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This week I’m sharing about some series I love that I think deserve more readers and more discussion in bookish/SFF communities. Today I’m gushing about Mirage by Somaiya Daud, a Moroccan-inspired young adult science fiction duology containing the books Mirage and Court of Lions. In particular, I want to highlight the wonderful protagonist and the complicated female friendship that lies at the heart of both books.

Cover of Mirage by Somaiya Daud Cover of Court of Lions by Somaiya Daud

Mirage and Court of Lions are gorgeous novels, and they are some of the first books that come to mind whenever I think of books I’d love to see recommended and discussed more in SFF communities. These are beautifully written stories that explore colonialism and empire, rebellion, and the power of literature, and though they contain heartbreak, they are ultimately hopeful. I found these two books incredibly intense—not because they’re action-packed (they’re not), but because they are emotion-packed with a wonderful protagonist and a developing sort-of friendship at their center.

I wrote “sort-of friendship” because this starts as a rocky relationship, and furthermore, it’s not a relationship between equals since Amani, the protagonist, is forced to serve Maram, the princess, as a body double. Fearing that someone will assassinate his heir before she can take the throne, the king had his minions search for a look-alike to pretend to be Maram. They discovered Amani, who had an uncanny resemblance to the princess, and took her from her family and home moon to learn to emulate their future queen, from her mannerisms to her maliciousness and sharp tongue.

Amani is one of the best protagonists I’ve encountered in fairly recent speculative fiction, and I just adored her. She’s a woman of faith, a scholar, and a poet, and her beautiful voice is a perfect fit for someone with words and lyricism in her soul. She has courage and is willing to take personal risks if she decides the potential good is worth the potential consequences. Amani is also one of those “quiet” protagonists I admire so: she doesn’t have powerful magic or flashy skills, but she has subtle weapons like her wit and insight, her compassion, and her hope. A lot of her strength lies in her empathy and her ability to understand others, and this is the main reason it seems she may actually be capable of bringing out the best in Maram.

I really loved the slow build of the sisterly friendship that develops between Amani and Maram as the former begins to realize she’s actually developed some fondness for the princess. It never seemed as though Maram’s cruelty was swept under the rug or excused because of her difficult childhood, but it also shows how much of a struggle it’s been for her to survive within her father’s empire. Though her father is the infamous conqueror, her deceased mother belonged to the people he conquered, and as a result, Maram doesn’t feel like she belongs anywhere. She’s alone, fearful of the half-sister who hungers to take her place, and thinks it necessary to hide any vulnerability. Amani is probably the first to clearly see and understand the person beneath the mask Maram presents to the world when most view her as a princess to be feared and obeyed, the daughter of the man who conquered the stars. Plus Amani tries to connect with her in a way no one else has, through the part of herself Maram doesn’t really know due to her mother’s death.

Though there are a couple of romances in these novels (including a sapphic one in the second book), the Mirage duology is primarily focused on Amani, Maram, and their platonic relationship. I found it to be an unusually stunning work of science fiction literature for its writing and characterization, and I hope that Somaiya Daud publishes more novels in the future. (I keep hoping and looking for more by her!)

Additional Reading on Mirage: