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…
Empire of Sand was one of the books that popped up on my radar during BookCon, but I was, unfortunately, unable to snag a copy. #OwnVoices fantasy set in India, based on the Mughal Empire? Sign me up! Luckily, I won an ebook copy from Goodreads instead.
I absolutely loved the first 25%. I admit, this is the first fantasy novel I’ve read set in India and I’m not very familiar with Indian history outside of a high school world history class so I didn’t many expectations going in. Therefore, the worldbuilding and magic were all incredibly new for me and I loved it. I love the concept of dreamfire, the Daiva( spirits descended from the gods), and the idea of using ritual dances to communicate with the Daiva. The depiction of the differences between Ambhan and Amrithi culture was also something new and interesting. While I wasn’t entirely comfortable with how much praise the very patriarchal Abhan society received through this book, it did offer a different perspective than the way I, as a Westerner, would look at it.
Unfortunately, I was let down with the rest of the book. After the location change, I found my interest slipping further and further, due to several issues. The main problem I had with the rest of the book was the pacing. The first 25% goes pretty quickly, but after that it just drags. From 25% to about 80%, very little actually happens. Instead, Mehr spends her days practicing rituals with Amun, another boy at the temple they’re in. They eat, they sleep, occasionally meet with the religious leader the Maha, then go back to practicing. There are minor characters introduced here and there, but none of them felt like they really mattered. To fill the pages, Mehr goes on and on melodramatically waxing about how terrible the Maha is, how clever and brave Amun is, how terrible the Empire’s treatment of the Amrithi is, or some combination of the three. Frankly, it just got boring after a while.
Another issue I had were plot points that were set up in the beginning that the author seemed to completely forget about. There are two chapters early on in the book that follow an Amrithi woman traveling in the desert. You don’t hear from her again until the very end. There a pretty significant event that happens while Mehr’s traveling that makes her thinks, that’s weird. Then she never considers it again until it pops up in her face at the very end. I have a feeling that the author set them up, forgot about them, then had to figure out a way to cram them in at the very end. If nothing, changing up PoVs would have sped up the pacing a little and broken the monotony of Mehr’s monologues.
I was also disappointed in the main villain. The Maha is portrayed as this one-dimensional villain, and for the majority of the book, he didn’t seem to have motivation beyond being cruel for no reason and spreading the glory of the Ambhan Empire. What made this worse was that, near the end, the author throws in this line that suddenly makes his motivations, in my opinion, actually sympathetic. But it was put in too late. I didn’t even hate him by the end, I was just bored because everything he did seemed incredibly cliche. This is a pity because in the beginning, the book tries very hard to portray Mehr’s mother, Maryam, as a Cinderella’s stepmother character, but I actually found her pretty sympathetic. Also, I’m still confused as to why the Empire has decided to demonize the one ethnic group that has the skills to keep the very Empire going. Sure the average person doesn’t know this but I’m sure the Maha, who’s in charge of all that, still has some influence in Empire policy.
Overall, I rate this book a 3/5. While I loved the magic and world-building, especially the Indian influences, I felt let down by the one-dimensional villain and the poor pacing. All this being said, there was still a lot to love about this book. As said earlier, the magic and world-building are complex and fascinating and I can tell there’s still a lot more that hasn’t been revealed. The main characters Mehr and Amun are, if a little melodramatic at times, still interesting to read about. The writing style was also very well done. I think this book was mostly hurt by the confines of the location the characters were in and if the author is willing to travel through her world more, I think book two will be much better.
/r/Fantasy Bingo 2018 Squares:
- Novel Featuring a Non-Western Setting
- Novel Published in 2018