Empire of Sand

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 11 Dec 2018

Member Reviews

The world-building, the dance imagery, the magic of Mughal-inspired fantasy…Empire Of Sand captivated me.

Mehr was a complex character. Privileged because her father is the governor but marginalized because her mother was Amrithi and refused to marry her father, making Mehr and her sister illegitimate and eventually abandoning them. The Amrithi are few in the Empire and outcasts at that. Mehr chafes against her stepmother’s restrictions, along with the expectation she marry.

And yet, marry she must for Mehr has come to the attention of the Emperor’s mystics and The Maha has declared she must marry Amun. Neither she nor Amun can decline and thus their relationship begins on rocky ground.

But just because they have to obey doesn’t mean they obey blindly and Amun offers Mehr a small workaround: they won’t consummate their marriage and therefore she will not be as tightly bound to the Maha’s will. I really appreciated how Suri handled this aspect of the story. By the time Mehr and Amun do have to take the next step, there’s trust between them and the promise of more. And really, it’s Mehr growing in agency and her own power and showing Amun what is possible between them. It was an intriguing development, one that showed the good arising from the bad.

While the story started out a tad on the slow side as we learn the necessary information about the Empire, it soon picked up speed and I was anxious to learn what would come of Mehr, Amun, and the people. The Maha was such an abusive jackhole of a god. Pure evil and immortal does not make for a good combination. I wasn’t sure if he could be beat and the resolution to this arc was mostly satisfying.

What I really loved was the rich symbolism and imagery throughout. The Amrithi have powerful rites where they dance, thus communicating with the daiva. It was truly beautiful to imagine this playing out, especially as Mehr learns more of the rites and the stories behind them. She becomes a force to reckon with and I really admired her determination.

Amun and Mehr’s relationship also gets its due. Amun was so attentive to her needs and romantic, while Mehr gave him the gift of unconditional love. The evolution made complete sense and was that much more powerful to watch.

The next book in the series will follow Mehr’s sister and I’m really curious to see how her story will develop. I like that this is a series of standalone, connected stories so you get the resolution but also get to see more of the world from other points of view. Make sure you read the Author's Note to learn about the inspiration for the series. A wonderful debut!

CW: forced marriage, threatened rape or sexual assault, drugging, violence, abuse of power
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I was expecting to enjoy this book, but not quite as much as I did! Inspired by Mughal-ruled India (16th –mid 19th century), Empire of Sand is the story of Mehr, illegitimate daughter of one of the provincial governors. Mehr’s Amrithi heritage makes her disliked by those of more noble blood and she makes no efforts to hide her practice of Amrithi traditions within the household. Her Amrithi heritage also means Mehr is descended from the powerful daiva who once ruled the deserts and she has magic in her blood.

Mehr’s magic is brought to the attention of the Emperor’s mystics, who quickly swoop down upon her home and basically force her into a marriage. This is unheard of, as the biggest freedom women of the Ambhan Empire have is to choose their husband. In order to keep her family safe she agrees and is married to one of the mystics who turns out to not be entirely bad. Mehr is taken to the desert fortress and enters the service of the Maha, foremost among the Empire’s mystics. Here she’s forced to partake in a ritual only she and her new husband can perform and its result is good for the people of the empire, but not so good for the sleeping gods.

I thought the premise of the story was interesting and I like Mehr and many of the other characters. The Maha was made to be disturbingly cruel and quite the cult leader. It’s good to have a villain you and properly hate – I don’t always want their perspective because sometimes I just don’t want to sympathize with them. Overall, this was an excellent story and there will be a sequel, though it seems like it will focus on Mehr’s younger sister many years later.
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Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC.

I honestly think this could be the next great fantasy series. In truth, I found the first half to be a bit dry and slow, but things pick up as you get more into the story. I loved Mehr’s character and heart. Her love for her culture and what it means is contagious. I also think it was great to have her relationship with Amun unfold and deepen slowly- so different from most romantic relationships in books lately. It’s refreshing to find something different. 

