Warrior (aka Doppelganger) by Marie Brennan – Review

Book Jacket:

When a witch is born, a doppelganger is created. For the witch to master her powers, the twin must be killed. But what happens when the doppelganger survives?

Mirage, a bounty hunter, lives by her wits and lethal fighting skills. She always gets her mark. But her new mission will take her into the shadowy world of witches, where her strength may not be a match against powerful magic.

Miryo is a witch who has just failed her initiation test. She now knows that there is someone in the world who looks like her, who is her: Mirage. To control her powers and become a full witch, Miryo has only one choice: to hunt the hunter and destroy her.

You can read an excerpt here.


This series is exactly what I have been looking for – a fun, compelling, traditional fantasy series. I happened to stumble upon Dancing the Warrior (a prequel novella for the Doppelganger universe) online, and I just fell completely head over heels in love with the story – it’s pure karate goodness, top to bottom, in an alluring fantasy world (basically it had my name written all over it). There was nothing for it then but for me to dash right off to the Mystery and Imagination Bookshop in Glendale, and snatch up Warrior (formerly known as Doppelganger) and Witch (formerly known as Warrior and Witch, just to make things confusing – so if you’re buying these books online, Warrior and Witch is not an omnibus edition! It’s the second book in the series with the old title, and be careful because there is a HUGE spoiler on the jacket!)

On the one hand, this story is very much a traditional fantasy – witches and warriors, swords and sorcery – but on the other, Brennan has created a world entirely of her own design. Eschewing the traditional fantasy framework of medieval Europe, Brennan imbues her world with a distinct Japanese flavor, from Hunter schools that are somewhat ninja-like in their specialties and rivalries, to a system of magic based on the idea of balance, incorporating the natural elements. But while there is an Eastern sense to this universe, it is also unique – from the politics and system of magic to the religion, this is a world you will not feel you have seen a million times before.

Warrior is definitely a story of the action/adventure school, and the narrative starts off rolling as Mirage takes a commission to solve an assassination, and separately Miryo prepares to take the final test that will qualify her as a witch. I loved how the politics of the Witch world revealed themselves slowly to both Mirage and Miryo, and how they find themselves tangled up in a greater design, set in motion by others, that draws them inexorably towards a face to face confrontation.

And so Mirage and Miryo find themselves in an utterly impossible situation: if Miryo doesn’t kill Mirage, Miryo’s power will grow, uncontrolled, until it kills not only herself but whoever happens to be around her – and as for Mirage, who on account of her witch-like red hair has long suffered (and yet also adopted) the prejudices of Hunters towards Witches, to find out she is actually part witch and worse, is supposed to sacrifice herself for one, is anathema. Brennan splits the narrative between the two characters, making us equally love and root for both of them, while at the same time creating a growing sense of dread as the book inexorably marches towards the loss of one or the other. The tension is utterly fantastic.

I was also fascinated by the questions this story quietly raises about identity – and by establishing both characters and then bringing them together, Brennan lets us see the many ways in which they are alike, yet different, and how these distinct characters so perfectly compliment each other. There is something so terrifying in the idea of having to question your identity – and then worse, having no choice but to destroy a part of yourself. It makes for a wonderful dilemma.

I also very much enjoyed how Brennan incorporated religion into her story – both in the past, as it is an important part of the histories of both the Hunter and Witch societies, and in the present, where it serves as the basis for both those who follow the established order and those who would defy it. It was just a lovely thread throughout the story – never too overt or obnoxious, but always an interesting question as to what to really believe – and faith comes into play in very important ways, on all sides. It adds intriguing layers to Brennan’s world.

I do have one pet peeve that reared its head with this story – and that is, I have a very, very low tolerance for obvious words made important by dint of capitalization in fantasy stories (Truth! Light! The Way!), and I did catch myself on the verge of eye rolling when the names of the ranks within Witch society first came up – the Key of the Ray of Air, the Hand of the Path, etc. I got over it fairly quickly –  and by the second book I was so used to it, it didn’t bother me – but it definitely did ping my radar at first.

Still, I was fully caught up in this story – I blasted through both Warrior and Witch in a day – and I entirely loved it for just what it was. But for veteran fantasy fans, let me qualify my adoration: I love action/adventure tales and martial arts movies, and I love this kind of light but substantial fantasy story. However, if you’re looking for dense, intricate world building, this is not that type of series. Brennan gives us plenty to get our teeth into, but it’s painted in fairly broad strokes – I can’t say this story is on the level of, say, Elizabeth Moon’s Paksenarrion, and it’s nowhere near George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire in terms of depth and intricacy. Still, Warrior is a highly entertaining fantasy, and if you’re a fan of Patricia Briggs’ early fantasy books, Mercedes Lackey’s Oathbound and Oathbreakers, or Allison Goodman’s Eona, this series will be right up your alley.

With a fascinating concept, a fun tangle of intrigue, and action and adventure to spare, Warrior is exactly my kind of fun. If you’ve been hankering for a traditional fantasy that is thoroughly satisfying without being dark, dense or dreary, look no further.

Byrt Grade: A-/B+

As Levar Burton used to say – you don’t have to take my word for it…

Jim C. Hines says:

In brief: This is a good book. An original world, interesting protagonists, a fun story, and a satisfying conclusion…Bonus points to Brennan for avoiding the typical medieval European fantasyland world. This is a world of Brennan’s own creation, but its roots appear to be more Eastern in origin, which is refreshing. Yes, we have swords and magic and horses and witchcraft. But while some aspects were familiar, the book doesn’t feel like something I’ve read a thousand times before. Brennan also incorporates religion and prayer into the story, not in an evangelistic, preachy way, but as a natural part of the world and the characters. Fantasy and SF sometimes tends to ignore or simplify religion, but Brennan presents a rich, honest faith, and shows both the good and the evil that can come of it.

The Discriminating Fangirl says:

The characters are interesting and easy to empathize with. I liked both Mirage and Miryo and kept finding myself hoping they’d find a really creative way to work out their… ahem, differences. Fortunately, I wasn’t disappointed in the end…Definitely check this book out, if you get a chance. It’s well-written, creative, and involving.

The Book Smugglers (via Red Room) say:

Really, it is the premise–a doppelganger with a soul and mind of its own, not some hollow “evil twin” story–that sucks readers into the story. The early chapters alternate between Mirage and Miryo’s stories, creating an exciting dynamic as each character learns a little bit more, and they get closer to their eventual meeting. This clever choice in terms of writing style also gives readers equal footing with both Mirage and Miryo, allowing the characters to be perceived as two separate, sympathetic entities…I loved the contrast between the more gentle (yet determined) Miryo and the fierce, ballsy Mirage. I found myself drawn to both characters, and on the edge of my seat wondering who–if anyone–would ultimately prevail.