Review of WARRIOR by MARIE BRENNAN
(first in the DOPPELGANGER duology)
The premise of this book can be reduced to a concise hook: Miryo is a witch in training. Mirage is a bounty hunter. Miryo learns she cannot use her magic until she kills the doppelganger she never knew she had: Mirage. Remember, Mirage is a ruthless, expertly trained bounty hunter, so this isn’t exactly going to be easy.
By the nature of both Mirage’s career path and her impending confrontation with Miryo, intense action scenes find their way into almost every chapter. I’m not normally inclined toward action heavy books; I often find myself skimming the fight or flee scenes for the end result. Yet Brennan writes these scuffles with such urgency and clarity that each moment held my attention…even though I’m not familiar with all the terminology for specific kicks and strategies!
I don’t want to make it sound as though action is all this book has to offer. There are a lot of politics and well-paced mysteries as both Miryo and Mirage work to understand a world that defies their previous assumptions. I can be a very skeptical reader and there were many times when I braced myself for a contrived, cheesy, or cliché resolution to a problem. For inevitable events, such as when Miryo and Mirage finally meet or the many smaller stepping stones of necessary revelations, the author has her work cut out for her. The reader expects a reasonable amount of emotion and dramatics for an event of that magnitude not to mention understandable actions and conversations from the characters. Oh, and it still has to be interesting. I approached each of these critical moments with wariness, but Brennan pulled them off every time.
The magic in this world seems well-developed with its own checks and balances as well as cans and cannots. While the reader isn’t attacked with exposition about how magic works, what can be gathered from statements or conversations pieces together without any noticeable logic lapses.
The premise raises a lot of imperative questions about survival and killing. Though filtered down to a one on one situation, it’s easy to see parallels to war. Experienced witches have warned Miryo that if she doesn’t kill her doppelganger, her magic will spiral out of control, killing her and most likely many other innocent people. The only way Miryo can even contemplate this violent task is by thinking of Mirage as “it.” She pushes away her objections to murdering a human being and tries instead to stuff the action into the mental category of survival versus an inhuman threat. Convincing herself that this act is necessary is the only way she can live with it.
Though part of a duology, the book reads as a stand alone novel and ends without any vital plot threads left dangling. The end, as with the other crucial moments of the book, impressed me. Brennan sometimes backs her characters into such tricky corners that I don’t see how they’re going to find their way out without a painfully flimsy explanation. The end was a little like that and as the story drew down to its final pages, I feared a brisk wrap-up, but once again Brennan took me pleasantly by surprise.