Mirage reminds me, in a good and less racist way, of Dune. I wish I had liked it more, because honestly this is the type of science fiction I want more of: science fiction that might be set in space and in the future, sure, but that focuses more on the intrigue and relationships than on the tech and whizz-bang special effects, and in a way that centres people of colour. Mirage does all that, a great elevation of the planetary romance subgenre—unfortunately, I personally found it boring.
Amani has the misfortune of appearing nearly identical to the Vathek Crown Princess, Maram. As a result, the Vatheks kidnap her to act as Maram’s body double at precarious public appearances. Amani is Andalan, her world occupied by the Vatheks somewhat extralegally, her culture only barely hanging on after decades of oppression. She has no love for the Vatheks, but her choices are cooperation or death (not even cake!). Unfortunately, as Amani studies how to be the cruel and callous Maram, she worries she might get too good at her job. And she has to balance her desire to help her people—as a spy, for example—with her own survival.
Like, every ingredient of this book sets it up for success. I love everything I mentioned in the above paragraph. The setting is great, the clashing cultures Daud has created are fantastic. There is life to this setting, a sense of history. There is richness here. I say this all because I don’t want to damn this book with faint praise—I don’t think Mirage is poorly written, bad, and even though I found it boring, I don’t think that means you necessarily will. So I feel like, as occasionally happens to me, I let down this book.
The romance subplot was predictable (and maybe that is fine for some!). The spy subplot was under-developed. Amani’s precarious bonding with Maram was actually kind of fun—I really liked the baking/cooking scene! That too, however, felt like it never really went anywhere. I guess, upon reflection, that’s what I disliked about Mirage: the subplots together lack a sense of unity and coherence in their structure, and individually they might be entertaining, yet they don’t culminate in any fulfilling way. I originally sought out Mirage because so many people on Twitter were hyped for its sequel, Court of Lions—but I want my first book in a series to really stand alone while also setting up future conflict. Mirage does the latter but is not as good at the former.
So my advice would be not to pay too much attention to my review and try the book for yourself, if it seems like it’s your thing. If it doesn’t seem like your thing, don’t go into it expecting it to change your mind. I’m happy so many people enjoyed this one, but it didn’t work for me.