Empire of Sand

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Member Reviews

TW: forced marriage, threat of sexual assault

I have a complicated relationship with Empire of Sand. On one hand, it’s a very good book, maybe not quite on the level with N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season, but it gives me similar vibes. On the other hand, Empire of Sand uses tropes that just really don’t work for me. I actually learned more about what I prefer as a reader because of how uncomfortable the book made me!

In a fantasy world inspired by Mughal India, Mehr is the illegitimate daughter of an imperial governor and an exiled Amrithi woman. The Amrithi are a nomadic, desert people who are heavily discriminated against and have unique magical abilities. Mehr’s privileged upbringing has isolated her from the worst of the Amrithi oppression, but when she comes to the attention of the Emperor and his mystics, they decide she is a tool for the betterment of the empire. If they took her outright, it would be an insult to the status of her father, so instead, they force her to marry Amun, an Amrithi man they have enslaved.

Empire of Sands creates an immersive fantasy world that feels real and distinct. I particularly loved the magic system and mythological background. The Amrithi are the descendants of spirits who are themselves the children of now-sleeping gods. Through “rites” (stylized dances), Amrithi can shape and change the world around them. This is the power Mehr is taken for.

Empire of Sands also excels in other aspects. The characters were well rounded, and Mehr is a courageous and intelligent heroine. The writing is beautiful as well as effective, and it never enters purple prose territory. I found the storyline and plotting gripping. While some other reviewers mentioned they found the pacing uneven, I didn’t have that experience.

But… Empire of Sand kept stressing me out so much that I repeatedly had to put the book down and walk away. I’m one hundred percent certain this is because of the forced marriage plotline and the constant threat of sexual violence hanging over Mehr. To cement their control over Mehr, the mystics need for Mehr and Amun to have sex (this is all because of magical reasons, okay?). Amun’s using the loophole of “they never said when this had to happen” to put it off, and he himself is being forced by the mystics.

Look, I knew from the moment that Amun showed up that he and Mehr would fall in love. Let’s be real, that’s almost always how arranged marriages in SFF work. And yes, Mehr in Amun fall in love, and judging by other reviews, most people like the romance. Empire of Sand is a story about romantic love saving the day, and the thematic material emphasizes reclaiming choice and respecting choice. Mehr might have been forced to get together with Amun, but she would have chosen him anyway, so she argues that this is her choice. Yes, she has a choice in how she views the situation, but what’s actually physically happening to her… ? And here’s the bigger problem: I kept putting myself in Mehr’s situation, and that’s how Empire of Sand unknowingly became a horror story. I am a sex-repulsed, asexual woman who’s only ever felt romantic attraction towards other women. Empire of Sand might be a book about reclaiming choices, but I would not have the same choices as Mehr or the romantic love/attraction to soften the violence being done to her. It didn’t help that the world and characters Empire of Sand presents are so resolutely straight and cis. The book does not contain a single line that leads me to believe queer people exist in this world.

Empire of Sand excels in many aspects, but the forced marriage plotline gave me so much anxiety. On the bright side, at least this showed me something about my own reading preferences, and I’ll know to avoid such plotlines in the future. But while a large part of my negative reaction to Empire of Sand is personal to me as a reader and not due to the book itself, I still have complicated feelings about the way sexual violence, the Mehr/Amun relationship, and the “choice” theme were handled. I feel like the narrative doesn’t acknowledge that Mehr as a heterosexual woman has “choices” that other women don’t. The same could be said about her lack of mental illness, at least at the beginning of the novel.

I don’t have an end verdict on Empire of Sand. If forced marriage plotlines don’t bother you, then yes, it’s a book I would recommend. But I don’t think I would recommend it to other ace readers, or maybe even readers who aren’t straight.

I received an ARC in exchange for a free and honest review.
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Mehr is a girl torn between two worlds, and feels like she belongs in neither. Her father is the Governor of Irinah, a province of the Ambhan Empire. Her mother, who left when she was a child, is one of the Amrithi, a desert tribe who tenuously lives on the fringe of society. Mehr feels a connection to the rites and beliefs of her mother’s people, but must maintain the facade of the proper nobleman’s daughter. When she unwittingly draws the attention of the Empire’s immortal mystic, the Maha, while performing Amrithi rituals, she’s forced into a marriage and made to serve the Empire.. Trapped in a desert temple and bound to the cruel will of the Maha, Mehr is forced to use her Amrithi knowledge and power to to benefit the Empire. The same Empire that is secretly engaging in an ethnic genocide of her mother’s people. 