All in all, good book! Only three and a half stars because the beginning was slow, language, and R rated scenes that I could’ve done without.
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I loved this story. It was beautifully written with a world that evoked images of deserts that exist within our world. The desert is an under utilized scenery that is important to many cultures in our world. I hope to see more from this author.
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Tasha Suri starts the Books of Ambha with Empire of Sand.  Mehr is an Ambhan noblewoman with Amrithi nomad blood.  The spiritual power of the Maha has commanded that she marry a Mystic who is also Amrithi and come to serve in the Maha's temple.  What Mehr doesn't know is that the power in her Amrithi blood can control the daiva, the spirits of the world.  A well plotted fantasy with a thoughtful heroine.
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So here's the thing: I managed to make it halfway through this book before the repetitions and pacing became too much to bear, and I sped-read the rest. I may even have hallucinated the ending, because the day after I'm having real and actual trouble piecing the plot back together--and I had the poor sense to return the book to the library before taking another peek at that crazypants ending to see if it's my post-fever-mid-finals brain that's torched my sanity.

Still, there's enough that troubles me about the first half that I'm not entirely certain I can recommend it to my friends. Yes, it's an #OwnVoices narrative and I'm 1000% glad that Tasha Suri eked a book deal out of the still-too-white, still-too-male publishing industry. The fact that this book exists is a good thing, I think. Some of its *content,* however, makes me uncomfortable ....

So here's a spoiler warning--I can't tell you the Big Ugh unless I hide it behind a spoiler tag. Mehr is blackmailed/tricked/coerced into marrying a man she's never met, and because of the magic system and social norms of this world, doing so essentially enslaves her to her husband's master--a Big Bad who is essentially an ancient spirit who is overfond of power. Aight. I wish we didn't know how this goes, but ... we do. Mehr's husband does the noble thing and doesn't force her to have sex until she's ready, but she *does* eventually fall for him, sleep with him, and seal the vow that keeps her enslaved to Mr Bad. At this point, it's vaguely ickily Stockholm Syndrome-y, and worse, instead of doing the thing where an author shows people enacting real historical wrongs or their fantastical equivalents *in order to* comment upon them and show other paths forward, this book takes a timeworn path and shoves Mehr into a bunch of petty, competitive situations with other women. Some end up coming good, but they're the exception, not the rule. Mehr's mother, even, upholds social norms at her daughter's expense--reinforcing the ultimate message that women are ultimately the ones propping up toxic hierarchies. Which is kind of true. But shouldn't be the case. Anyway, the fact that Mehr's husband manages baseline decent behavior somehow makes him transcendantly and irresistibly sexy, and he's given a tragic backstory to excuse him of being mostly a cold and distant jerk for much of the book's duration.

Um, no. The fact that Mehr isn't capable of holding onto her anger at her husband for more than a week is ... well, it doesn't line up with the forced bride situations I am familiar with in the real world. And I, for one, don't think cold and distant and broody men are sexy, even if they have tragic backstories. I *was* the one person in my family who thought Mr. Bingley was infinitely superior to Mr. Darcy as a life partner who was actually *approachable* and demonstrative in his affection. But that's another story. More to the point here, enslavement and forcible subjugation do not lead anywhere close to sexyville for me. And the middle of this book is pure suspension-of-disbelief-dependent fantasy romance, of the lady locked in a tower variety.
I loved the world of this book. An #OwnVoices narrative tackling Mughal culture and mythology is definitely a good idea! A fantasy romance that falls prey to the timeworn fantasy romance trope of the captive woman who eventually falls in love with her captor? A romance that pits women against other women before the yoke of Mr Bad can be thrown off? Yeah, no. I am deeply sad that this book didn't transcend these tropes, even though I'm glad for what it represents in the publishing world.
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Empire of Sand is a pretty decent fantasy novel but halfway through the narrative entirely consists of monologues and a whole lot of inaction. While I enjoyed the world that Suri established with the different cultures and the differences in beliefs between the two, it felt like she did not take advantage of her incredible landscape. So, the book follows Mehr, who has an Amrithi mother and Ambhan nobleman as her father. She is torn between these two cultures and their distinctive ways of life. On one hand, she's been raised as an Ambhan noblewoman, but she also feels the draw of the Amrithi and practices the Rite of Dreaming when no one is watching. However, her stepmother notices and keeps Mehr's younger sister, Arwa, away from her. 

So, there's a lot of cultural ambiguity and Suri does a wonderful job of making these cultures her own. The tension between Ambhan and Amrithi reminds me of the relationship between Spain and New Spain, but also completely not at the same time. At the root of it, this story is about one culture deciding that it should be dominant and everlasting, which manifests in the Maha, a zealous religious leader, who has been using the Amrithi for centuries to preserve his reign and keep away the daiva's nightmares. 

