Course of Mirrors tells the story of a young woman named Ana who leaves her privileged but unhappy home seeking an elusive purpose. This is fantasy fiction and harnesses many of the genres tropes. There are magical elements with many of the characters having special powers. Ana uses a talisman to heal, to spread light, and to help her make decisions. Her talisman provides a useful distraction when she is in danger. Ana also has the power of telepathy, especially with animals. She has an unseen friend, Cara, who occasionally speaks to her from the future. All of these elements I could accept given the nature of the story. What I found harder to understand was why they were used at certain times and not others. During her journey Ana encounters many people, some of whom suffer injuries that she makes no attempt to heal. Her talisman is powerful yet is used intermittently.
Other aspects of the story were used repeatedly. A great many characters grew up believing they were orphans taken in by those who raised them soon after their birth. Given that most of the key characters live within well maintained households of kings it seemed strange that babies could be whisked away during much anticipated births without any servants noticing. Revealing who birth parents are, and the affect this has on their offspring, provide pivotal aspects of the plot.
The story opens in the summer when Ana has just turned eighteen. She lives with her father, Katun, who is the ruler of a kingdom that has suffered six years of plagues. To avoid contamination, Katun has kept his family in isolation. He is estranged from his wife, Inti, who maintains her own property across the river that divides their lands. Ana considers herself a cause of their unhappiness. She feels more loved by her paternal grandmother than by either parent.
Katun is described as ordered and practical although he has neglected those he rules over, nursing the resentments he feels about the hand life has dealt him following his marriage. Inti irritates him due to her more artistic nature and demands for independence. Katun is annoyed that she has not granted him control of her lands as he expected. Instead, Inti has delegated her wider duties to her brother’s widow whose two children are Ana’s friends until visitors are banned from their home.
With the decline of the pestilence Ana’s cousins are permitted to visit once again. They take her on the first of her adventures. The danger this exposes her to leads to a confrontation with Katun who attempts to exert control over his daughter. Ana reacts by deciding to run away.
What follows are a series of encounters and further adventures. Ana meets a group of travelling actors and musicians. She is kidnapped by a religious fanatic. There is a shipwreck and danger from mercenaries. Ana enjoys several sexual encounters before coming to understand that love interests will not provide the meaning she seeks. Through trying to develop her artistic talent Ana meets the influential Ruskin, a former friend of her mother. An uprising brings together many of the friends she has made on her journey.
The extreme poverty under which some of the populace exist is briefly mentioned, as are the many deaths that result from the various conflicts. There seems to be little concern about this from Ana and those who have enjoyed privileged upbringings. Although realistic this was disappointing. Even in fantasy, it seems, there is limited humanity.
The prose is fable like, rich in metaphor and simile. Although each aspect of Ana’s travels is used subsequently, I found the plot was at times slow to progress. The writing style was engaging and plenty happens. There were, however, rather too many fortuitous if seemingly coincidental meetings. I wondered if Cara is to become more important in this as her role here was questionable.
World building and the many interrelationships are made easier to follow thanks to a map and cast list provided. There is mention of a sequel although it is not yet available.
A diverting if not entirely satisfying read. Ultimately, the pace and repetitive reliance on coincidence detracted too much from my enjoyment.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the author.