Terisa Morgan has spent most of her life feeling like she's fading out of existence and doubting whether she is real at all. To prove to herself that she does exist, every wall of her apartment is covered with mirrors. One night, Terisa experiences a strange dream in which she hears the sound of trumpeting horns while being pursued by men on horseback, but another man steps into the breach to protect her. The next evening, the sense of fading is especially acute, so she sits in front of one of her mirrors. As Terisa tries desperately to convince herself that she's real, a man who looks very similar to the one in her dream comes crashing through the mirror, startling her. He introduces himself as Geraden and explains that Mordant, the land from which he comes urgently needs help. Even though she's not quite what he expected and this might simply be another one in a long line of fumbling mistakes he's made, he's still convinced that she is the augured Champion of Mordant.
Terisa knows that she should probably call security and have Geraden arrested. If nothing else, he's most likely crazy. After all he's chattering about about having been translated through a magical mirror. But something in his heartfelt plea for help reaches into her soul. Never before has anyone paid this much attention to her, like she was someone who really mattered. With no one who truly cares for her, Terisa figures she has nothing to lose. As she steps back through the mirror with Geraden, she enters a fantastical world of castles and court intrigue, Imagers and magic, lust and murderous enemies. Mordant is on the cusp of war with its neighbors, and she is never quite sure just who can be trusted. Terisa and Geraden find their lives threatened at every turn as they try to save Mordant and discern why anyone would want to do harm to an ordinary girl who doesn't understand the first thing about Imagery and a bumbling Apt who hasn't been able to successfully become an Imager after ten long years of studying.
I first read The Mirror of Her Dreams probably close to twenty-five years ago, so when I picked it up for a re-read, I barely recalled anything about the story. As I read, some small things started to come back to me, but by and large, it was like reading it for the first time all over again. The thing I did remember was really liking the book the first time around, and while I did still enjoy it this time, I picked up on a few things that I would kind of consider flaws. This is most likely because back then, I took everything I read at face value, but now, after spending six years analyzing authors' writing in order to review books and becoming a published author myself, I tend to see these things more clearly. The main thing that kept the book from receiving a higher rating from me was that the pacing is pretty slow in places. This is especially true of the first half of the novel, which the author primarily uses for world-building and setting up the plot. During this time, there are a number of conversations in which a character tells Terisa rather long stories about the history of Mordant. The author can also be somewhat verbose at times, taking paragraphs to explain or describe certain things that probably could have been pared down a bit. It didn't help that I was extremely tired while reading a large part of it, and kept dozing off. Admittedly, that's mostly my own issue, but I couldn't help wondering if I would have had an easier time staying awake if there had been more action.
What I do (and did) really love about the Mordant's Need duet is the basis for the fantasy elements. In the land of Mordant, mirrors are magical things that are meticulously crafted by Imagers to see other places within their own realm as well as into parallel worlds. Each mirror only shows one place, so there are many mirrors within Mordant. None of them, however, show a man's reflection, and if an Imager makes a flat mirror in which he can see himself, he'll go mad. They also sometimes use mirrors to augur the future. The whole mythology that surrounds the mirrors and Imagers and the Congery (the group of Imagers as a whole) is utterly fascinating and pretty unique, not something I've really read before, albeit admittedly, I haven't read that much fantasy fiction. The other thing that is quite well done is the political intrigue. While parts of this were sometimes what put me to sleep, I can't deny that Stephen Donaldson did a great job with keeping the reader on their toes. It's almost impossible to discern who can be trusted and who can't, because everyone is suspect to some degree. I think this helped play into the reader feeling Terisa's confusion. There is also the whole question of why the King isn't doing anything to save his own land. Is he going senile or is there something greater at play? Also we're given the sense that Terisa and Geraden are going to play a big role in saving Mordant, but what and how that might be is a mystery, as both of them seem like the most unlikely of saviors. All of this is what really kept me reading and made the story an enjoyable one.