I loved this book! The world building was detailed and intriguing, and apparently it’s based on the Mughal empire of India, which is something I haven’t seen in YA Fantasy before. Not a white person to be found! I liked the magic system of the sleeping Gods and their dreams, the daiva, dreamfire...it was all fresh and enthralling. The Amrithi rituals were like a combination of yoga and tai chi and dance and sign language…? I loved that Mehr wasn’t a badass warrior or assassin because that has been done a million times before. But channeling power through yoga? That’s new, and I dig it. The story had a lot of heart, with themes of family, kindness, sacrifice, and doing the wrong thing for the right reason. The characters were great, the writing was beautiful...I just can’t say enough good things about it. It didn’t end on a cliffhanger but there appears to be more story to be told in this world. I will definitely be anxiously awaiting the next book.
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3.5+ stars. Great debut with an interesting and original magic system, but the focus on the romantic aspect kept it from fully engaging me. Not that there is anything wrong with romance in novels, don't get me wrong, but it just isn't for me. Suri definitely knows how to write characters and her world-building is highly imaginative. I'm very much looking forward to the sequel
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Have you ever wanted to read a fantasy set in a land inspired by the Mughal Empire, with magic that is performed through dance? Then do I have a book for you!

I requested an ARC for Tasha Suri's Empire of Sand based on the cover alone. The dagger against the red background was so striking, and the title put me in mind of City of Brass, so I thought I was in for some Arab-influenced fantasy. When I started reading and realized the main character's magic was clearly inspired by Bharatanatyam dance, I saw that I was in for something else altogether!

Empire of Sand is told primarily from a close third person point of view focused on the main character, Mehr. The illegitimate daughter of the Governor of a province within the empire, Mehr is privileged and sheltered, but her life is not without its stresses. Mehr's mother was exiled from the city, leaving her daughters behind, and the Governor's new wife is determined to raise Mehr's younger sister as a proper young lady with no connection to their mother's tribe. Mehr, meanwhile, remembers her mother and still hews to the traditions of her people, including her ritual dance.

Through a series of events that I won't get into too much detail on, Mehr finds herself forcefully betrothed to a member of a normally celibate mystic order. For magical reasons, they can't consummate their marriage but have to pretend they did, and I thought I was going to be in for some really hot slow-burn, will-they-or-won't-they sexual tension. Suri chose not to take it in such an erotic direction, but there's still a lot of tension over what will happen if their ruse is discovered.

There's also a lot of great scenes of the two characters training for ritual dance together.

Seriously, if you're a dancer or someone who enjoys dance, you've got to read this book! I loved the descriptions of the body postures, and the exhaustion of training. I have only passing familiarity with Classical Indian dance, but I know enough to picture the postures and dress in my mind. Suri really does an excellent job of painting a mental image with her words.

Mehr and her husband Amun find themselves up against an immortal cult leader, essentially, and his acolytes. The stakes are high -- their future, and the future of the empire. I honestly wasn't sure how things were going to turn out, and I like when a book keeps me guessing. There were a few moments that shocked me.

One thing that I liked about this book was that while there was conflict and the fate of the nation at play, it still felt very character driven. By keeping the focus tightly on Mehr, with a few chapters from other POVs occasionally, it avoids overwhelming the reader with too many characters and plot lines. The stakes are epic in scale, but this isn't an "epic fantasy" doorstopper of a novel. Not that there's anything wrong with those, but I'm reading one right now and I find that I'm missing the more focused nature of most of what I've been reading lately. There's something to be said for a well-contained story.

While Empire of Sand wraps up its plot in a single novel, Mehr's actions have potentially world-changing repercussions. There's at least one more novel set in this world planned, following Mehr's sister Arwa. I'm certainly looking forward to seeing what happens next, and discovering more of this world.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an Advanced Reader Copy of this book!
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My review  appeared on November 14, 2018 and can be found at Dear Author:

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In her debut novel Empire of Sand, Tasha Suri draws on the history of India’s Mughal Empire to create a story both claustrophobically personal and as large as civilizations. The story focuses on Mehr, the illegitimate daughter of a governor of the Ambhan empire. In his posting in the conquered province of Irinah, Mehr’s father fell in love with a woman of a desert-dwelling nomadic people called the Amrithi. She bore him two daughters before returning to the desert, but not before she instructed the elder, Mehr, in the dance, ritual, and magic of her people (her sister Arwa was too young for such learnings).

