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The tl;dr: Not reaching the heights of Black Sun, but better than Fevered Star, Mirrored Heavens has the difficult job of wrapping up this epic story while also correcting some mis-steps from earlier in the series. It does some of this well (it feels more epic, arcs are wrapped up nicely), but imperfectly (pacing issues, a lot of focus put on unimportant elements and characters). In general, this was a satisfying, if not earth shattering, finale to a series that could never quite live up to its own hype and potential.

Cover of Mirrored Heavens

My full review:

Rebecca Roanhorse shook up the fantasy publishing world with her magical world rooted in the history, culture, and cosmology of the indigenous Americas, and subsequently stumbled with a sequel that was dull, slow-moving, and seemingly less inspired. Roanhorse is now back with the final book in her “Between Earth and Sky” trilogy with Mirrored Heavens, a conclusion that is a mixed bag as it pulls from the heights Black Sun and tries to correct for the sins of Fevered Star.

Where Mirrored Heavens really shines, as do all of the books in this trilogy, it is through the characters. Serrapio, Xiala, and even Balam all get tense and complex arcs in Mirrored Heavens that kept me turning the pages even when the actual plot was flying off the railings. They all have their different goals and ambitions, and yet they don’t know how to always get those in a way that doesn’t hurt people (or doesn’t hurt the WRONG people, however they are defining that). When Mirrored Heavens was focusing on character relationships, I didn’t even realize that this book was so chonky because I was swept away by these people and the terrible places society has put them. (I should note that Naranpa essentially becomes a non-entity in this book, which was unfortunate).

The situations all of the characters find themselves in only get murkier and darker as Roanhorse continues to expand the world around them. As new threats, alliances, and colonizing forces all converge it is never quite clear who is right and who is wrong. Do you support the religious fanatics? The people trying to protect their homes from the religious fanastics? The colonized islanders? I thought that Roanhorse built out the world too quickly in Fevered Star, but in Mirrored Heavens she is able to actually spend time with each faction, and it is much clearer what each group actually desires. Whether you personally will enjoy the expanded worldbuilding will depend on what you like best from this series (and from your epic fantasy in general). Mirrored Heavens never wins back the sense of place that Black Sun had. In that first book Tovah really came alive and it felt like we got to know individual neighborhoods so well, while Fevered Star spent a lot of time outside of the main area. Mirrored Heavens continues to lose that feeling of being “in” the world; we don’t spend a lot of time in any give place and much of Mirrored Heavens seems to take place in some kind of void. I understand that the epic scale of the conflict in Mirrored Heavens kind of necessitated this, but it only made me long for Black Sun even more.

Whlile Roanhorse’s character work is always emotionally resonant, she really struggles with pacing and building momentum. I think this is why Black Sun worked so well and Fevered Star left me feeling empty; in the first book we want to slowly get introduced to a world and its characters, but by the second book in a trilogy we want things to happen – and they didn’t. Mirrored Heavens is left picking up the pieces of Fevered Star‘s nothingness, and Roanhorse is not quite able to pull it off. The book feels both sluggish and way too fast at the same time as Roanhorse tries to get at the emotional core of the story while also trying to cover way too much plot and worldbuilding – a lot of which should have been covered in Fevered Star. It is so bad that we learn a brand new element of the magic system (which is also a deux ex machina in its own way) around the 94% mark of this final volume. Roanhorse set so many new plot threads and POVs in Fevered Star that she HAS to deal with here in Mirrored Heavens, but even in a beefy 600+ page book just can’t deal with it all.

Once she does reach the conclusion, all of the plot threads are wrapped up. The book leaves it in a place where you know that the (surviving) characters have a life after this, but thematically and emotionally Roanhorse leaves readers in a satisfying place. The last chapter or two in particular are authentically brilliant in how the characters feel like they have to rebuild their lives and move on from these supernatural and political uphevels…I just wish the events leading up to that ending weren’t so chaotic and half-baked. I honestly think that if we cannot go back in a time machine and correct Fevered Star, than this should have been a four book series because Roanhorse seems to have had much loftier plans that can be contained in Mirrored Heavens (even at more than 1/3 longer than the previous books). It’s just dissapointing because Roanhorses’ ideas are so GOOD, but the execution is imperfect.

I think that many readers have connected with this trilogy more than me, and I think those readers in particular will love Mirrored Heavens. But even if you are like me, left side-eyeing Fevered Star for the way it just spun in meaningless cirlces, Mirrored Heavens is worth investing in to see the conclusion to these characters and these arcs (even if the plot conclusions leave a bit to be desired).

In general, this was a satisfying, if not earth shattering, finale to a series that could never quite live up to its own hype and potential. I do think the positives of Mirrored Heavens outweighed with the negatives, which is why I ultimately landed on giving this book 3 stars.

Nathan

Nathan is a PhD Candidate in Anthropology where he specializes in death rituals of the Ice Age in Europe and queer theory. Originally from Ohio, he currently lives in Kansas where he teaches college anthropology, watches too much TV, and attempts to make the perfect macarons in a humid climate. He is also the co-host of The Dragonfire podcast with James Lloyd Dulin. He reads widely in fantasy and sci-fi and is always looking for new favorites!

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