’s cousin, Furat, has a clear goal and purpose. But Idris is just Idris. I just wanted to see more charm, more depth, and more layer to his character.
There were some low parts in the book because of all the foundation-building going on. The ending was interesting but it wasn’t intense. It lacks the thrill and the action. But I can totally see this series going thicker, nastier, more complex, and even more dangerous, now that the author has laid a solid picture of the world and the characters in it. Mirage has a sci-fi/fantasy setting. Its theme sitting heavily on imperialism, colonialism, and systematic eradication of a culture, with a rising rebellion on the side. If this sounds like your cup of tea, definitely give it a go.