Thanks to Net Galley and to Macmillan-Tor/Forge Books for offering me a free copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.
Horror is one of my favourite genres although I don’t read exclusively in any genre, but I always look forward to horror books. I also love antiques and TV programmes and books about antiques, and I was therefore even more interested in this novel.
Mirror Image tells the story of a haunted mirror (so to speak, although the full details of what the mirror represents and its ultimate power go beyond most stories of haunted places and/or objects) that an unwitting interior designer/antiques dealer from Los Angeles buys in London and gets shipped back. Although he at first thinks he’s got a bargain (as the mirror is much older than he realised and much more valuable), instead he gets more than he bargained for. Very soon after its arrival strange deaths happen around the mirror. At first they all look like freak accidents, but soon the police becomes suspicious of the new owner of the mirror, and there’s another mysterious figure, a tall man covered in scars, who knows more about the mirror than he’s willing to tell.
The prose is fast-paced and dynamic and the story is written in short chapters, in the third person from alternating points of views. Although many of the chapters are told from Jonathan Frazer’s point of view, there are chapters from the female detective’s point of view, from Frazer’s wife and daughter, Emmanuelle or Manny (who also become ensnared by the mirror), from three of Frazer’s employees, from Edmond, the man after the mirror, from some minor characters that make fleeting appearances in the book and even some very brief chapters that we realise are told from the mirror’s point of view. Although at first these changes in point of view tend to only take place in different chapters, as the pace picks up, especially towards the end, we might jump from one point of view to another during the same chapter. I didn’t find it difficult to follow but I know there are readers who are not keen on ‘head-hopping’. On the one hand it might shift the focus of the action and release tension, although on the other hand, by making us share in the characters’ experiences, especially those who are just innocent victims, we are even more shocked by what happens. As the owner of the mirror becomes more and more fascinated by it, he starts experiencing dreams that seem to reveal past events concerning the history of the mirror that are particularly relevant to the current situation. As the mirror gains in strength he isn’t the only one to experience those dreams that we are also witnesses to. True historical characters, like John Dee, Edward Kelly and Queen Elizabeth I have appear to be lined to the mirror too and add intrigue and complexity to the story.
My only reservation was that I felt the female characters were slightly less well rounded. I liked the detective but we don’t get to know enough about her, and Frazer’s daughter, Manny, although central to the action, spends most of the chapters where she appears either unwell, confused or under somebody’s influence and we never discover her true self. From the few details we get about her at the beginning I assumed she was older (as she’d been living and studying in Paris, met another of the characters and lived with him for a while) but then we learn she’s only eighteen and perhaps that explains her difficulty dealing with the situation she finds herself in. There are also other female presences very important to the story, but I don’t want to give away any spoilers.
There is gore (I’ve read books that are more explicitly violent, but it’s not a mild read either), there is sexual content (as the mirror gets its strength from humans emotions and human bodily fluids, and has some pretty interesting effects on its subjects) although it’s not as explicit as I’ve read in many other books and it is seamlessly integrated into the story. Is it scary? Yes. The novel shows how a character that to begin with is a likeable man, kind and gentle, a loving father and a generous employer, becomes a completely different person due to the influence of the mirror and he ends up doing unspeakable things. The obsession that takes over not only him but so many others who come into contact with the mirror, and the lengths people will go to gain power and immortality have a ring of truth that makes it more effective. Although this is not the most terrifying book I’ve ever read, it’s an uneasy, uncomfortable and eerie read. It is also compellingly and beautifully written, and its connection with the historical characters makes one wonder what kind of things went on in the name of experimentation and knowledge in the past.
I recommend it to lovers of horror with a kick, especially those who enjoy some historical background and mythology, and to people who love stories about haunted objects. If you read it I’m sure you won’t look into a mirror the same way again.