"Mirror Image" Book Review
Written by Matt E. Lewis
Published by Tor Books
Written by Michael Scott and Melanie Ruth Rose
2016, 352 pages, Fiction
Released on August 23rd, 2016
Are objects that are said to be cursed simply bad luck, or could there be something more diabolical at work? Johnathan Frazer, an antiques dealer from Los Angeles, has just bought a mirror in London at an amazing price. Little does he know (ugh, I feel sick even just typing this), he just bought more than he bargained for...
This is the premise of Mirror Image, a story of possessed antique that feeds on blood and souls and...semen. The antique looking glass begins claiming lives in its new home through a series of bizarre accidents. A huge, strange man with scars all over his face begins stalking Johnathan’s family, trying to get to the mirror and stop it from engaging in its magical blood lust.
While the story has its high points, there are stylistic errors that might make some put down the book before they finish it. For instance, there is a habit of punctuating climactic sections with exclamation points: “And then he noticed something else: the black speckling around the edges of the bottom of the glass had disappeared!”. This is the literary equivalent of ending a scary story by shouting, “Woooooooo!” in a faux-ghostly fashion. It completely takes the reader out of the narrative and does the exact opposite of what’s intended: the plot point you wanted to emphasize is now made to sound campy. What’s even more heartbreaking is that each instance of these misplaced exclamation points could simply be replaced with periods, and would immediately give the sentence the kind of gravitas it is seeking.
There are also issues with characterization, or rather, bad habits of characterization which the authors use. One such habit is not just starting a chapter with the subject’s first and last name, but continuing to identify them by the first and last name throughout the same chapter. Why? Has another ‘Johnathan’ entered the scene, necessitating the author to differentiate him as ‘Johnathan Frazer’? Usually this kind of thing is only used in narratives where characters share names or surnames, like the lengthy family clan in One Hundred Years of Solitude. But none of the people in the book share any first names, which just makes it a weird thing to do, particularly if you think the reader would forget who you’re talking about two paragraphs into a chapter in which they are the only point of view.
As the story progresses, there are more victims of the mirror that are incidental, only introduced and described briefly. That kind of characterization isn’t a problem in itself, but the way that they are written comes across as filler rather than anything meaningful. There are stereotypes like the homeless guy with the dead wife, the chronic masturbating computer nerd, and the lonely widow – the kind of thing readers probably have seen over and over again. I understand the logic for the brevity of their introductions, because they are just going to be fodder for the mirror’s blood lust, but it would have been more effective to simply mention these victims in passing in the conversations of the main protagonists. That way, the reader could make their own connections and draw up the scenes in their head, rather than being forced to engage with some ultimately pointless exposition.
A large portion of the story hinges on Elizabethan flashbacks to the life of the spirit imprisoned in the mirror’s “Otherword”, a sorceress who (of course) was a femme fatale and seduced one of Queen Elizabeth’s closest advisors. The mirror feeds on “sexual energy” for its power, which is explained as the original magic in which life is created. Specifically, in addition to blood, it needs female orgasms and male semen. Once again, I can understand the logic of it, the idea that semen would have “life force”, but the whole idea is presented so matter-of-factly that it borders on hilarious. If you’re going to use a unique concept, it seems like it would benefit to present it in a supremely creepy way, a.k.a the Clive Barker route. That this process doesn’t faze any of the characters who hear it takes what could be an interesting twist and makes it unintentionally comical. The whole book could be written off as “The Hellbound Heart Lite” in its attempts to include gratuitous sex and gore, but missing the mark when it comes to giving these scenes any real impact. We barely get to know Manny Frazer, Johnathan’s teenage daughter, before her head starts getting invaded by sex dreams via the mirror, which pinnacles in a very bizarre rape scene that should best have been left out entirely. Indeed, the approach to almost every female character is to make them selfish and self-serving, in a way deserving of the horrible fates that await them. The only exceptions are investigating Detective Hannen (who DARES not to wear a skirt and is described over and over again by multiple characters as “mannish”) and a pregnant rookie prostitute trying to make ends meet, who is brutally murdered by Johnathan Frazer in order to extract revenge on his cheating wife.
Mirror Image has some lovely prose, and the story clearly had a lot of time and effort put into it. There are some twists that may surprise you at the very end – or you may have seen them coming a mile away. I’m not sure it falls into the category of “horror”, but rather “dark fantasy” with a gruesome streak. It is entertaining to an extent, but the issues I mentioned made it difficult to complete. Perhaps there are people who can overlook flaws in the book, maybe even consider it a page-turner, but I just wasn’t seeing myself in the reflection of this mirror.