Amani lives in a star-system that is occupied by the cruel Vathek empire. Under their rule, her culture, tradition, language, and people are oppressed. Still, Amani is a dreamer and a poet. But suddenly, Amani is kidnapped by the government and taken far away from the family that she loves. She discovers that she is near-identical to Maram, the brutal and hated Vathek princess, and is forced to train to appear as the princess in public. Amani is determined to survive the cruel princess and even finds herself charmed by the life of royalty, and Maram’s handsome fiancé.
Mirage is a debut novel that combines fantasy and sci-fi to create a world that is filled with the glitter and glitz of royalty, androids, space and various planets, and ultimately uses it all to tell a story about colonisation and oppression. One of my favourite parts of the book was this central theme. The entire world of Mirage is built around the colonisation by the Vathek and how they use their power to oppress other groups in this universe. The world is rich with various traditions and cultures that Daud is obviously very knowledgable of.
Amani, in particular, is a fantastic character because she is so driven by her love – not just for her family – but for her culture. From page one, Amani is defined by her love for poetry which has deep cultural influences and is outlawed. After her kidnapping, Amani’s first act of rebellion is keeping the sheaves of poetry that was given to her by her brother.
Another brilliant character that complicates the dynamics of this cultural oppression is Maram, the Vath Princess who is actually half Kushaila – the same ethnicity as Amani. As Amani becomes closer to Maram, we learn about exactly how this specific identity has played a role in shaping Maram into the cruel princess that she is. We also learn that Maram is a far more complex character than just a cruel princess.
Despite all this, I found the worldbuilding in Mirage slightly lacklustre. The nuances and depth of culture and tradition are brilliant, but I found it difficult to engage with the various planets, or even visualise them clearly. While the merge of fantasy and sci-fi sounds amazing on paper, it didn’t feel developed enough to really make a difference in the novel.
The story was also quite slow to develop, and any tense, action-filled scenes seemed to pass by in the blink of an eye – leaving a lot to be desired. While Daud spent a lot of time establishing and developing the characters and their complex relationships with each other, the same depth wasn’t given to the plot. Subplots that were meant to drive everything forward and make Amani question her role, were underdeveloped as well.
All in all, Mirage was a very interesting read, with characters that I will definitely want to return to. While the world and plot felt slightly lacking, the complex characters and themes are enough to make me want to read the sequel.
Review copy provided
Mirage is a complex debut that weaves together themes of colonisation with compelling characters and an interesting setting. However, the plot lags behind and leaves a lot to be desired.