Cover Image: Empire of Sand

Empire of Sand

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Tasha Suri's debut novel, Empire of Sand, reads like something out of 1001 Arabian Nights, both exotic and magical.

Mehr is the daughter of the high-ranking governor of the land of Irinah. She is also Amrithi, a clan of nomadic desert-dwellers who are despised and persecuted by the Irinah. Some of the Amrithi have the ability to communicate with daiva, a type of demi-god who appears during cosmic disturbances known as "dreamfire." Mehr has not only inherited this gift from her mother but is able to channel it in ways no one else can, and as a result she becomes the prey of those who seek to control the will of the gods.

Tasha Suri has used the history of the Indian subcontinent's Mughal Empire (1526 CE to 1857 CE) as a basis for her fantasy, in particular referencing the strong Mughal women who helped form the dynasty. Her heroine Mehr is named after Mehr-un-Nissa (later renamed Nur Jahan), one of the most influential Mughal rulers (See Beyond the Book). As a result, the book has both the feel of historical fiction as well as being an imaginative fantasy novel. Although the locations and characters are clearly products of Suri's imagination, various historically accurate details come across clearly, from the opulence and intrigue of court life to the harsh living conditions of the desert. Suri has also stated in an interview that "Amrithi rites and sigils were influenced by Indian classical dance… and by the depiction of the god Shiva creating and destroying the world with dance and cosmic fire." These allusions are vibrant throughout the narrative.

The plot is creative and kept my attention, although the pacing felt a little slow at times. A romance at the core of the novel between Mehr and a similarly-talented Amrithi man she's forced to marry adds to the tension. Mehr herself is the highlight, though; over the course of the novel she transforms from being a puppet conforming to the will of others to a strong, independent woman determining her own destiny and that of an entire empire.

Billed as an adult fantasy, the novel seems more appropriate to a younger crowd and wouldn't be an out-of-place recommendation for a young adult reader. The romantic interludes between Mehr and her husband are definitely PG-rated; teens can find more explicit (and illicit) partnerships on just about any prime-time TV show.

Overall Empire of Sands is one of those books to be treasured as a complete escape from present concerns; it's not a story one has to think about for a long time afterwards to completely comprehend its inner meaning, and sometimes it's a joy to just disconnect for a while. This novel is a great choice for that. It is the first book in what is expected to be at least a two-book series, and I'm sincerely looking forward to the sequel.
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The first novel in Suri's Books of Ambha fantasy series.
EMPIRE OF SAND is a well-told, engaging new fantasy story. The world-building is excellent, and Suri's prose bring the characters and world to life on the page. It's a well-paced story, with description and world-building well-woven into the story (pleasantly devoid of info-dumps).

I enjoyed this, and look forward to reading more by Suri in the future.
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Really enjoyed this one wish the next book followed these characters. I wish there had been more back story
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While I didn't dislike this book, I don't know if I can say I liked it. As I try to put to word my feelings, I'm realizing that this book is at the same time too much and not enough. I feel like so much happened in this book, but I couldn't for the life of me tell you what could happen in rest of the series, unless it switches timelines and perspectives. I've only heard one thing about this book, and that was that the romance is supposed to carry this book, which I thoroughly disagree with. It seemed like, if anything, more of a forced proximity/ Stockholm syndrome romance than anything else. Overall, I think I can just leave this book with "it was okay."
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!! From the minute I missed this at book con I knew I wanted to read it and it did not disappoint. The rich language and descriptions made me feel like I was LIVING in it.
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Empire of Sand is an epic fantasy built on rich imagery and characters like few others. If you enjoy stories that know how to pull you in and make you wish for more even as you're excited to see how it all turns out, Suri's Empire of Sand needs to be on your radar.
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I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