In the decade or so since her mother’s leaving, the Amrithi people have become a hunted minority, dragged from their homes and murdered at the whim of the emperor. A friend of her mother’s, another Amrithi woman, continues Mehr’s instruction in the magic of their people. Mehr and Arwa live in cocooned exile within their own home, their own country, relying on the Ambhan heritage of their father to protect them from their mother’s Amrithi blood.

It all comes down to blood: the Amrithi are gifted with the blood of the gods through their progeny, the daiva. The gods are asleep, but the daiva—creatures not unlike Japanese kami or the Celtic fae—still exist in the world, only coming into something like power during the storms of dreamfire that boil through the desert. (Mehr’s city is on the edge of desert, so these storms pass through only every couple years.) Like wild animals, the daiva are beautiful and dangerous, but they are also sentient and magical—making them doubly so. As an Amrithi, Mehr can turn the daiva away during the falling dreamfire; they recognize the power in her blood. Her heritage is both dangerous and protective.

We first meet Mehr after she’s been summoned by nervous servants: her sister is terrified of a daiva roosting in her window. Mehr banishes the creature, a curious and gentle bird creature, then tucks her sister in with stories of their Amrithi heritage. Mehr knows this comforting will be punished—their Ambhan step-mother has claimed Mehr’s sister as her own child, both because Arwa is young enough to be malleable, and because she takes after her light-skinned father. Arwa can pass; Mehr cannot.

Mehr’s sequestered life changes during a dreamfire storm, the first in years. Her mother’s friend—Mehr’s mentor—is exposed as Amrithi, and men come seeking to do her harm. Mehr goes out into the storm, using her magic to aid her friend, and in doing so, exposes herself as well. She attracts the attention of the Maha, the spiritual leader of the Ambhan empire, and its founder several centuries previous. He is a man of devastating magic: apparently immortal, and capable of barbarous cruelty unto genocide in his drive to expand his empire. Even Mehr’s father is terrified of the Maha.

A forced marriage follows, to an Amrithi man who is one of the Maha’s mystics, and a jorney deep into the desert where the Maha lives in an impossible oasis, surrounded by a prayerful order whose rituals help fuel his power. Mehr has been called to serve him, performing a bastardized version of an Amrithi rites whenever the dreamfire falls. The Maha is a cruel and exacting man, and sets to breaking Mehr down wholly and completely. Mehr’s small acts of defianc are treated with truly barbaric reprisals as she is slowly and surely pushed to perform his corrupt magic.

Empire of Sand tells an intensely personal story of empire, from the perspective of a member of a persecuted minority who is nevertheless absolutely vital to the continuing supremacy of a cruel and expansionist order. It is a study in contrasts: the sweep of history resolved down into a beaten girl on her hands and knees before a despot, and dancing out her inherent power and magic in a storm built by the dreams of the gods themselves. Mehr is both Ambahn and Amrithi, and his empire, the Empire of Sand, built by the former with the blood of the latter, turns on that uneasy pivot. Some of the novel’s lessons could be considered trite, without the harsh crucible Mehr must endure, or the almost painfully intimate relationships that are born from the Maha’s exacting cruelty. Love is as precious as empire, and more dangerous. This is a remarkable first novel.
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Empire of Sand, by author Tasha Suri, is the first installment in the authors Books of Ambha series. Empire of Sand draws on India's history going back to the Mughad Empire. All of the books in this series are standalone. This book focuses on a young woman named Mehr who has both noble blood (Ambhan) and Amrithi blood. Amrithi are said to be children of daiva and humans. In Irinah, the daiva haven't faded into myth and history just yet. 

They are lurking in the sand and are thought to be holy beings by the Amrithi who are being systematically hunted by the Empire's nobles. Mehr is the illegitimate but highborn daughter of a governor of the Ambham Empire. Her younger sister, Arwa, is being guided to a different future by their step-mother who doesn't much care for Mehr. Mehr carries a secret. She has been trained to perform the Rite of Dreaming when the storms of Dreamfire converge on Irinah. 

