The Mirror of Her Dreams—Stephen R. Donaldson
The story of Terisa and Geraden began very much like a fable. She was a princess in a high tower. He was a hero come to rescue her. She was the only daughter of wealth and power. He was the seventh son of the lord of the seventh Care. She was beautiful from the auburn hair that crowned her head to the tips of her white toes. He was handsome and courageous. She was held prisoner by enchantment. He was a fearless breaker of enchantments. (1)
This was the main pick for the Vaginal Fantasy book club for the month of April. (My review of the alternate, Dragon Prince, is here.) This was not a great month for me with Vaginal Fantasy, but I can already tell that May will be better.
In this book, we meet Terisa Morgan, a poor little rich girl who doesn't believe in her own existence unless she is surrounded by mirrors. She works at a local church in New York as an administrator. One night, she thinks that she hears horns. The following night, a man appears, arriving through one of her mirrors, and shattering it in the process. He takes her hand and pulls her into his land of Mordant, one where magic is real and translation through mirrors is common. The young man's name is Geraden and he is a member of the elite group which builds and uses mirrors for the King. In Terisa's world (our world), mirrors only reflect what is in front of them, but in Mordant they do the exact opposite, showing different locations through the mirrors as created by the Imagers. Things are much different in Mordant for women, we quickly learn, as it's a throwback to the old days of knights and castles.
I really liked the idea of the traveling and translation with mirrors. I used to spend a lot of time in middle school writing with a friend using mirrors and bodies of water as traveling devices. (She went on to write a novel, Mirrored Time, which is pretty good, I think. It certainly didn't drag like this one did.) I was very intrigued by the mechanics of augury and congery and imagery, but we got surprisingly little insight into it for something that was ultimately such an essential device in the story.
Beyond that, there were some beautiful turns of phrase and some decent world building, but other than that, there's not a lot that I found redeeming about this book. My biggest problem was the protagonist, Terisa, although I struggle to even call her a protagonist. She is so passive as to be infuriating. She ponders possible choices that she might make, and then does nothing instead. To be fair, she has spent her whole life up until the point she is pulled into Mordant being aggressively passive, so I didn't expect an immediate change, but I would like to think that if you were pulled into this world that you knew nothing about, that you would try to figure out as much as you could about it. Terisa seems to have no sense of curiosity. And any sense of growth over 650 pages would have been appreciated.
We talked about this a bit during the Vaginal Fantasy Hangout about this month, but perhaps we're so spoiled with these strong, badass female characters at this point—characters like Hermione, and Katniss, and Tris Prior—that when we get a character who is more passive, we can't help but be disappointed. To a point, I think that this is true. But I also felt like there were inconsistencies in Terisa's character beyond the passivity.
She seems to think that she can only confirm that she exists in Mordant is by being touched and somebody sleeping with her. Ignoring the young man who is close to her age and clearly infatuated with her, she decides the best course of action is the creepy, scheming older man. As I saw in one Goodreads review, it seems so much like a middle-aged man writing a young woman, playing out a fantasy that he sees of the older man attaining the virgin girl. Please. Terisa even goes to him to talk about her predicament and he answers some questions and then says, "Are you satisfied? I am ready to begin exploring the territory of your womanhood." (200) Are you, now? Well, thank you ever so, most valiant knight, for selflessly agreeing to explore my womanhood. This just doesn't make sense to me for a young woman who has had little to no experience with men. Though maybe she was just playing out her daddy issues...
I think we've all had existential crises at one time or another, but get it together, girl! Either pick yourself up and do something about it, or give up and decide it can never get better. But do something.
The only character I liked was Geraden, and Terisa treated him so poorly, I almost wanted him to walk out of the book himself. Perhaps if it had been told from Geraden's perspective, I might have been more interested.
It also felt that Donaldson had little respect for his reader's intellect, overexplaining when unnecessary, and underexplaining when there was no possible way that a reader could glean background information.
Not that Goodreads is always the best gauge, but it seems as though people are extremely divided on this: either they absolutely swear by it and it's the book that made them fall in love with epic fantasy, or they absolutely cannot stand it and wanted to throw their book across the room in frustration and anger.
Overall, it just felt like such a chore to finish it, and the fact that there's a cliffhanger at the end of 650 pages? No thank you, especially when it felt excruciating to even get that far. I truly felt that there could have been some better editing, and that this book could've been combined with its partner in the length of this one book.