In the almost constant glut of releases that are fantasy books aimed at teenage girls, it's hard to stand out. I feel for Suri's book as it will inevitably be compared to recent series like the Daevabad books by S.A. Chakraborty and Zen Cho's Sorcerer to the Crown. These are the two that seem to come up in comparison the most. While I get there are some similarities (particularly to the Daevabad novels), it also seems deeply weird and sort of racist to group books together because they're vaguely "non-Western". 'Empire of Sand' wasn't to me anything like the other two to which it gets constantly compared. I really adored both Chakraborty and Cho's novels, and felt much less gripped by the world and characters in Suri's book. But I also don't think they're trying to achieve the same effects on the reader. You might not have cared for those two series and absolutely love "Empire of Sand"! Suri's novel takes place in a nicely detailed imagining of a sort of fantasy version of Mughal India. This is a time and place of which I know very little, and so the bits that most drew me in were the elements that felt most closely rooted in that setting. I also quite enjoyed the slow-burn romance between the protagonist, Mehr, and Amun. But I really really feel done with torture scenes; elaborate accounts of how the villain-in-chief tortures the brave but helpless main characters over and over again. I've heard the "but this is how it was/is, we need to face the cruelty of a particular culture/oppressive force" and it just doesn't do it for me anymore. I just don't think this is the way to make us understand oppression and the way out of it. But ultimately, it was the pacing that was the main problem for me with "Empire of Sand" and I'm into slow-paced novels. It wasn't too slow, it was just uneven.
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Trigger Warning: Physical and emotional abuse

Mehr, the unwanted half-Amrithi daughter of an Ambhad nobleman, accidentally catches the emperor's eye when she summons magic during a Storm. Trapped in an unwanted marriage to one of the emperor's mystics, she finds herself struggling to adapt to her new world and the new limitations placed upon her. Can she break free of her vows and bounds? Or will she be doomed forever?

This was originally an ARC I had requested last year, and I put it off and put it off until the publication date was long over due. Then I checked it out from the library. Several times. THIS time I checked out the eaudiobook, and I listened to it.

I'd heard mixed things about this book, chiefly that the story was too slow.

Spoiler: it is very slow.

But that doesn't mean it's not exciting.

If you're looking for a book where the heroine sassily breaks free of gender expectations and brashly brandishes her sword and gathers around to take down the corrupt government, look elsewhere.

This is a book about quiet strength. Inner strength. Of the bonds and expectations that hold us together, of the ties that quite literally bind Mehr to her new husband and the emperor's mystic.

It isn't about throwing off your culture and your traditions, but working within to subvert and change them to be better. To find ways that work. To keep everyone safe. To find peace and space and love in despair. To find the traditions you lost—to rekindle them and rediscover their true meanings.

Mehr has a lot of courage, because she acts (or doesn't) in spite of her fear. She strives above all things to know herself and be true to herself, no matter her step-mother's hatred, the mystics' double-edged offer, or the palace's deadly and dangerous world. The dangers she faces are all the more real because she truly is trapped, and must try to slowly break free from being impossibly bound, and unravel her bounds inch by inch with the fear of being discovered (and beaten) at any time.

The world-building is absolutely stellar, as this takes place in a Mughal-India inspired world that is both gorgeous and scary and frighteningly real and intricate.

And the villain is absolutely chilling.

Anywho, if you're looking to understand strength that doesn't come holding a sword, read this book.

I received this ARC from NetGalley for an honest review, although I ended up listening to the audiobook
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I binged the HELL out of this book and now I'm kicking myself for waiting so long to read it. Yes, it wasn't back to back action like a lot of other reviewers are saying, but I actually didn't have an issue with the pacing. Every word went into world building and character development, which are some of my favorite parts of a fantasy book, so I was really happy with it.

I also wasn't expecting the romance! It was a swoony slow burn between two people trapped in the same horrid situation and I was a MILLION TIMES here for it!!! Can't wait to see what happens in the next one
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I received a copy of this book for a fair and honest review. This was somethig so amazing about this debut book. It is like the author took so much care to produce a living piece of art that came to live and kept changing along the way. The world and setting was a work of art. I felt like I was there. The characters were done almost equally as well. Mehr is a very interesting character. I enjoy the time inside of her head for it took away from the story. I know this is only the start of the journey for this series. It kind of lingers close to the surface.
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I did not enjoy reading this book. If I didn't have an ARC of this, I would have given up a long time ago. Unfortunately, I felt obligated to go to the end even though I knew it wouldn't make a difference in my enjoyment or my rating. 

The main problem for me was that this book was VERY slow and let's be honest here, BORING. Not a lot happened and what happened wasn't enough to pick my interest. Eventually, I had to speed-read because I just wasn't having a good time and I was spending too much time on this story. I started this book without any expectations and the only part I 'liked' was the beginning where I thought this might go somewhere nice. However, this book fell short for me. The Maha (the villain) didn't impress me and I didn't care for the romance or the characters. I'm just glad I can take off this book from my TBR. 

