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Empire of Sand Lib/E Audio CD – CD, 13 November 2018
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[A] complex, affecting epic fantasy...Intricate world-building, heartrending emotional stakes, and Suri's well-wrought prose make this a worthy addition to any epic fantasy fan's bookshelf.-- "Publishers Weekly (starred review)"
[A] fantasy debut that draws from the history and culture of India's Mughal Empire....[with] deft and textured characterization.-- "Kirkus Reviews (starred review)"
A darkly intricate, devastating, and utterly original story about the ways we are bound by those we love.-- " R. F. Kuang, author of The Poppy War"
About the Author
Tasha Suri was born in London to Punjabi parents. She studied English and creative writing at Warwick University and is now a cat-owning librarian in London. A love of period Bollywood films, history, and mythology led her to write South Asian-influenced fantasy. Find her on Twitter @tashadrinkstea.
Soneela Nankani, an Earphones Award-winning narrator, is a classically trained actress, voice-over artist, and singer who has had roles in film and on television. She has worked with the award-winning Sojourn Theatre, Classical Theatre of Harlem, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and the Kansas City Repertory Theatre.
- Publisher : Orbit; Unabridged edition (13 November 2018)
- Language : English
- ISBN-10 : 1549176757
- ISBN-13 : 978-1549176753
- Dimensions : 17.78 x 5.08 x 15.49 cm
- Customer Reviews:
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The narrative follows Mehr, a young noblewoman whose mixed heritage imparts her with the power to see and interact with the mystical daiva, along with other, more impressive powers. After dancing a particularly powerful rite one night she is inadvertently brought to the attention of the Maha, the spiritual ruler of the Empire, and finds herself being coerced into marriage with one of the Maha's mystics.
This is very definitely fantasy on a small scale. Almost the entire narrative is told from Mehr's point of view, and while we do get hints of the bigger picture, we're mostly shown how the events affect the individuals. This is where the author's true strength lies, in showing us not only the individuals but also the world around them through their eyes. Suri breathes life into pretty much every character we meet in this novel, and she does it with some of the best writing I've seen in a debut novel in a long time. On top of that, her worldbuilding is exemplary, drawing inspiration from the Mughal Empire and throwing in a dance-based magic system and fully realised spirit world.
All in all I really loved this book. It feels like a standalone novel, though I know there's already a follow-on due out in November. There are definitely threads that could feed into a second novel, though I wouldn't be too disappointed if the major characters from this one don't make it into the next.
I'll be very surprised if Empire of Sand doesn't make it on to an award ballot or two this year and look forward to more from Tasha Suri in the years to come.
Mehr is the daughter of the governor of Irinah. Her mother abandoned her and her sister and they have lead a sheltered life in the governor's place, brought up by maids and their disapproving step mother. Married off to a mystic to please the Emperor, Mehr treks across the desert and finds her marriage vows have not only bound her to her new husband, but also to the leader of the mystics, for whom she must dance to control the Daivas and the dreams of the gods.
This is not your usual swords and sorcery fantasy, although there are some swords and some sorcery. The setting takes much from the Mughal Empire, and introduces a magic system based on vows, dance and blood.
Mehr's story looks at choices and freedom, as she tries to bend her vows while protecting her husband, and meet the expectations of soceity and family.
Pretty much everyone who’s read Empire of Sand has been singing its praises, so it’s a novel that’s been on my radar for a little while now and one that’s come along at just the right time for me; I’ve been keen to read a lot more Asian-inspired fantasy this year, meaning this Mughal India-inspired tale had such a refreshing fantasy setting, and I’ve also been getting more and more into desert fantasy.
There’s so much I loved and appreciated about this book, and this is especially true of the romance. This is very much a fantasy book but, if you’re a romance reader, this is a novel you’ll want to try because the romance is still a big part of the story without becoming the central focus, and it’s such a tender romance at that.
In Ambhan society, a woman takes on her husband’s duties, responsibilities and loyalties, so Mehr is pushed into a marriage with Amun, who himself has orders he has no choice but to follow due to the vows he has made. Amun so easily could have been written as a rude and brooding type, but I don’t think I’ve ever come across a love interest, in any genre, who understands consent the way Amun does. Neither Mehr nor Amun are particularly happy about their situation, when Mehr is taken by the Emperor’s mystics her life becomes a rather miserable one, but the two of them develop a friendship which in turn develops into something more, and in the process the two of them become each other’s safety net.
There’s a lot I loved about Mehr herself, though; she’s magically gifted, but her true power is an inner, moral strength to do the right thing even when the right thing is the thing most likely to get her hurt or killed. She loves her parents, and her parents love her, but neither of them have been what a mixed race girl in the Ambhan Empire has needed, and it’s been up to Mehr in turn to care for her little sister, Arwa, while their stepmother punishes her for being another woman’s daughter.
Mysterious, absent mothers are no stranger to the SFF genre—particularly in stories with young women at their centre—but what I loved about Mehr is that while she does understand why her mother made the decisions she made, she also doesn’t hesitate to call her out for not being the mother either she or Arwa has needed. I love women who are mothers still being allowed to be complex women who aren’t defined by their motherhood, but it’s also so satisfying to see children who have been left be given the opportunity to put their feelings into words.
I want to say as little about the plot itself as I can because it would give away too much of the book, and the joy of reading this novel is not quite knowing where the story’s going to go, but Suri’s writing is moreish and once I got into the meat of the story I found it very difficult to put down. Personally I would have liked a little more world-building, but it didn’t bother me because Mehr isn’t the right protagonist to teach us about the Empire—she doesn’t spend any time there, so it wouldn’t feel natural for her to pause everything she’s doing to give us a lore dump.
The world-building isn’t lacking by any means, it just left me with questions which I imagine are going to be answered in the companion novel. What I didn’t quite get from the world, though, I definitely got from the villain; he is the worst, and I can’t remember the last time I was so frustrated and disgusted by a villain. I wasn’t sure what to think of him at first, but by the end of the novel I desperately wanted Mehr to set him on fire. He’s awful, and the ideal villain if you’re the kind of reader who loves to hate your villains.
If you’re looking for a desert fantasy, an Asian-inspired fantasy, a standalone fantasy, or simply a good fantasy, you need to pick up this book. It’s so worth your time, and I’m looking forward to reading more from Tasha Suri.