Enters Mehr, who attracts the attention of Maha when she performs the Rite of Dreaming and awakens her powers. Hellbent on having her in his mystics, Maha arranges a marriage between Mehr and Amun, solemn Amrithi mystic, who Maha has been using to keep the daiva's away. Oh yeah, there are demon-like creatures, who are warded away through various means. Now while politically arranged marriages are definitely my cup of tea, this one fell a little flat for me. And personally it's because I never felt like Maha was actually that cruel, that terrible or that malevolent. Instead, I always knew that Mehr would defeat Maha and everything would end in daiva colored rainbows. In some regards, I think this book indulges too much in telling and not showing, which causes the lack of action/risk and even that the characters are in danger. 

The romance is swoon worthy and I really enjoyed their dialogue. I just wish that Suri would have spent more time in her wonderful world and not so much in Mehr's mind. Hopefully, the next book will be a little more action packed.
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This book's got passion and love in spade, with worldbuilding that leaves you hungry for more and a story that comes not from left field but from under the ground to take out your ankles.  I've got the rest of the review on my podcast!
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I got this one from Orbit/Netgalley – thank you! I’ve been wanting to read this ever since it came on my radar a couple months ago.

I didn’t know what to expect from this one, what I got was pretty awesome. This is a story of a girl who doesn’t quite belong anywhere, her mother’s race, the Amrithi, is one that has been increasingly looked down upon by the current ruling class. They are viewed as less than civilized, just some superstitious barbarians with a backward religion and culture. Mehr is an illegitimate daughter of the governor, and although she lives with the everyday comforts of the noble class, she’s harshly scrutinized by her stepmother, she’s forbidden to openly practice the customs of the Amrithi, and has very strict rules about visiting her sister Arwa. As Mehr has gotten older she’s tried to assert herself more against her stepmother’s needless nitpicking and harassment, but Mehr may have taken things a step too far.

The emperor is re-doubling his efforts to relocate and push out all people of Amrithi heritage. The fact that Mehr has rebelled and tried to teach her sister of the Amrithi’s religion and teachings, and said so in public, could cause her family to come under scrutiny they can’t afford.

The Amrithi are said to be the descendants of the daiva, who were the children of the Gods. Long ago the daiva and the Amrithi intermingled, inter-marrying and forever leaving their trace in the blood of the Amrithi. Since then there was a vow made by the daiva to protect the Amrathi people and to this day, if a daiva shows up, all an Amrithi person needs to do is offer it some blood and the daiva will recognize it’s vow and leave that person in peace.

The opening scene in this book involves a daiva that came to visit Mehr’s younger sister, it was just a bird-spirit, but Mehr believes it means a “storm” is coming, a storm that brings dreamfire and daiva, a storm that could possibly be dangerous to those who aren’t Amrithi. She was right, a storm did come, and Mehr went out into the middle of it and called upon the storm to help her find her friend who had gone missing. The storm carries her along to Lalita’s house, but she’s not there. That bit of magic she performed caught the attention of the Maha, a god like being who rules the religious order of this realm. He heard her whispering in the storm and has made a drastic move – he’s sent his priests to her city to offer a hand in marriage. Women in this society aren’t treated like equals, they can’t make contracts, they aren’t typically involved in political affairs, and are treated like “treatures” to be “protected”. However, the one right they do have is their sacred right to choose who they marry. This marriage proposal is obviously not truly an offer, it’s an offer she can’t refuse without her family facing serious and probably lethal consequences.

Her father does love her, and he never meant for anything like this to happen. He offers her an out, he arranges for a carriage to steal her away in the middle of the night. But, Mehr refuses it, she doesn’t believe she could live with the guilt if anything happened to her family. Her father practically begs her to leave, he hints that the priests of Maha are evil, and that she can’t know true evil the way he does. Despite this, she says she has made her choice, and goes to meet her new husband. He’s creepy. He’s so very creepy, I’ve never been wrapped up in a marriage/courting scene before. He’s monotone, dressed in robes, scarred all over, and seems to be devoid of a soul.