Anyway, I don't like to give bad reviews on ARCs so I'm sorry but this is just my honest opinion. Empire of Sand wasn't a very good YA Fantasy novel and I wish I hadn't requested it last year. 

(Thank you for letting me read and review an ARC via Netgalley)
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I really enjoyed this book! The characters and concepts were original and I really liked the journey that the book took me on.

Mehr, our main character, begins the book as essentially a princess in a tower. She is the daughter of an imperial governor, but her mother was Amrithi. I'm pretty ignorant about different ethnic groups in the Middle East, but I think that a suitable parallel might be having a Bedouin tribeswoman for a mother in a Persian empire. I know that the author said she has based her book loosely on the Mughal empire, but I'm even more ignorant of that, so feel free to educate me.

Anyway, Mehr is given the privileges of a princess, but is not in favor with her step-mother, especially since Mehr continues to adhere to the rites that her Amrithi mother taught her for praying to the gods. Amrithi prayer takes the form of ritual dance, and I really enjoyed that part of the story. Mehr loves to dance because it's the only way that she can express herself and feel close to the mother who left her- she's very lonely in the palace, unable to spend time with her little sister for fear that Mehr will "contaminate" her with Amrithi ideas. 

It turns out that Mehr's dancing has more power than she knew. Through dance, she is able to interact with Daiva, supernatural beings that roam sandstorms. She inadvertently draws the attention of the most powerful holy man in the Empire, the Maha. Although women in Mehr's culture are given the absolute right to choose their spouse, he pressures her to accept a husband of his choosing, Amun. Mehr deliberates, and decides that she will marry Amun to protect her family. 

The theme of choice and consent is a huge one in this book. Mehr makes each important choice after thinking through the consequences of her actions. By choosing Amun, she knows that she is also bound to the vows that he has made.

Unfortunately, Amun has not been given free choice. He is bound about by too many vows, which can be seen tattooed on his skin. And here is one of the most interesting ideas of the novel. Have you ever wondered why, in fairy tales, genies or djinn always try to find loopholes in wishes or trick the person who holds power over them? Tasha Suri posits that it's not supernatural malice, but the fact that the djinn is a slave and is trying to exercise whatever free will remains to them. I've read a couple of books lately that go into the darker side of using supernatural beings to grant wishes, and my sympathy here was entirely with Mehr and Amun, who had so little freedom and fought so hard to keep what scraps they could. 

Amun and Mehr are taken to the Maha's stronghold in the middle of the desert. They are told that they are key to a rite that the Maha must have performed in order to maintain peace in the empire, but it turns out that this peace is bought at a cost that will eventually have to be paid. 

Mehr is not fully bound to Amun's vows because they have not yet consummated their marriage,due to a loophole that Amun found in the Maha's command. The couple plan to exploit this loophole to try for freedom- at least Mehr does. Amun has lost hope because of the abuse and torment that he has suffered as a slave.

Also the idea of a forced consummation of marriage looming over the heads of the characters sounds kind of icky, it actually allows Mehr and Amun to develop their relationship based on working together and learning each other's character. Theirs is one of the more touching love stories that I've read lately. Mehr tells Amun that the most important quality for her husband is compassion, and he gives her that unfailingly. The tenderness and maturity of these two as they negotiate what little freedom is given to them while trying to care for and avoid hurting each other makes for a more believable relationship and one that I could root for. The radical idea that Tasha Suri has is that gentleness and care are more important for a relationship than battle prowess and snappy quips, and it was great to read a book that celebrated this sort of love for a change. 

Now, I read this book on vacation, and I have a feeling that if I hadn't read the book in big gulps I might have gotten impatient, because the pace of the book is slow. There are probably some parts in the middle that might have been cut to pick up the pace. But reading it as I did, I found the book's pace soothing and I enjoyed the depth of character building that I got. I also really enjoyed the idea of the empire and its different provinces. The world building was very rich, from the ornate carvings of the palace to the trek through the hostile desert to the remote stronghold of the Maha. I could see the desert stars in my head, feel the rich fabrics of Mehr's noble dress, and track the light crossing a stone room through the intricate cutouts in the walls. By the way, Mehr practices concealment as many Muslim women do, and she sees it as a right that should not be taken from her.

I'm definitely planning on returning to this world in the second book of the series.
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Compelling entertaining historical fiction that gave me lots of female empowerment feels. 

Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for giving me an ARC in exchange for an honest review*
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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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