Werthead

The Worldbreaker Saga by Kameron Hurley

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The subcontinent of Grania is divided between several nations, including the spiritual, peaceful Dhai and the more militaristic, aggressive kingdom of Dorinah. The murder of the Kai, the spiritual ruler of Dhai, sees her untested and inexperienced younger brother taking charge at a time of turmoil. Internal dissent against his rule is accompanied by assassination attempts...apparently from other Dhai, despite this being a violation of their ideology. Meanwhile, one of Dorinah's best generals is ordered to cull the Dhai slaves living in their kingdom, despite the destructive impact this will have on the economy, and a young girl living in a Dhai monastery discovers that her destiny is far more complex than she first thought.
 
The Mirror Empire is the first novel in The Worldbreaker Saga, Kameron Hurley's follow-up to her splendidly weird science fantasy Bel Dame Apocrypha trilogy. Worldbreaker is wholly fantasy rather than SF and features a lot of standard fantasy tropes, but it mixes these in with fluid gender definitions (some of the inhabitants of Grania are a third sex, or change gender depending on circumstance) and also makes use of the idea of alternate timelines and quantum ideas. Some of the villains of the story are the alternate-universe versions of some of the heroes, which is an interesting idea, especially because there are "good" and "bad" guys on both sides of the mirror and many of the characters are morally nuanced, with good guys doing despicable things and bad guys occasionally showing moral courage.
 
So far, so standard and so grimdark (if intelligently-realised). Hurley is different in that she seemingly has no interest in making this book easily accessible. In fact, I'd go as far as saying that the first hundred pages or so represent the densest and most-confusing entry to a fantasy series since Steven Erikson's Gardens of the Moon in 1999, which famously puts as many people off reading his Malazan series as it does entice them in to read more. The Mirror Empire opens in media res, features explosive flashbacks without providing context and features an absolute motherlode of invented terminology and nomenclature which will have you flipping to the glossary on a very regular basis. Entering a fantasy world and spending the first hundred pages wading through stodgy exposition is quite a dull experience, so I can see why Hurley took this course. However, this book arguably goes too far in the opposite direction and I can see some readers being alienated by the opening.
 
Once the book calms down and relents a bit from machine-gunning the reader with under-explained ideas and concepts every five seconds, it radically improves. The characterisation of our four key characters - Roh, Lilia, Zezili and Ahkio - is first-rate and we learn more about their motivations and foibles that makes them more interesting characters than it first appears. Hurley enjoys setting up archetypes - Lilia as the callow low-class girl with unusual powers and a destiny, or Ahkio as the inexperienced young heir thrust into ruling without adequate preparation - and then undercuts them. Lilia does some pretty horrific things in her quest for self-realisation and Ahkio applies his skills from navigating household politics to the greater nation at large and this helps him become a better ruler, as well as being clever enough not to trust the temple officials and to call upon his allies when necessary.
 
The book unfolds from that point with Hurley's customary vigour and her aggressive, take-no-prisoners approach really makes the book stand out from the fantasy crowd. By the end of the book it has achieved a significant narrative drive that will make you want to press on to the sequel, Empire Ascendant, immediately.
 
The Mirror Empire (***½) is a robust, entertaining and relentlessly original fantasy, playing with concepts of identity and destiny in a fresh manner. It's also a big that takes no prisoners and almost overwhelms the reader with concepts and invented nomenclature that can be alienating. Stick it out and you are rewarded with one of the better fantasy novels of recent years. The book is available now in the UK and USA.

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Sounds like Bakker could get a lawsuit going. :)

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3 hours ago, Triskan said:

Sounds like Bakker could get a lawsuit going. :)

Yeah but then Glen Cook could sue Bakker. :P

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Wait, ... maybe I'm missing something hugely obvious, but what has Hurley's Worldbreaker got in common with Bakker beyond an otherworldly invasion trope or two?

 

I read The Mirror Empire a couple years back when it came out and the world is fascinating, but I regret to say my enthusiasm faded in memory. I just ... I just don't need to spend more time with these people. There's "flawed human being" and then there's some of the stuff that goes on here, and the book is so bent on plotting efficiently that I felt I was never given a chance to sit with the characters and understand why they did some of the attention-grabbingly awful things they did. Lilia is also a bit of a plot pingpong ball early on as I recall; she gets captured a lot. The world and the cultures really are fascinating, but I never felt the book in my gut.

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Posted (edited)

I'm actually only referring to the term "Worldbreaker" which appears in Bakker's series; nothing more.

