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 a book that I’d been excited to read since almost the start of the year. When Orbit announced that they were publishing a Mughal Indian inspired fantasy for fans of Naomi Novik’s Uprooted, I swear my eyes must have looked like dinner plates.
I mention this because it’s sometimes hard for a book to live up to the expectations that come with such a long waiting time. “Was it worth the wait?” was a question that I fully expected to be asking myself when I finally got my grubby hands on it.
It’s a mark of just how good this book is that I didn’t ask myself that question even once. In all honesty, I didn’t really have the opportunity to.
The main thing that struck me about Empire of Sand was how impeccable the pacing was. Some books are like roller coasters or Formula 1 races: full of abrupt and sometimes thrilling changes of momentum. This was something different. It was more like a country drive in a luxury car: slower at times and slightly faster at others, but smooth all the way through and with plenty of time to enjoy the scenery.
And on that note, the world that Tasha Suri has crafted here is a delight to read about. The desert is beautiful and harsh, and almost has a personality of its own. The sleeping gods, and the daiva spirits that are descended from them, provide a sense of the unknowable that you want to know about. The Ambhan empire is a very patriarchal and somewhat racist society, but that provides a window to explore how Mehr grows to become a powerful woman in spite of the oppression that comes with her sex and race.
Mehr is a character who is forced to fight with her wits and her intellect rather than in any physical sense. As the illegitimate daughter of an Ambhan nobleman and an Amrithi woman (who has since abandoned her), Mehr isn’t fully accepted by her society. She’s a likable though flawed character, with an incredible stubborn streak and a strong desire to protect those she cares about. When a piece of inadvertent magic draws the attention of the demigod-like Maha and his Mystic agents, Mehr is strong-armed into an arranged marriage with a man she’s never met before. From there, the story and the characters grow.
Considered as a whole, Empire of Sand is a wonderfully written book. Tasha Suri’s writing style is beautiful and evocative, and she has a talent for navigating the structures, quirks, and happenings of her world in a way that never neglects the emotional response of her characters.
In terms of audience, this is a book that in my opinion straddles the line between adult and young adult fiction. There are definitely a few YA tropes, which those who aren’t fans of the genre may wish to avoid, but for me they were unobtrusive and made sense in the context of the story.
If you’re looking for an emotional, non-western fantasy with a lush world and emotions to spare, then Empire of Sand is the book for you.