Fresh, engrossing, and romantic with a sci-fi twist. Four stars!

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.

Publisher synopsis via Goodreads

The synopsis contains the words princess, dreamer, kidnapped, identical, and star system. This is YA catnip and I love it.

I was promised a lush, Moroccan-inspired sci-fi setting and I got it. While the plot structure and protagonist are familiar fare, the execution was so fresh and creative that I didn’t mind. Somaiya Daud’s care and love is in every single word.

I saw a lot of hype for this one, but what sealed the deal for me was Daud’s interview on Sarah Enni‘s podcast First Draft, where she got into detail about her inspiration for the book. This is so clearly a book from Daud’s heart, built out of her North African heritage to her love of Phantom Menace.

I also have to mention Maram, the spoiled princess who gets a wonderful, slow roll-out of an arc. She’s a villain but not always an antagonist, which leaves lots of room for she and Amani to develop a genuinely interesting, complex relationship that I haven’t seen before.

All that said, this one doesn’t get the fifth star that marks the books I’m truly excited about. It gets 80% of the stars because it’s 80% of a book.

I’m talking about the ending here, but in general terms – non-spoilerey.

I was honestly shocked when the audiobook ended. My app showed I still had some time left, and that seemed right. From the rhythm of the story and the plot progression, I thought I was heading into the last couple chapters. And then, the book just… ended. The audiobook ended with an interview with the author, which was lovely but no substitute for an actual ending.

YA SFF is getting so used to every single story being a trilogy that it seems taken for granted. I’ve noticed more and more series that don’t actually need to be broken up. Instead, we’re getting single stories streeeetched across multiple volumes like a money-grabbing nightmare version of newspaper serialization. I understand ending on a cliffhanger to keep readers coming back–that’s frustrating but makes sense. It can be great storytelling! Mirage, however, didn’t end on a twist that suddenly changed everything and made me beg for the next installment. It just ended. Things got worse and then it just stopped without any meaningful development.

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The lovely blogger over at Grimmsnaught observed that she felt like she was reading the novelization of a movie, and I think that’s a great description. Everything seemed a little too thin. The story moved slow, with lots of unproductive downtime between events, and the main character and her love interest have a real case of debutitis.

As a novel, this is only okay. However, I am already looking forward to the next one. This feels like it will be the mediocre start that sets up an incredible book two. I’m invested in Amani, intrigued by Maram’s develpment, and want to see Idris get the chance to become an entire character. I think Daud’s going to tell wonderful stories when she gets past the limitations of debuting.

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