Somaiya Daud’s Mirage is set in the distant world of Cadiz, which has been conquered by the Vath, ruthless beings from another planet bent on erasing the customs and traditions of the Cadiz people. The life of 18-year-old Amani takes a harrowing turn when she is abducted by the Vath during her community’s traditional coming-of-age ceremony. She is held captive in the imperial palace by the half-Vathek Princess Maram, to whom she bears a striking resemblance. She is forced to train to become the princess’s body double to shield the princess from her subjects, who despise her.
As with many fantasy works, Daud’s setting serves as a mirror for conflicts and cruelties on Earth. Daud’s interest in history and her cognizance of the enduring wounds of colonialism shaped the novel. “When I’m not writing,” Daud says, “I’m teaching or studying 19th-century British imperialism, and it’s from there that I explicitly drew the structures, the attitudes, and the relationship between the colonizer and the colonized in Mirage.”
Daud’s mother and grandmother grew up in Morocco, and Daud modeled elements of the story on a recent historical episode known as the Years of Lead, the period in Morocco between the 1960s and 1980s when King Hassan II reigned. Daud says, “It was an era notable for violent crackdowns against dissent—dissent that ranged from poetic expression to the insistence on the recognition of Morocco’s many indigenous groups.”
Poetry plays a significant role in Mirage. Reading the work of Moroccan poet Laabi Abdellatif led Daud to discover a world of poetry written during the Years of Lead by poets who were imprisoned or in exile.
“I’d known that poetry could be and often was a form of dissent,” Daud says, “but it took on new meaning as I wrote this novel because I was drawing so heavily on my Moroccan roots to shape the world.” With the assistance of her mother and her aunt, Daud sought out and translated poems from Arabic-speaking women to include in the novel, bringing these works to an audience who likely would not have read them otherwise. For Amani, as her days as a prisoner in the imperial palace become increasingly bleak, the poems serve as “a light in the darkness.”
Amani undergoes significant trauma at the hands of Princess Maram and the Vath, but Daud chose not to tell a story solely of darkness and victimhood; there is hope and empowerment and a bit of romance, too. Amani’s suffering also leads to her deepening awareness of the injustices being committed against her indigenous community—injustices that echo those of our own world.
Through her ordeals, Amani develops the resilience needed to fight back. “Amani starts out as someone who is angry at the state of her world but feels as if she is unable to do anything about it,” Daud says. By the end of the novel, she has become “a person who can be a rebel, who can endure, come out on the other side, and still get up, still believe that there is a chance for freedom, and still think her actions matter.”