There was so much world building in this, it was just fantastic. I loved everything from the different types of daiva, the different ‘dances’ that the Amrithi performs for things like sunrises and sunsets. There are a wide variety of Rites that the Amrithi have, like the Rite of Dreaming, all associated with moving through forms in a dance. I felt relaxed whil reading to be honest. A nonwestern setting is always a plus for me, I don’t often get to read books that are based in desert-like climates.

I liked how I got a good 10% into the book before the POV switched, I felt like I really got to sink my teeth into who she was and why I should care about her storyline before I got introduced to the second POV. It also helped that I already knew the second POV when we started her chapters, the pacing really flowed well.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this book, it was well written, the characters felt real and well developed which had me turning pages all night to see how everything turned out. I love getting older female POVs, I love nonwestern settings, I love relatable characters – loved this!


Audience:

Daiva’s
multi pov
female pov
middle age pov
non western settings
race being eliminated

Ratings:

Plot: 12/15
Characters: 12.5/15
World Building: 13/15
Writing: 13/15
Pacing: 12/15
Originality: 13/15
Personal Enjoyment: 9/10
Final Score: 84.5/100 – 4.5/5 stars – highly recommended!
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Although hindered by a slow pace, this was actually a well-written, character-driven story with complex characters (especially complicated women!) and fascinating worldbuilding. What particularly drew me in was the romance, a sort of arranged-marriage plot with both characters trying to make the best out of a truly horrible situation. The developing relationship between Mehr and Amun, in contrast to the violence elsewhere in the narrative, was sweet and achingly tender. I'm now quite curious about how things will progress in this series and I'll certainly look forward to reading the later books.
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Full review cross posted with https://rantingpenguin.com/2018/11/26/review-empire-of-sand-by-tasha-suri/

I am beginning to think that we are at a new golden age of fantasy literature. I grew up on a steady diet of Tolkien, Terry Brooks, Stephen Donaldson, and too many Forgotten Realms novels than were healthy for me. Between Tolkien, the D&D world of Forgotten Realms and Robert Jordan’s Wheel of time, the worlds were imaginative yet had a lot of similarities to each other. These were tropes I grew up on and always went back to because they were familiar territory and easy enough to jump into. They were also influenced by many of the same Euro-Nordic and Celtic myths. As much as I love those, it is incredibly refreshing when something new comes along or in some cases something that is from a perspective based a different on history and myth

Tasha Suri’s debut novel Empire of Sand is a book influenced by the Murghal Empire without being a book about the Mughal Empire. It stands in its own universe of myth and lore. The world that she creates is very well realized, both epic in it’s scope yet is a personal journey. It’s use of magic is believable in not only that world but seems like it would have worked in ours a long time ago. The magic rituals seem to be based on Indian classical dances, mainly the Bharatanatyam.

Mehr is the privileged daughter of the Governor of Jah Irinah who serves under the auspices of not only the Emperor, but of the godlike Maha who is the real power behind the Ambhan Empire. His mystics pray for the fortunes and prosperity of the empire and or misfortunes of their enemies. Yet as privileged and sheltered as she is, she is an outcast in her own palace. her heritage is only half Ambhan as her mother was of a race considered barbarous, the Amrithi. Her mother, rather than let vows bind her to her father, she left to join her people out in the desert not to be seen again. Though Mehr is an outcast, her younger sister Arwa has been taken under the wing of Maryam, their step-mother. Yes, there is a (sort of) wicked step-mother. What mainly alienates her from everyone is that Maha still chooses to follow the ancient rites of her people such as ritual dances and the belief in daivas, djinn like creatures descendant from the gods.

It is not only beliefs but the power that manifests when she performs the ancient dances that draw the attention of the Maha’s mystics. They come to her father with an arranged marriage proposal. By tradition she has the right to turn down the proposal and her father advises so. but it is not a good idea to turn down the mystics, so to save not only her family’s honor but heir lives, she chooses to marry a servant of the Maha.

What will follow is the revelation of the truth behind the Maha’s power and his monstrous personality.  Mehr’s journey becomes our journey as it is her point of view we follow except for a couple of brief chapters. Her journey is a personal one where she discovers the strength of the powers hidden within her rituals and power of vows that are truly binding. With all that going on, the foundation of the story and her motivations is a love story between her and Amun, the Amrithi man whose vows to the Maha and his mystics practically make him their slave.

