You know that feeling when a book gives you exactly what you hoped for? I’d almost forgotten what that felt like. But Court of Lions, the follow-up to Somiya Daud’s debut Mirage, reminded me what it feels like to watch an author hit a sequel out of the park.
I really enjoyed Mirage, which was a short little hit of YA catnip. Think Padme Amidala meets Moroccan history: Amani is stolen from life on her family’s farm and forced to be the body double to the imperial princess Maram. Of course, there’s a handsome boy and an ill-defined rebellion and lots of gorgeous clothes. Mostly, though, Mirage is about Amani’s devastating loss of home and culture.
My original review brings up a couple things I wasn’t wild about, though. Court of Lions is like an answer to each of them.
In Mirage, the Moroccan-inspired sci-fi setting was fresh and interesting, but a little thin and underbuilt. I was hoping that Court of Lions would develop the world a little more. And it did! The book is still disinterested in the technological aspect of the setting, but that suits me just fine. It isn’t relevant. Instead, Court of Lions focuses on deepening the various cultures and widening our view of the multi-planet world.
Most of all, the sequel drills down into the best thing about Mirage: both books are relentlessly character-driven. There’s more romance, and it’s pretty good romance at that– lots of slow-burn yearning from Amani and her man, contrasted with Maram’s sudden tumble into an affair with
But both romances take a backseat to the most important relationship in the book: Maram and Amani’s friendship and partnership. YES– more friendship-focused YA! The girls’ relationship is complicated and messy, making their growing trust and sisterhood deeply rewarding.
I love good dialogue, and Daud focuses most of the book on high-stakes, dynamic conversations. I was particularly struck by some scenes near the middle of the book in which characters discuss colonialism in very frank terms. Daud doesn’t bury any of the analysis of imperialism in metaphor– her characters are well aware of their political reality and make distinctions between individual actions and systemic issues. They don’t waste time discovering or decrying that “empire is bad;” they go straight to the difficult and messy matter of solutions.
“Everyone imagines that a poor villager has no understanding of the operations of cruelty,” Amani says. “That because she is removed from the center of power, she does not experience the way it is used.”
The book has a lot to say about oppression and colonialism, but I think this is her biggest point. The oppressed people in this story are not waiting for someone more worldly to explain their situation to them. They understand the workings of empire– it’s their daily life. The etiquette of court life is strange to Amani, but that doesn’t mean she’s ignorant of the workings of power or unable to navigate palace intrigue.
In a perfect world, Mirage and Court of Lions would be one single volume. They’re fairly short, and I think the story would combine well into one epic book. I can’t really begrudge the two separate books, though. Splitting this story doesn’t work from a storytelling perspective, but I assume there are Publishing Business Reasons that it’s a duology instead of one book. If that choice made it possible for an OwnVoices debut to get her foot in the door or made Mirage an easier sell, I’m not going to complain.
Recommended OwnVoices and/or diverse reviews:
Fadwa at Word Wonders has been a huge champion for Mirage and Court of Lions. Definitely check out her beautiful review.
I received an advance review copy of this title from the publisher at no cost. No money changed hands for this review and all opinions are my own.