After her friend disappears, & her guard is found murdered, Mehr makes a mistake that has severe implications for her and her family. Unfortunately for Mehr, who can perform magical dances and rites during the tempest, the Maha, the head of religious faith in the Empire and leader of the feared mystics, has been searching for anyone who can wield magic for reasons unbeknown to most but these shamans are normally taken away never to be seen again. 

When the mystics show up requesting an audience with Mehr, she finds herself at a crossroads. She can choose to do what her father asks of her and run away, or she can stay and be linked to a stranger named Amun, a young man who works for the Maha. Under Iriniah customs, noblewomen are a treasure and they can't be forced into marrying anyone against their will. The right to make one contact is up to the woman to choose who to marry by giving away her marriage seal. If she chooses to bind herself to Amun, and thus the Maha who wants to use her magic, there's a good chance she will have no future once whatever plans the Maha has for her are at an end.

While this is a standalone, the sequel, Realm of Ash, will be told from the point of view of Mehr's sister Arwa as an adult. The author states that the next installment will allow readers to discover what, if any, consequences of Mehr's actions will be felt in the Empire and elsewhere. As stated above, this story is based in part on the Mughad Empire. The dancing that Mehr participates in is based on Hindu rites. The main theme of this book is sacrifice. Mehr must choose between family and romance. Mehr is a different sort of protagonist. Her strengths manifest in less over ways than wielding guns, or being a kick-ass fighter with remarkable abilities. There are two other characters who are featured in this book; Amun and Lalita. Lalita helped train Mehr in the Rite of Dreaming, while Amun is bound to both Mehr and the Maha and must also make sacrifices that may cost him everything. 

Publication Schedule:
1. Empire of Sand (11/2018)
2. Realm of Ash (11/2019)
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really liked it

I was very excited to read this after reading the blurb for it. I thought it was beautifully written. I enjoyed this world and it's magical storms, and I liked the characters as well.

This story follows Mehr, part Amrithi, part Ambhan noble. She is an outcast. The Amrithi are hunted by the emperor and often killed because of the magic they possess. Mehr hides her Amrithi heritage because she lives with her father, a governor for the emperor.

When a storm comes, Mehr dances the rite. Her magic is exposed and she draws the attention of the emperor's feared mystics. The Maha is the most powerful and feared of all. He wants Mehr to marry one of his mystics. He wants her power.

It is against Mehr's Amrithi heritage to do this, but, if she doesn't, her family could lose everything, including their lives.

I really enjoyed this book and am eager for the next one.
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Mehr is half Amrithi, a despised and conquered race under the rule of the Empire. After she goes out into one of the magic storms that sweep across the empire, her father is visited by a group of mystics sent by the Maha, an immortal god-emperor. The mystics force her into marriage with Amun, a mystic Amrithi, so that the two can work as a pair to control the magic of the storms in service of the Emperor. Mehr must find a way to work with the stranger she married to free both of them, and all the Amrithi in the Empire, from the Maha while living in the Maha’s temple and under his gaze.

This book is more of a romance and traditional high fantasy than anything else. While supposedly based on an alternate India, my knowledge of Indian history is only sketchy enough to pick up the references in the clothes and the food. Many other details (like veiled women and screens to protect them from view) could be from any alternate Middle Eastern country. I really enjoyed the world building and I thought the slow bond building between Mehr and Amun was skillfully portrayed. I have seen several other people file this as young adult; I disagree. Mehr may only be 18, but like in many fantasies with historical settings, 18 is a mature adult, and the book appears to be written for more of an adult audience. Thanks to Netgalley and Orbit for the ARC of this book!
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For years Mehr has lived as an outsider in her own home. Her mother’s people, the Amrithi, are outcasts in the Empire. The magic in their blood and their beliefs supersede and go against the law and religion put forth by the Emperor and the Maha. Mehr’s mother left years ago and ever since her father, a high-ranking governor for the Emperor, has kept Mehr and her younger sister sheltered. 

Mehr has lived the last nine years holding on to her mother’s beliefs and performing the rites of her people not knowing the danger that surrounds her. When her power is unintentionally revealed to the Maha’s mystics, Mehr is pulled into service for the Maha binding herself to perform a rite that may have terrible consequences for the Empire. 

Tasha Suri’s debut novel is vividly lush and atmospheric. The story immediately called to my mind Kate Elliott’s Cold Magic (Spiritwalker Trilogy #1). In that it deals with these young women who are on the verge of understanding their potential and power when they’re unwittingly thrust into a life they’re not prepared for, yet have to figure out a way to survive amongst the treachery and discover their truth. 

