Empire of Sand

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 11 Dec 2018

Member Reviews

Empire of the Sand is a great novel, almost comparable to The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemison, until it starts to force unecessary plot devices. 

Tasha Suri has a true gift for world and character building. Her writing provides depth and texture without becoming overwrought or complicated.

The setting is based around India and is absolutely stunning. The setting paints vivid details in the readers mind that brings the elements surrounding the characters to life.

Often authors will provide well thought out main characters  but secondary characters are left less developed. While the cast of characters are led by Mehr, a strong lead protagonist that demonstrates high levels of intelligence, bravery and the ability to lead. Suri does not fall into the trap of letting the secondary characters fall through the cracks. Doing so can cause the plot to lose effectiveness in dialogue and the potential to strengthen the plot down the line. All characters are equally attended to in how she has thought through every aspect of their personality and it shows.

The plot is suspenseful and would have kept me completely within its grips if not for the tropes that were forced and quite frankly predictable at pointed in the book. Sadly, these flaws keep a brilliant foundation and beautiful writing from adding up to a five star book.

It wasn't so much the arranged marriage that bothered me. This is a fantasy book and mystics/magic are going to play a hand, obviously. It was more the trope of those being forced together eventually falling in love. I groaned right away that this was how it was going to play out. Mind you, with the brilliance of the book to that point, I'd hoped against hope I was wrong and that Suri would have a different spin on this arrangement. But that was not the case and this highly disappointed me. 

Suri is a better writer than this demonstrates. I'm not sure whether it is just the story she wanted to tell, the publisher forced the trope or the editor didn't push her to pull out a better idea because I'm 100% sure she is capable of doing so. 

However, I will say that outside of that flaw this book was fantastic and I definitely would love to review an ARC of her upcoming book. Being this was her debut, I can only imagine what will come next.
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This book was a pleasant surprise as I have been flooded by bad books lately. 

Mehr is the illegitimate daughter of a governor and Amrithi woman. This means that there is magic in her blood that the Empire craves. Thus, she is married off to a man that will ensure her contribution to the Empire, and is forced to leave her home and beloved sister. The mystics have an agenda, and Mehr just wants to find a way to escape, but things are tense.

It's a long book, but I really did enjoy getting to read a fantasy story set in an Asian setting. As a bonus, this book was written by a woman PoC, so I'm so there for promoting this book. The pacing was slow at times, but overall, a fun ride!
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I loved this. Give me all the the strong female characters, all the desert spirits, political intrigue, and ownvoices stories! The writing was amazing, the characters were great, and I can't wait to see what this author does next!
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One of my favorite books of the year, I recommended it on Hypable's weekly "fangasm" page where each week we rec one book, tv, movie, and song. I did this the week it came out! Planning on writing a feature for it closer to the second book's release to remind people about this amazing book before that release. as well as a feature about ten books written by poc women that everyone should read.
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This book was great! I'm excited to see an own voices fantasy with good person of color representation. It was fun, exciting and I'm excited to go back to this world in the future. This is definitely a book for fans of S.A. Chakraborty's City of Brass. That was half the reason I picked this one up was because of all the great blurbs on the back.
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Empire of Sand is a very compelling historical fantasy. Mehr  is a strong female protagonist. She starts out naive but gradually blossoms into a more mature woman. I like the setting of ancient India and how mythology is incorporated into this novel. The only thing I did not like about this novel was that the world-building was confusing, and I would have liked more explanation of each mythical creature and it’s characteristics. Still, I thought this was a superb character-driven novel, and I anticipate its sequel. I recommend this for fans of A Crown of Wishes, The Wrath and the Dawn, and A Thousand Lanterns.
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I am a fan, and sometime student of myths, legends and folklore. I actively seek out tales from varied cultures because I want to experience stories from and about peoples and mythologies I am not familiar with. I don't mind reading the same types of stories more than once, but I don't want one type of story to be the only story I can access.

So when books like "Empire of Sand" come along, I dive in with glee.

Our first protagonist is Mehr, eldest daughter of an Ambhan nobleman and an exiled Amrithi desert nomad. The desert around Irinah is a place of mystery and magic that the colonizing peoples are trying very hard to erase from the lands. Even when seeing the creatures known as daiva, the Ambhans still dismiss them as merely legend. Mehr's heritage means her blood is special, as are her abilities to manipulate the energies that flow across the desert from the sleeping old gods, the dreamfire storms.

Mehr's insistence on performing the Amrithi rituals with friends faithful to her mother puts her entire family in danger, which could bring disgrace to her father's position as governor. If he loses his position and incurs the Emperor's wrath, she and her younger sister Arwa would be in mortal danger, even though Arwa has been raised in ignorance of her Amrithi heritage, in the hopes she'd follow in her stepmother's noble and tamed Ambhan ways.

Next, we meet Amun as he is introduced to Mehr, a servant of the Maha's mystics to be presented as a suitor for an arranged marriage. He is also a powerful Amrithi, and after Mehr's display of the magic she controls, we discover that the mystics believe this marriage is a way to keep both Mehr and Amun bound by their vows, and their abilities under their control to further the unbroken rule and continued immortality of the Maha.

As Mehr learns more about the power of vows and what they mean to Amrithi with her gifts, and the nature of the Maha's power, she begins to understand how much danger she's in, and begins a journey with Amun through ancient perils, new alliances, and other intrigues.

In addition to the rich new environment crafted for this fantastical tale, we are given a young woman who doesn't view herself of needing to be rescued, and a young man who doesn't view his new female companion as a conquest to be pursued or a trophy to be won over. We have two people determined to work as a team to build a mutual connection of their own choosing and learning to navigate the bonds and relationships around them without being controlled by those who would oppress and use them.

The slow evolution of multiple relationships fleshes out most of the characters, and seeing the relationship between Mehr and Amun deepen and grow throughout the story is just as much fun as the magical intrigues they must also navigate.

This is a world and set of characters I can't wait to read more about.
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This is a lush story based on Indian folklore and mythology, a refreshing change from the more common European based tales. The world building was vivid- it was so easy to picture everything! The characters were well developed, not too perfect, nicely flawed, and the villain was satisfyingly menacing. I enjoyed the magic system, that it was dance based rather than spells, and the way the rites were described made me feel it. The romance was well written- no insta-love, we got actual feelings that blossomed and grew. The drawback was uneven pacing- sometimes the story dragged a bit, and there were scenes that got a bit repetitive. I have no problem with a good slow burn, and this was mostly that, but there was a spot or two that made me think "come on, already!" A lovely book, though, very good for a debut novel. The ending was fulfilling, wrapping things up while leaving loose ends, so that we know there will be another book without giving a maddening cliffhanger. I do appreciate that in an author!
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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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