There is so much to say about Mirage, but the bottom line is that Mirage is spectacular. It makes you swoon, weep, and rage, sometimes all within the same moment.
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.
I adored the premise of a body double story – hello! Could it get cooler? Not to mention that Mirage is totally space worthy and also diverse. I don’t often get to say this, but this just was entirely immersive and atmospheric. You could almost taste the food, feel the sad, and see the blood on the ground. There was this intense desire to savor it, to relish it, roll it around, and keep it in your heart.
Not only can you practically feel the tension underneath your fingertips, but you immediately empathize with Amani. The idea of being at the whims of royalty. You think you know fear and pain, but you can always know more – there are different types that range from starvation to the savagery of the court.
One of the things I loved about the dynamic between Amani and Maram is that for a bit, Amani gets to have a taste of Maram’s power – of her self-confidence, of the way she is just in utter control in that moment. It changes the way Amani makes sense of the world because it’s heady and intoxicating, and terrible and dangerous. Because, one has to ask, what price does it cost?
(I adored that Daud makes an explicit connection to the feeling of powerlessness and oppression when our language and culture is stolen from us. It’s been taken, beaten, obscured, erased from us, until all we have left is a memory – and that too is fleeting).
What I also loved about Mirage is that there is not really a strict line between right and wrong, Maram and Amani. They both have their situations, their quirks, their struggles. Maram has been hated for her ancestry of both tribes and she’s been thrown into an environment where you have to grow fangs to survive. At the same time, Amani is clearly under Maram’s influence, but finds herself understanding more and more about Maram’s life – completely breaking down this strict box.
(I think Daud makes a fantastic point that, ‘happiness is rebellion’. Yes we need to act and to fight back, but sometimes the very act of being happy in a system that seeks to make you invisible and unworthy is an act of resistance).
The break down of right and wrong only progresses further as the story continues. We find we don’t know whose side we’re on anymore, or what the appropriate cost of peace is. Mirage is intricate and spell binding. There is care in the words, the phrase, the nuanced conversations all within these pages. The book moves slowly, stoking the fire of the romance, building the flame of rebellion and tension. And yet at the end of the day, we have to ask ourselves what is worth sacrificing? What else can we lose? Our conscience or our family, our love or our life?
Check out Mirage on Goodreads.