Whereas Elliott’s book was peppered more with a quickly driven plot, Suri’s is very character driven. It’s these deeply complex characters that I found so compelling and interesting to read about, but it also meant that it wasn’t a particularly fast read for me. Each conflict is built upon the last like stairs leading us to the conclusion. Just when you think one issue will be the one to take readers to the end, another one pops up leading Mehr on further journeys of self-discovery. 

I frequently felt like the vastness of the mythology kept things from being completely fleshed out. For instances we’re told that the Empire is ruled by the Emperor and the Maha (law and religion) together. Yet, we only ever encounter the Maha. I felt like the Emperor was this unknown entity just floating on the edge of the story. This is true for certain characters as well. Besides Mehr, whose story it is, I felt like we get closer to Amun, another Amrithi bound by the Maha, than any other secondary character. Often, I just wanted a little bit more from the secondaries, understanding their motivations and stories a bit more would have been nice. I’m hoping these are things that will be worked out in the next book(s), so I wasn’t necessarily put off by it, but it’s definitely something I’ll be looking for to happen next time around. 

Suri spends the majority of the book focused on Mehr’s journey in learning her mother’s people’s traditions including performing daily rites which, to me, flowed like dance and ties them to the land and the spirits of the ancients that inhabited the land in a long ago past. This is hands down my favorite, and the most beautiful, aspect of the story. 

Overall, I thought this was a really well-done story. It definitely left me wanting to find out what happens next, what the possible ramifications will be after an ending that went in plenty of surprise directions.
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Empire of Sand takes you deep into the desert, mixing magic and mystical arts with religious zealotry in a world where empire comes before all else. Suri has created a world you yearn to explore, where creatures and beasts lie in wait on the edge of reality. The writing is complex and wonderfully executed, giving you an intricately woven narrative starring a strong woman who fights for what she believes in. It’s a wonderful fantasy novel and an even better tale of magic, mayhem, and love.

Empire of Sand is the kind of book that begs to be read in one sitting. The plot is expertly paced, continuously revealing new and fascinating elements of a world where magic isn’t a fairy tale. It’s a darker kind of magic to be sure, but paired with the desert, it creates a mysterious landscape that’s both haunting and intriguing.

Full review at: https://reviewsandrobots.com/2018/11/13/empire-of-sand-desert-mysticism-amidst-ancient-magic/
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It is so nice having fantasy reads out there that don't follow the traditional Anglican angle. There are so many different cultures out there with just as fascinating mythology and history. I will be honest in the beginning I thought Empire of Sand was a teen novel and after reading can see teens who like the fantasy genre will enjoy it. It's a good bridge book between teen and adult. We follow Mehr our MC who is the illegitimate daughter of a prominent man. Mehr is able to use magic where magic is feared and the emperor  has his mystics scouring the land finding any who use it who are unfortunately never seen again.  Mehr is a very likable character she gets thrown blow after blow doesn't just crumble she adapts and grows. The romance was very sweet and added to the story which can be very dark and heavy at times and I think added a nice especially all the crap that was thrown at Mehr some good things needed to happen. The secondary characters really added to the story all I can say is  Mehrs step mum is a piece of work. 

Overall this is an enjoyable dark fantasy read that I think older teens as well as adults will enjoy.
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THIS. BOOK. Oh my goodness, I absolutely love it so!! I devoured this novel, and loved every single page. The story was incredible, and the characters have permanently etched themselves onto my heart. Seriously, Mehr and Amun will be with me always. The plot is original, fast-paced and wonderfully written. (I have no doubt in my mind what Dreamfire and the Daiva look like. Absolutely brilliant.) I seriously need anything and everything that Tasha Suri writes from this point on. A masterful story!
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I absolutely loved this lush Indian inspired fantasy! The influences from Indian culture and the history of the Mughal Empire made this a fascinating read while our main characters easily capture you heart. 

Mehr is a prickly heroine that deals with the struggles of duty, identity, and place in a way that will resonate with a variety of readers. Anyone searching for a strong female character that is far from being a damsel in distress will grow to adore her. Her romance in this book is one of the least problematic I have seen in a long time as well. I loved rooting for them and that it wasn't the main point of the story, but rather a delightful addition.

I also enjoyed the motivations for our villains. No one was evil simply to be evil. Instead they were often people with their own motivations and insecurities, adding a depth of reality to them.

