Mirage, Somaiya Daud’s debut novel and the first book in a young adult science fiction/fantasy trilogy, intrigued me long before it had a cover or a full description. Basically, I knew it was inspired by the author’s Moroccan background and featured the body double trope (one of my favorites!), and that was all it took for me to want to read this book.

Months later, I visited a bookstore and found a display of recent releases, including Mirage. The final book’s generic summary made me a little hesitant to pick it up, especially since I hadn’t seen enough discussion of this novel to know whether or not its prose, characters, or themes might be compelling. But in the end, that memory of my initial excitement about Mirage and its influences, my love for stories involving secret identities and palace life, and its promising opening sentence convinced me to purchase it.


On a small moon orbiting a large planet, in a small farmhouse in a small village, there was a box, and in this box was a feather.
—page 8 (first line of Chapter 1)

Not judging this novel by its cover copy turned out to be an excellent life choice: Mirage is a quiet yet powerful, character-driven, feminist book and a finely crafted work of art. I loved it, and I cannot recommend it highly enough to those craving beautiful writing, realistically drawn main protagonists, hope shining through the heartbreak, and slow burn complicated sort-of-friendships.


There were moments when I glimpsed the world as it was before the occupation of the Vath. When my mother or father spoke without thinking, or a village aunt said “when I was young,” or a man sang an old song I’d never heard before. The bones of our old ways of life were there, barely traceable, and I wanted them back. I wanted all of us to remember what we’d been, how strong we were. And endurance was strength, to be sure, but even a rock wore away to nothing if asked to endure enough rain.
—page 11

Eighteen-year-old Amani has spent her entire life on a poverty-stricken moon in a star system claimed by Mathis of the Vathek Empire, Conqueror of the Stars, before she was born. Throughout his reign, the ruthless king and his government have done all they can within the confines of galactic law to erase the culture and traditions of those they colonized, from the nobility’s ancestral tattoos to their language to Amani’s beloved poetry—that which has power to kindle the flames of rebellion.

Though the Vath have been known to interrupt large gatherings of Amani’s people, they do not tend to interfere with majority night celebrations for small villages on backwater moons. However, Imperial droids do just that on the night Amani and other girls within her community are being welcomed into adulthood. They demand that all the girls around Amani’s age line up against the wall and then scan each of their faces. When they get to Amani, they appear to find what they are looking for and force her to accompany them, making her leave behind her home and family without any explanation as to why.

Amani is taken to the planet around which her moon orbits and brought before the daughter of the king and a deceased noblewoman from his conquered realm, Princess Maram: who, Amani is shocked to realize, looks like her mirror image. Now that Maram is nearing the age that will require her to make more public appearances as Imperial Inheritor, her father would prefer that any assassination attempts be directed at someone other than his heir. Given her uncanny resemblance to the princess, Amani was chosen for this role and must learn to mimic Maram’s mannerisms and behavior—including the sharp tongue and maliciousness that make it likely someone will try to kill her—or her own life will be forfeit.

As Amani is thrust into Maram’s role, she discovers ways to use her unique position within the palace to aid the resistance and even comes to enjoy her time spent with the princess’ handsome fiancé, although she does not feel the same way about her time spent with the princess herself. But the more Amani observes Maram and (literally) walks in her shoes, the more she comes to understand the struggles and vulnerabilities that forged the infamous princess. Amani comes to realize that Maram too may have just been trying to survive within her father’s harsh Empire and that the face she presents to the world may not actually reflect her heart—or the ruler she’ll be someday, if it’s not too late for her to learn to be her true self instead of the cruel king’s heir…

Mirage is not an action-heavy book, nor is it one filled with twists and turns; its intensity stems from its emotional impact and thoughtful creation of true-to-life characters and relationships. Although the lovely prose was captivating from the very beginning, I didn’t expect it to be an especially memorable book at first, but I became hooked after reading about 15–20%. Once I reached that point, I savored every word and scene, finding myself more invested in Mirage than in the vast majority of books I read—and more invested in Amani than the vast majority of characters in the books I read.

Amani is the heart of Mirage, and as such, she is the main reason this book is fantastic. Her first person perspective is artful: It’s smooth and elegant and can be quite beautiful, but it doesn’t become ornate or dense enough to make the writing the primary focus instead of Amani herself. Somaiya Daud doesn’t just tell us that Amani is a woman of faith and compassion, a poet, a scholar—but imbues her narrative with these qualities to create a perfect fit for the character whose story she’s telling. It’s rare that I read a book like this in which the author so vividly brings their protagonist to life through their viewpoint, and it’s especially impressive how Amani’s poetic voice reflects her soul.

And I loved Amani. Despite the confines of her new life as the princess’ body double, she quietly but purposefully drives her own story through her own decisions and their consequences. She takes risks to help her people, not rashly but because she has evaluated the potential outcomes and judged that the good she might do outweighs the bad that may come to her as a result. Amani doesn’t have magic powers or flashy skills with which she can fight back against the Empire; her weapons are subtler ones that can nevertheless leave a large impression, ones that grow out of her hope, empathy, and insight.

These traits—particularly Amani’s affinity for understanding people and the experiences that shaped them—also affect the relationships she develops in the palace, especially that with her love interest and Maram. Even though Amani was immediately attracted to the former and their relationship grew quickly, this didn’t seem like a case of insta-love to me. There were scenes showing what drew them together as they built a foundation upon respect and trust, discovering the freedom to simply be themselves around one another. The progression of their romantic relationship was sweet and well done, and I enjoyed it.

But it was Amani’s complex relationship with Maram that I found most compelling. Amani hates Maram from the first time they meet (quite understandably, as the princess had her mauled by a bird of prey shortly after they were introduced), and although she doesn’t disregard her terrible actions later, she also starts to see the vulnerable edges below her callous exterior. Amani is probably the first person to ever look below the surface and truly see Maram: her loneliness, her fears, her longing to belong. She realizes how it must have been to grow up surrounded by people who only cared about her as a princess and not as a person, including her own father and her own half-sister, who would like nothing more than to take her place as their father’s successor. She realizes how it must be for Maram to visit her mother’s family, dreading that they can only see her as the daughter of their conqueror. As Amani comes to see there’s a different side of Maram that she tries to keep hidden, she begins to draw out that other side and even finds herself becoming surprisingly fond of the princess. (Though, by the end, the two are on rockier footing once again, which is one of the reasons I’m reluctant to refer to their relationship as outright friendship even though that’s the closest descriptor I can think of. As I said earlier, it’s complicated!)

Despite its short length and large focus on the major characters, Mirage does provide an in-depth picture of the world’s history and culture. Amani’s religion is especially prominent since she finds joy and comfort in sacred writings and especially loves poetry and stories about the prophetess Massinia. These are important to Amani, and it seems as though they will likely have a large role to play in the series as well.

Mirage is an unforgettable novel with an unforgettable protagonist, and once I became immersed in it after the first few chapters, it completely worked for me on every level. Without a doubt, Somaiya Daud is a new author to watch with her gorgeous writing that masterfully intersects character and voice. I’m excited to read more of her work in the future, starting with the continuation of Amani’s story in Court of Lions (coming in August 2019!).

My Rating: 9/10

Where I got my reading copy: I purchased it.

Read an Excerpt from Mirage