Ms. Suri’s world building hints at a deeper and richer history than we are presented with. And that is a good thing. The illusionist’s best trick is leaving the audience wanting more. Since this is the beginning of a series (but the book can stand on its own) we can expect more of the mysteries of this world to open up on us. What we do get revealed to us is a world where the dreams and nightmares of sleeping gods can shape the very fate of an empire.

I cared a lot for Mehr’s struggles whether they be mundane ones or life threatening ones and found her to be a strong heroine who has to grow stronger as the world crumbles around her. There are moments of violence and physical abuse in the book that may be unsettling to some but it is never exploitative.

This is a highly readable book with relatable characters and I can’t wait to get to the next installment.

Current editions of Empire of Sand contain an interview with the author and a preview of the follow-up book Realm of Ash. I originally received an advanced copy through NetGalley but went ahead and purchased the book to support the author.
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I loved this debut fantasy novel by Tasha Suri.  It’s well-written and creates a fascinating world with a terrifying villain.  It’s inspired by the Mughal Empire of India, something I knew absolutely nothing about before reading this book — which is why fiction by diverse writers is so important.  Suri brings cultural references and perspectives to this story that aren’t often found in fantasy novels.

The heroine is Mehr, who grows up the daughter of a Governor, who’s expected to suppress her Amrithri side, which comes from her mother.  Her mother abandoned Mehr and her younger sister years ago, and now the Amrithri are being hunted down by the Empire.  Mehr refuses, however, to let go of her Amrithri beliefs.  She and her friend/mentor Lalita plan to perform an Amrithi ritual rite during the upcoming storm, but when her friend doesn’t show up, Mehr ventures out into the storm to find her.

At the beginning of the book I worried a bit because of a few tropes – the mean stepmother, for one, and the heroine who has more power than she realizes.  However, even though this book does use a few plot points that have been done before, most of it felt really original.  I was intrigued by the idea of magic through ritual dance, for example.  I also liked that while there was a clear villain in this story, there was definitely some moral gray area on all sides.

Suri tackles a wide range of issues in this story, from racism to cultural assimilation to privilege to religion to the politics of marriage.  Throughout, she writes about the choices her characters make, and the importance of being able to make choices, despite the possible consequences.

I was also intrigued by the way Mehr thinks about clothing and veils.  I’m used to thinking of women’s clothing, especially veils, as repressive, but Mehr sees them as protective, and feels exposed and vulnerable without them.

Two things I especially appreciated about this book: first, you really see Mehr’s character grow.  So many fantasy novels start and end with a perfect heroine who does everything right.  I felt like Suri introduced a lot of hesitancy and doubt into this character, who feels very put upon in the beginning but knows nothing about the world.  And second, I loved Mehr’s relationship with Amun, which develops gradually.

I really appreciated the thoughtful pace of this book.  I will note that many readers on Goodreads felt this book moves too slowly, especially in the middle third.  It was even called “slow fantasy” by some reviewers.  For me, the pacing was just right and I would have been disappointed if it moved faster.  It’s a lengthy book but I moved through it in just a few days and enjoyed every moment.  Suri does a great job creating a vivid atmosphere and a complex world.

This is one of the more impressive debut fantasy novels I’ve read.  While I’m not directly comparing it to Katherine Arden’s excellent novels, if you’re looking for thoughtful fantasy set in a different country and culture, I think you’ll like this book.

Note: I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley and publisher Orbit Books.  This book published on November 13, 2018.
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Empire of Sand was one of those books that I wanted to read again as soon as I finished. It had magic, adventure, amazing female characters, AND a wonderful romance.

The characters in general were fantastic. There wasn’t a good vs. evil dichotomy, rather Suri did an excellent job of exploring each character’s beliefs and why they were a certain way. Plus there was a huge variety of types of female relationships, each of which were nuanced and realistic.

The magic system was fantastic. I loved the daiva and how the idea of balance was incorporated. Plus the writing was immerse and the plot completely sucked me in. For all of you romance fans out there, there was an amazing one in this book. It was heartbreaking, realistic, and I loved how they supported each other.

If you’re a fantasy fan, definitely consider picking this one up! Tasha Suri’s debut is definitely in the running to be in my top ten favorite books of 2018.
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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:

ttps://dearauthor.com/book-reviews/overall-b-reviews/b-reviews/review-empire-of-sand-by-tasha-suri/
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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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