I completely agree with the statement that this is for fans of City of Brass and also YA readers who are looking for something similar to Rebel of the Sands. I really enjoyed that while this is an adult fantasy it would be incredibly easy for someone only familiar with YA fantasy to venture into the adult high fantasy world. This is also true for people who may not normally read fantasy. The elements of mystery and romance that wind through the tale can draw in a wide array of readers.

Reviews will be posted to my blog and YouTube channel on November 11, 2018
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Empire of Sand is a fantasy début which showcases a young woman who defeats an ancient evil by embracing her heritage. Drawing from the rich, turbulent history and vibrant culture of India's Mughal Empire this is a tale of magic, mayhem and true love.

Mehr is the eldest daughter of the governor of Irinah in the Ambhan Empire. Her mother, an Amrithi woman, was never married to her father; the Amrithi people are bound by their oaths completely and so very rarely give them, even to those they love.  Mehr lives a sheltered and privileged life thanks to her father’s position, but she knows that is not the case for the majority of her people. The Amrithi have been chased from the cities and villages of the Empire and are both despised and envied for their magic blood. Even she, who has so many advantages, is not allowed to openly practice the rites of the Amrithi faith or speak openly of their beliefs. Which is why when the storm comes, bringing the magical, rare and sacred dreamfire with it, she slips from her home to dance The Rite of Dreaming.  It’s a mistake that will cost her dearly.

The Ambhan Empire has a living god, the Maha. Once the general who conquered the Amrithi and countless other cultures, he is now an immortal who works dark magic for the Ambhan. Within days of Mehr's dance, the mystics who work for the Maha, are at Mehr's home, ‘offering’ Mehr the opportunity to marry Amun, a powerful Amrithi mystic whom they have enslaved to their purposes. Mehr knows that declining the offer will put her family in an extremely perilous position and doubts her father has the political power to survive it. Determined that no one else pay for her mistake, she agrees to the marriage.

From the beginning, Amun shows himself to be a man of honor and integrity. He has not been bowed by his forced servitude to the Maha but has learned how to survive and thrive within the small freedoms allowed him. It is his hope that Mehr has the courage, intelligence and power to set them both free. She quickly becomes determined that she won’t let him down.

I fell in love with Amun almost the moment I met him. He is a patient, kind, loving, thoughtful person hidden behind a necessary façade of a cold, dangerous man. That façade has kept him alive and kept those who are prejudiced against him for being Amrithi at a distance. It has enabled him to survive in the Maha’s temple where complete loyalty to the Maha and betrayal of your fellow mystics are everyday practices. With Mehr, he is able to open up and show who he truly is, and the author’s skill turns those moments into something poignant, tender and achingly sincere.

Mehr is a near perfect heroine. A young woman torn from familiar circumstances, she uses the skills of deceit and cunning learned in her father’s court to persevere in the face of incredible odds. The magical power of the Maha makes it impossible to lie to him but she quickly learns the art of prevarication from Amun. The need to deceive is absolute; the Maha is a creature of intense evil who destroys all he touches.  The author’s skill really shines in the moment where Mehr makes a misstep. It would have been easy to be angry at Mehr or frustrated at her stupidity but instead I was awed by how long she had been able to navigate the dangerous labyrinth she was in and admired the integrity and courage she showed in owning her mistake.

At the heart of this tale is the incredible bond formed between Mehr and Amun. Forced into a farce of a marriage, they turn that event from tragedy to triumph and create something bright and beautiful in the midst of a truly dark and terrible situation.

It is always wonderful to read a story spun from a culture other than the typical Western European one. Empire of Sand, with its colonial narrative showing an abused, subjugated minority exploited and despised by those in power, is especially meaningful because it is a tale that speaks to the conversations of our own time and place.   Beautifully written, this thought-provoking heartfelt love story is the perfect book for fantasy/fantasy romance fans.

