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Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri

Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri
5
Book Name: Empire of Sand
Author: Tasha Suri
Publisher(s): Orbit
Formatt: Paperback / Audiobook / Ebook
Genre(s): Fantasy
Release Date: November 13, 2018 (US) November 15, 2018 (UK)

It isn’t much of an exaggeration to say that I grew up on epic fantasy. One of the earliest book series I remember (aside from a series about Girl Scouts that I only had three books of) is The Chronicles of Narnia. My mother read me the whole series, and when I learned the Pevensie quartet wasn’t a major part of all three, I changed my daydreams from being a close friend of the children to being some kind of immortal dryad who could encounter every character in every book.

After that, it was Harry Potter. It isn’t properly high fantasy, but as it was such a large part of my reading history, I feel obligated to include it even so.

Next came The Lord of the Rings, also read to me by my mother. The Chronicles of Prydain I read on my own, though Mom did give me her copies, and the same was true of The Belgariad and The Wheel of Time a few years later. While her reading tastes were (and are) much broader than mine, she’s the reason I know the depth of fantasy and the reason I have continued to read it, even as I’ve found myself branching out into other genres as I grew older.

But something I noticed as I did grow older was that a lot of the fantasy I had grown up with felt similar. It was very often written by white men, though it took me quite a while to truly understand how to connect authors and their books. (I may have assumed stories sprang up fully formed and simply needed a hand to write them down.) What I did notice was that so many of the heroes I read about were boys. There are girls and women in the books I listed and many others I didn’t, but more often than not, the view was from a boy’s eyes. It’s little wonder I wound up creating characters for myself. I was too young to understand how to truly empathize with a deuteragonist whose point of view is never seen, let alone a minor character.

Empire of Sand is not the first book I’ve read that deviates from the pattern. It isn’t even the first book I’ve read that creates a fantastical version of a non-European culture. It’s simply the latest I’ve come across, but that’s more than enough for me to write up a review.

Mehr is the illegitimate daughter of the governor of Irinah and an Amrithi woman who left when Mehr was still a child. Since then, she and her younger sister Arwa have been reluctantly taken in by her stepmother, a noblewoman who has been unable to bear children of her own. In true fantasy fashion, the stepmother has proven to be cruel to Mehr, though she is very fond of Arwa, whose lighter skin means she will be better able to pass as belonging to one of the higher-born races than Mehr will.

You see, Mehr was born in an empire, and as with most empires, the people responsible for its spread (in this case, the Ambhans, from whom both Mehr’s father and stepmother come) have pushed their way to the top of society to rule the others. While there are many other races, the Amrithi are the most pertinent, as they comprise Mehr’s other half. They are desert-dwelling nomads, considered uncivilized and barbaric by the ruling class, and they have been shunted out of most provinces until they have all but vanished.

They are also related to the daiva, beings I can best describe as being between humans and the gods. Only Amrithi blood can keep them at bay when they come close to human settlements, and even though the people are looked down on, Amrithi blood is still bought for its protective purposes.

This is what I loved most about the novel. The world, based on the Mughal Empire, was rich and compelling, but ever since my childhood, the heart of fantasy has been magic, which this book has in spades. The daiva were mysterious and fascinating, remnants of a time before the Empire took hold, and the quite literal blood connection they have to the Amrithi made them all the more wonderful and unsettling.

And the magic itself? That was fresh and inspiring, a new way of changing the world that I hope can appear in new, various forms, whether in this series or others. The Amrithi perform ritual dances, and when those dances are performed during a dreamfire storm, they are capable of changing the world, which itself is nothing more than the dreams of sleeping gods. With the Amrithi dying out, the only people capable of altering those dreams are the Emperor’s mystics, a collection of chilling priests whose prayers can alter the dreams of the gods. Those alterations are always made for the Emperor’s benefit. There’s no wonder the Empire has lasted so long with the very gods themselves unwittingly propping it up.

When the mystics come to Mehr’s father to request (which is all but a command) her hand in marriage to one of their number, he has little choice but to agree. No one with any sense would refuse them. Mehr is drawn from her home into a world of gods and men who would become gods, and she is confronted with a power she never guessed she held.

Empire of Sand is the first in a series, and I’m eager to read the next book. The world of fantasy is expanding day by day, and I’m glad to live in a time when I can explore it.

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