Sometimes you really like a concept and an author’s concept and you want to give the work a really glowing review. But there are just a few stumbling blocks that file a bit of its edge off. The Universal Mirror is like that.
On the island of Cercia, the gods are dead, killed by their followers and replaced with the study of magic. Magicians are forbidden to leave their homeland. Laws bind these men that prevent them from casting spells on the living—whether to harm or to heal. Quentin, a young nobleman, challenges these laws out of love for his wife. His best friend, Asahel, defies authority at his side, unaware that the search for this lost magic will bring them both to the edge of reason, threatening their very souls. The Universal Mirror shows how far two men are willing to go for the sake of knowledge and what they will destroy to obtain it.
Now, don’t get me wrong. This is very well-written book. I recommend it for any fantasy fans out there, especially if you can get it free on Kindle. Perkins creates some really good characters. She’s got a nice world and a unique magic system that includes something lacking in more amateurish fantasy: Limitations. It’s easy to end up with godlike characters in fantasy when there aren’t any natural or societal limitations on the magic. Perkins’ world has a set of rules, called Heresies, that limit how magic is used. It’s just that it’s all a bit shallow. And I really want to see deeper into Cercia.
I was nearly halfway through Mirror before I had the two main characters straightened out. The limitations are there and explored to a degree, but never really explained. The city has periodic bouts of a plague, but for most of the book, it reads like it was a one-time deal. From the descriptions of their friendship, I kept expecting Asahel and Quentin to develop some sort of bromance, if not outright romance.
Perkins does a few things really well, however. Interpersonal interactions (aside from some of the awkwardness between the two protagonists) are handled very nicely. Especially between Quentin and his wife. The rigid structure of society is explored and shown to us in great detail via the vehicle of Asahel’s and Quentin’s friendship.
I enjoyed The Universal Mirror. I’ll probably read it again. It just needed a little more depth to be a great book instead of a good one.