Empire of Sand
by Tasha Suri
Expected publication November 13, 2018 by Orbit
From Goodreads: A nobleman’s daughter with magic in her blood. An empire built on the dreams of enslaved gods. Empire of Sand is Tasha Suri’s captivating, Mughal India-inspired debut fantasy.
The Amrithi are outcasts; nomads descended of desert spirits, they are coveted and persecuted throughout the Empire for the power in their blood. Mehr is the illegitimate daughter of an imperial governor and an exiled Amrithi mother she can barely remember, but whose face and magic she has inherited.
When Mehr’s power comes to the attention of the Emperor’s most feared mystics, she must use every ounce of will, subtlety, and power she possesses to resist their cruel agenda.
Should she fail, the gods themselves may awaken seeking vengeance…
In a genre where the trilogy is the default and series often sprawl into six, ten, or more volumes in length it is both rare and refreshing to find a first-time author brave enough to write a story that begins and ends in a single book, as Tasha Suri had done in her debut fantasy novel, Empire of Sand. And while it could be argued that Suri has left plenty of room open for a sequel or even a series of books set in this world, Empire of Sand stands perfectly well on its own.
It is the story of Mehr, a young noblewoman who has many privileges in her father’s house, but faces just as many problems due to her parentage, as her Amrithi mother never married her father, but passed on her people’s dark skin and culture. Mehr also inherited her mother’s magic– a magic that allows her to interact with the daiva, spirits of the desert that are drawn to Mehr’s people, as well as to communicate with the gods themselves during the strange storms that sweep across the desert creating Dreamfire. Only the Amrithi can interact with the Dreamfire and use it to communicate with the gods, but the Emperor has been persecuting the Amrithi for years, driving them to the fringes of the empire or killing them outright. The persecution caused Mehr’s mother to leave when Mehr was a child and her little sister just a baby. Mehr remembers her mother’s stories and has learned the basics of Amrithi rituals thanks to an Amrithi courtesan, Lalita, but even that is soon taken from her when Lalita is forced to flee.
Soon, a storm washes over the city and Mehr uses the rites to try to find Lalita. This draws the attention of the fabled mystics, a grim people who serve the empire’s spiritual leader, the Maha. Soon, Mehr is taken away from her home and forced into a dire situation that will mean the death of her free will unless she can find a way out.
At its heart, Empire of Sand is about choice. How do the choices we make affect others? How do our choices affect ourselves? What right do we have to make choices for others? If it’s made under duress, is a choice truly a choice at all? Mehr faces all of these questions, and though she initially makes mistakes, she learns from them. Her missteps, choices, and newfound knowledge help guide her through to the end until she’s a stronger and wiser person than the naive noble girl she was.
This isn’t to say that Mehr does all these things on her own. Though small, there is a cast of characters around her, some who support her, some who act against her, and some who seek to use her power for their own will. They are all, in the end, realistic characters.
My favorite among them is Amun, an Amrithi man Mehr’s fate is wound around. Though I was not surprised by his appearance– and in fact, I was dreading reading about him when he appeared– I was pleasantly surprised by the way Suri built his character. In the beginning, he seemed on track to fall into the dreaded “sexy bad boy” trope that plagues many fantasy (particularly YA fantasy) novels, but Suri beautifully subverted the trope, turning Amun into a character I genuinely cared about by the end.
If I have a complaint about Empire of Sand, it is that some of the character moments were a bit rushed and could have used even a few more sentences to flesh them out and given the characters’ actions a little more grounding. But overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Empire of Sand. It contains a world in a single volume, complete with beautiful magics and richly drawn characters. And while it tells a full story in this one book, there is room enough for more stories if Suri decides return to it. I for one would be glad if she did.
I would like to thank NetGalley for providing me with a free digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This did not affect my opinion of it in any way.