Book Review: “Mirage” by Somaiya Daud

Mirage is Somaiya Daud’s stunning YA debut, which was released in August of 2018. The sequel, Court of Lions, was released just last month, and I am eager to pick it up and continue Amani’s adventure. In Mirage, Amani begins as a rural village girl who is kidnapped to be the body double of Maram, the princess who is hated by the people she will one day rule over. Maram is not hated because she is cruel, but rather because she is half Vathek — half conqueror, colonizer, and oppressor — through her father, Mathis, a genuine evil overlord. Through her mother, however, Maram is also half Kushaila, and through her mother’s blood there is a chance that the planet Andala (and its moons) will overthrow its colonial oppressors and return to native rule… if Maram were sympathetic to her mother’s people, that is. As Amani’s fragile relationship with her captor unfolds, she tries to influence the princess to understand her mother’s heritage and find a new respect for the people she will eventually lead.

I liked Mirage. Daud is an impressive new talent with an obvious flair for lush description. Her characters are vivid and sympathetic, and the strong anti-colonial sentiment feels well-earned and not at all cheap. The most interesting and even the most refreshing thing about Mirage, however, is that it is a story with many, many North African influences, which I have never seen in a popular YA fantasy/sci-fi novel before. The daan that Amani proudly receives in the beginning of her story are reminiscent of the facial tattoos that were once common among Amazigh women. The central deity worshiped by the Kushaila is named Dihya, who takes his name from the real-world Amazigh warrior queen who led indigenous resistance against the Muslim invasion of North Africa. Through Mirage, I found myself googling and learning things I otherwise would probably never have been exposed to.

In terms of plot, however, I found the romance to be of average quality. It’s the type of instalove that is common in YA fiction, and I didn’t find it especially interesting or significant. I’ve heard some rumors that Court of Lions features a sapphic romance, which I am looking forward to much more eagerly than I am to Amani being reunited with her cis male love interest.

I also wish Maram’s character had been developed more. She is the co-star of Mirage and a huge force in Amani’s life, but after her introduction she almost takes a backseat as Amani explores and goes places without her. Obviously, the two young women cannot be seen in public at the same time, but I wish they had interacted more and their relationship had developed further before the ending of Mirage. Hopefully the second book in the series will rectify this and expand Maram’s character.

Overall, I found Mirage to be an enjoyable read. Some elements of the story were new and thrilling to me, while others were rather trite and uninteresting. I will definitely be picking up a copy of Court of Lions at the earliest opportunity, as well as keeping an eye on Somaiya Daud to see how she progresses as a novelist.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Read an excerpt of Mirage for free on us.macmillan.com

Listen to an interview with Somaiya Daud about the background that informed her writing of Mirage on tor.com

Read another review of Mirage by Alex Brown, also on tor.com

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