Edited by Triskan

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Posted (edited)

I really tried to get into this series -- I am a huge fan of the Bel Dame books -- but I just couldn't do it. Couldn't get past the genre trappings on this one. Those who are fantasy fans won't have that problem, and there did seem to be a pretty nifty story therein. 

Edited by Xray the Enforcer

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Oh, huh, oops. I ... had embarrassingly totally forgotten the term worldbreaker appeared in Second Apocalypse, and I've read up to White-Luck Warrior. Yep, is good joke.

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Yeah, I sort of lost interest in this series as well. I didn't hate it, it's just hard work.

Hurley has clearly set out to write fantasy in a non faux medieval European setting, which isn't a bad thing, but multiple different cultural settings and the slightly different parallel universe versions of them is a bit hard to follow. A few months down the line and I can't really remember many of the details of them and I suspect I'd need to in order to read the second book, and I can't muster sufficient interest to reread the first book.

 

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8 hours ago, Xray the Enforcer said:

I really tried to get into this series -- I am a huge fan of the Bel Dame books -- but I just couldn't do it. Couldn't get past the genre trappings on this one. Those who are fantasy fans won't have that problem, and there did seem to be a pretty nifty story therein. 

yet to read either but my inclination has always been to read the Bel dame books first.

18 hours ago, Triskan said:

Sounds like Bakker could get a lawsuit going. :)

I thought the joke was in reference to this part of Wert's review!

" It's also a big (book) that takes no prisoners and almost overwhelms the reader with concepts and invented nomenclature that can be alienating. "

 

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Stick it out and you are rewarded with one of the better fantasy novels of recent years.

And yet, only 3.5 stars?

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1 hour ago, Lord Patrek said:

Stick it out and you are rewarded with one of the better fantasy novels of recent years.

And yet, only 3.5 stars?

That's more of a comment that the last few years have been rough for decent fantasy novels. The genre has not been well-served by the most recent wave of new authors.

Also, the opening of The Mirror Empire is really rough, as in far more difficult to parse (for me) than Gardens of the Moon or The Darkness That Comes Before before it later improves in form.

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20 hours ago, Werthead said:

That's more of a comment that the last few years have been rough for decent fantasy novels. The genre has not been well-served by the most recent wave of new authors.

Yep, I can certainly agree with that. . . :/

Patrick

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21 hours ago, Werthead said:

That's more of a comment that the last few years have been rough for decent fantasy novels. The genre has not been well-served by the most recent wave of new authors.

Also, the opening of The Mirror Empire is really rough, as in far more difficult to parse (for me) than Gardens of the Moon or The Darkness That Comes Before before it later improves in form.

Really?  now that's strange, everyone and their dog says that the fantasy genre now is better than ever. Can you elaborate on your statement more,Wert?

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6 hours ago, redeagl said:

Really?  now that's strange, everyone and their dog says that the fantasy genre now is better than ever. Can you elaborate on your statement more,Wert?

Well, there hasn't been a fantasy debut this decade (which we're three-quarters of the way through) to compete with The Lies of Locke Lamora or even The Name of the Wind (as off the rails the sequel went). I've tried reading the first books by multiple recent(ish) authors like John Gwynne or Brian McClellan or Anthony Ryan and they're just okay. I really want to see a new author coming along and producing a really strong, solid work, a modern Erikson or Martin or Lynch or Abercrombi, someone batting on at least that level.

The two best recent new fantasy authors are probably Hurley and Jemisin, who are both damn fine writers. But I'd like to see a lot more writers doing interesting things and doing it with writing skill and attitude.

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Who the hell has been saying the fantasy genre is better than ever? SciFi maybe but good epic fantasy seems... Sanderson ish.

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Yeah, Lawrence most definitely qualifies. So does Miles Cameron in my book if you're being specific with 'fantasy debut' rather than overall debut. Other than that epic fantasy and grimdark haven't been that strong in recent times, though there's been good work being put out still by the likes of Brian McLellan, Col Buchanan, Sebastian De Castell, and others, but non-epic/swords-and-sorcery fantasy has been fucking awesome. Max Gladstone, Scott Hawkins, Robert Jackson Bennett, NK Jemisin, Nnedi Okorafor...
 

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On 3/6/2017 at 0:29 PM, red snow said:

yet to read either but my inclination has always been to read the Bel dame books first.

I haven't read The Worldbreaker Saga yet (waiting for it to be completed), but The Bel Dame Apocrypha is straight awesome.  I'm nearly done with her newest book, The Stars are Legion, and as expected, it's awesome too.  If you don't want to commit to a series give it a try, as it is a stand alone.

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