Terisa is a young woman from our own world who struggles daily with a sense that she is fading into nothingness. This is probably due to childhood abuse and being largely ignored by her wealthy parents. She now lives alone in a luxury apartment paid for by a father who didn't want her around anymore, while working a dull, dead-end job as a secretary for a charitable mission. Her apartment is filled with mirrors to prove to herself that she really does exist. One night Terisa has a strange dream in which she hears the trumpet of horns and a man saves her from three riders who seem bent on her destruction. The next day, Geraden steps through one of her many mirrors and all but begs her to return with him to his land. They need someone to save them from their enemies, and he believes she is their augured champion. Figuring she has nothing to lose, she goes with him and steps into a medieval-style word of castles and royalty, knights and Imagers. Geraden and some of the others believe Terisa may be a powerful Imager herself, because of the fact that Geraden found her in a room full of mirrors that reflected her image but didn't make her go mad. Of course, Terisa believes no such thing, and repeatedly tells them she is just an ordinary girl, not an Imager or the Champion they seek. I like Terisa, because she is sweet and unassuming. At the same time, I could get a little frustrated with her. Due to her past and her feelings of unreality, she's so uncertain of herself that she often behaves in a very passive way, making her an usual choice as the main POV character. Sometimes she knows what the correct response should be, but she can't stir herself to act, then her inaction has consequences of its own. This does get better as the story goes along though, and with each action she dares to take, I think she grows a little bit more confident in her abilities, or at least, she becomes invested in Mordant and the outcome of the impending war with its neighboring realms. I think what frustrated me most about Terisa though, was her willingness to give in to the seductions of a man who practically made my skin crawl with his oily, slimy air, when she had a great guy like Geraden who'd walk through broken glass for her. However, I can't deny that I understood on some level why she did, and thankfully it didn't go too far. This is another one of those areas where she had to slowly come to the realization on her own, which requires more of that action that is so unfamiliar to her, and a bit of patience from the reader.
Geraden is disrespected by his peers for being bumbling and accident-prone, but he's sweet and charming with a heart of gold. He's also extremely determined. He's spent a decade trying to become an Imager, but has not yet been able to rise above the status of Apt (an apprentice). He's the oldest Apt in the Congery by a wide margin, and is known far and wide for his legendary screw-ups. That's why, when the Congery needed someone to step through a mirror and bring back their augured Champion, Geraden was the one chosen for his expendability. Of course, the person he brought back was far from what they'd seen in the mirror. This set off a debate over whether Geraden was the most powerful Imager ever known or if this was just another in a long line of major mistakes. What I liked most about Geraden was his unwavering belief in Terisa being the Champion even though it seems like she's just another one of his mishaps. He has a childlike faith in her, and I admire how he always follows his gut instincts even though he says they're usually wrong. I also adored him for how he behaves like a gentleman and treats Terisa with dignity and respect, like she's someone who matters even if she isn't the Champion. There are many in the Congery who believe that the people or creatures they find in their mirrors are of their own creation and therefore not real and can be used as they see fit, but Geraden believes otherwise.
There are many standout secondary characters, really too many for me to name and each plays an important role in the story. I will mention that my favorites were Geraden's brother, Artegel, and the King's daughter, Myste. Artegel is a charming rogue who is known as the best swordsman in all of Mordant, while Myste is a hopeless romantic who cares a great deal about others. Both become good friends to Terisa and treat Geraden with respect when others don't.
There is much to like about The Mirror of Her Dreams. As I mentioned before, there is plenty of court intrigue, nearly enough to rival Game of Thrones. There is also suspense as multiple attempts are made on both Geraden's and Terisa's lives, leading the other characters and the reader to wonder what might be so special about these seemingly ordinary people that would cause murderous enemies to rise up against them. The magical element is complex, fascinating, and well thought out. Terisa may not be the most compelling POV character I've ever read, especially considering that she carried virtually the entire book herself, but I did enjoy watching her slowly grow to start making some decisions and taking action. Sometimes I wanted Geraden's perspective, but I guess it made sense that the character who was most unfamiliar with this mysterious land would be the one to observe as things unfold. It makes the reader feel almost as confused as Terisa does as she learns what's going on and often finds more questions than answers. There's a touch of romance as well. Although definitely not enough to call this a romance, it was just enough to give this romance enthusiast a relationship to root for. Even if it was a bit slow-paced at times, overall, The Mirror of Her Dreams was an enjoyable read, which has left me looking forward to re-reading the sequel, A Man Ride Through. The Mirror of Her Dreams has a cliff-hanger ending, so readers will definitely want to have the second book on their TBR pile before finishing this one.
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