Michaele Jordan’s debut novel, MIRROR MAZE, is a Victorian-era fantasy romance featuring three main characters: Livia Aram, Jacob Aldridge, and Jacob’s sister, Cecily Beckford. At the start of MIRROR MAZE, Jacob is grieving hard over the loss of his fiancée, Rhoda Carothers; she was American, beautiful, and understood Jacob in a way he had never before known. In fact, Jacob’s grief is so intense that he’s nearly lost himself.
Cecily, of course, is very worried about her brother, but not entirely for the reasons you’d expect. You see, their father was a well-known magician who had many enemies; she believes that a succubus has entranced Jacob for just that reason. And she goes to another magician, Dr. Chang, to figure out just how to get rid of whatever is bothering her brother.
But then, the plot thickens a bit more; Dr. Chang’s ward is the aforementioned third main character, Livia Aram. And Livia looks just like the deceased Rhoda; this causes Jacob to become more than a little unhinged. This is why Chang tries initially to keep Livia away from Jacob, but of course it doesn’t work.
With Chang’s help, the succubus-like demon loses the initial battle against Jacob. But that’s certainly not the only trick in this particular demon’s arsenal, which is why Cecily becomes the demon’s next victim. Only the appearance of her long-lost, presumed dead husband Colonel Oliver Beckford ends up saving her, because during Beckford’s travels, he’s learned a type of magic the demon who’s entrapped Cecily cannot match.
The plot thickens further when, to save Cecily, Col. Beckford ends up using Chang as bait because he believes Chang was negligent in allowing the demon freedom because Chang actually had a mirror that he could’ve used to stop the whole thing. So Chang ends up where Jacob and Cecily were before: a type of mirrored maze, which is a reflection of the magical space in which he’s been entrapped more so than just the fact that a mirror will allow a personality like the demon — or, as we find out, Rhoda Carothers (whose body is gone but spirit is still brightly alive) — to “come out” and interact with the living, breathing, physical world.
Of course, Rhoda loves Jacob and would never hurt him, but will Col. Beckford, who’s definitely down on the whole “mirror maze” concept, allow this? And why is Chang’s mother, yet another famous magician, involved in this story at all? These are just some of the questions the incredibly convoluted, yet extremely readable MIRROR MAZE asks — and answers.
MIRROR MAZE is told in the form of four interlocked stories of unequal length. This unusual form works to its advantage, however, in that we get to know the motivations, and some internal monologue, from just about every important minor or major character.
The pluses of MIRROR MAZE are legion: the writing is excellent, the historicity is excellent (Ms. Jordan evokes the Victorian era as if she’s lived there all her life), the different magical systems being shown are unusual, powerful, and pack a mighty wallop. And the characters, odd as they can be (Col. Beckwith in particular was someone I really didn’t like nor identify with, in that his only seemingly redeeming quality is his enduring love for Cecily despite his long absence), make sense in the context of this novel. And there were no real weaknesses to be seen; everything works, the plot is concluded in a satisfactory fashion, and despite the grimness of the tone at times, happy endings abound.
I truly enjoyed Jordan’s novel, even though it’s a bit darker than I’d initially expected; I’d definitely call it “dark fantasy.” The romances being depicted (between Jacob and Livia, Cecily and Col. Beckwith, and others) are realistic and adult (the promotional material enclosed with this novel by Pyr Books called this an “erotic fantasy romance” and they’re not kidding). And the complexity of the over-arching form just adds to the richness and depth of this highly readable, hugely enjoyable novel.
So what are you waiting for? MIRROR MAZE is available now, in trade paperback; go grab a copy and get to reading already!
— reviewed by Barb