Buy it at: Amazon/Apple Books/Barnes & Noble/Kobo
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I highly recommend reading Empire of Sand, and I look forward to Suri’s continued foray into this world. Full review can be found at the link below.
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4.5 Stars
I received an ARC of this book, courtesy of NetGalley, in return for my honest opinion. I very much enjoy fantasy books, so this was right up my alley. The story is set in a very interesting world in which the main character, Mehr, is a young woman whose father is a politically appointed governor and her mother, who left Mehr and her sister some years ago, is a member of a group of magical people called the Amrithi. I don't want to give away too much of the story and take away from your enjoyment! I liked the world the story takes place in and also felt connected to the main characters, Mehr and Amun. Looking forward to the next book in the series and highly recommend the book!
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This Mughal India inspired fantasy was written with unforgettable voice, and presents a unique magic system. Mehr is a protagonist that’s easy to root for. She’s trapped within a system that she has no control over and caught between two very different worlds. As she struggles to preserve what little teachings her mother has passed on to her from her people, she must also navigate a world in which her heritage and skin colour is persecuted. I thought Suri captured some of the troubles of being biracial perfectly, and I especially identified with Mehr and her sister, and how appearance can affect how one is treated. 
I admittedly wasn’t super there for the romance (I rarely am, so that doesn’t say much) but it didn’t annoy me that much. Overall, I bought the romance, though it wasn’t your usual ‘two people meet and fall in love’ it was more a ‘two people are thrown into a horrible situation and learn to get along’ thing. At any rate, I found myself cheering for both Mehr and Amun, especially given how they were clearly trying to make the best of a bad situation. 
What really entranced me about this book was the world-building. It’s rare to see such a fully formed world expressed through such flawless prose, and it was a real treat, not just because of how vivid the world was, but because of how intertwined the plot and the world were. The best built worlds are definitely found in the small details, and this book does that masterfully, and it doesn’t slow the book down to explain things too much, which is always a nice break from books that talk down a little to the reader. 
All in all, a book I thoroughly enjoyed and would highly recommend, especially to people who loved the Poppy War (R. F. Kuang), The City of Brass ( S. A. Chakraborty) or An Ember in the Ashes (Sabaa Tahir). And though this book is adult fantasy, I would in fact recommend it to readers more inclined to young adult books.
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Empire of Sand is a wonderful debut fantasy. It was a slow start for me but once I got about 20% in, the story really picked up and it was hard to put down.  The Asian influence set it apart from other fantasy books I have read.  There is also a slow-burn romance is the first book in a series and I can’t wait to read the next book to see where it leads the characters.
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It is hard to really go into too many details without pulling out some of the more subtle details that make this story great. It is a very rich fantasy world based on Mughal India. It is beautifully described and well thought out. The plot is very nicely woven, and despite having to learn a new fantasy world, it is all very easy to follow. It is a very original story, one with all the right notes: gods, love, politics, loneliness, and magic. At its heart, it is a love story, and the way the love grows is very beautiful. It felt real and authentic.

Mehr is a woman stuck in a world that reviles her blood but uses it to their own ends. This makes her a little bitter and rebellious. Of course, she was also shunned, so that adds a wonderful element to her character. She has powerful independence, but she has those moments of loneliness and longing. It is a beautiful mix for the main character. Amun was a great opposite to that, and his quiet, reserved personality was a great contrast to Mehr in how they showed their different styles of dealing with loneliness. The Maha was a wonderful villain, godlike with the fallacies of man. I wish there was more of him. Along those same lines, we don’t get the Emperor at all, which was a bit of a disappointment. In fact, there were a lot of secondary characters that I wish we had more of or got more depth. There was really only two, and I wanted more of that. This is clearly Mehr and Amun’s story, but you still need those background characters to add depth.

I would also love to add that having a woman of color, particularly of Indian descent, was a wonderful change from the typical protagonists we get. In fact, this entire cast has shades of brown skin, with Amun being described as very dark. We really do need more of these types of books, those with people as varied as our own world.

While overall the writing is very well done, there were many parts that felt overly repetitive. Most of these repetitive scenes revolved around Mehr’s internal monologue. She would think over her position, think about her life before, think about Amun, and most of the time I felt like I was reading the same basic lines over and over again. This book was almost 500 pages (ARC Kindle version) and could have been around 400. However, for a debut novel, it is wonderfully and elegantly written.

While there were a few missteps with the repetitive prose and lack of detailed secondary characters, this story is truly wonderful. The world is imaginative and detailed. The main characters are deep and intricate. I enjoyed a story that mirrors a different part of the world than typical fantasy novels. While it might be early to say whether this is a series, I’d believe there will be at least companion books, as there was much of the world she left unexplored. As a debut, Tasha Suri has blown me away. I can only see these small problems getting smaller as she writes more, and I am excited for the opportunity to read what she puts out in the future.
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