Book Review : Empire of Sand

Book Review : Empire of SandEmpire of Sand (The Books of Ambha, #1) by Tasha Suri
on November 13th 2018
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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 is a lush, dazzling fantasy novel perfect for readers of City of Brass and The Wrath & the Dawn.

I picked up Empire of Sand based on the recommendation of the author of The Priory of the Orange Tree, and I am so delighted that I did! I loved the novelty of the magic system, unique world-building of Empire of Sand, which has Indian roots, the strong and intelligent female main character, and the romance between the two lead characters.


The world-building in Empire of Sand was, in a word, lush. I could picture the lavish home of main character Mehr’s Governor father perfectly and could practically swim in the Maha’s desert oasis. Likewise, the sands of the desert, considered holy by Mehr’s people, the Amrithi, seemed purely wild, mysterious, dangerous, and otherworldly. Only the Amrithi people know that the desert is home to sleeping gods, whose dreams make the world what it is. Unfortunately, Mehr discovers firsthand that there are those who seek to bend the gods’ dreams to their own will. Interestingly, the only way to reach the dreaming gods is through the dances of the Amrithi people and soon Mehr finds herself forced into dancing in a place of seemingly no return.


The Maha, the Great One, first Emperor of the Ambhan Empire, had lived far, far longer than any mortal could. His apparent immortality was proof that the imperial bloodline was blessed by the Gods. His temple stood on the sand where the Gods slept, his mystics prayed for the Empire, and the Empire had grown and flourished with fortune on its side.”


Empire of Sand had a truly great heroine in Mehr. Unlike so many of her counterparts in young adult fantasy, Mehr stopped and thought instead of rushing head-on into danger. She had the quiet strength to know when she could not win and to realize when she needed to keep silent, to plan, and to cling to hope. Mehr was constantly analyzing her horrific situation for how to work them to her advantage. She constantly said things to herself and to others to keep her spirits up, such as “‘You don’t allow him to break you,’ she thought. ‘You bend instead’” or:


“Mehr,” he said. “I’m not sure … I’m not sure I believe I can be saved.”

 “Then let me believe for you,” she told him softly. “Let me have faith for both of us.”


Her emotional fortitude really astounded and touched me. So often the quiet strength of women goes unnoticed, but Empire of Sand sings its praises from the mountaintops. It recognizes the women that put their loved ones first, often at their own detriment, those that refuse to give up parts of themselves to fit societal norms, and those that have the strength to keep going when things get tough.  I adored reading about Mehr, a female character who wasn’t running around being sarcastic, or kicking ass as a warrior or assassin or thief or whatever–don’t get me wrong, I love those types of characters too, but it was so refreshing to read about a character who was ordinary and found herself in an extraordinary situation. Not only is it more relatable, but also drives home that women can be strong without having the strength of an assassin or dragon-rider, just as long as they have strength of character.


And Mehr was all of those things for me. She might not have been strong physically, but she was strong emotionally, and I truly think that it is the hardest strength for a character to have, especially when facing insurmountable adversity. She always thought of others first, even those that did not treat her well. Her emotional intelligence was truly just as much of a gift as her Amrithi dancing that reached and shaped the dreams of Gods, and it was through this intuition that she was able to rescue herself and those dear to her. 


The only thing that I did not like about Mehr was that she made a colossal mistake at one point in Empire of Sand. Tons of steadfast judgement, eviscerated in a single, fell stroke. To me it seemed completely out of character for her and like a cheap, sellout to move the plot. I recognized that she was in a bad situation, but it was one Mehr knew she should not have put herself in in the first place–like I said, the girl’s got wisdom. But I realize that not every character is perfect–and nor should she or he be–and as Mehr’s mistake not only drives the plot of Empire of Sand forward, but also hurtles it towards much higher stakes, I could forgive her transgression. Plus, Mehr makes up for it later, as she never stays down for long.


What I loved most about Empire of Sand, other than Mehr’s beautiful characterization, was that the novel took the familiar trope of an arranged marriage, something any avid fanfiction reader like myself will recognize, and turned it into a unique and precious experience for the characters and the readers. I was thrilled that the author took her time in developing the relationship between husband and wife–from reluctance and fear, to respect and trust, and to eventual love–it’s definitely a slow-burn. So if you like the sparks to fly immediately in your books, you will probably be disappointed by the pace. 


However, as a fan of the slow-burn, I was in heaven. The characters each developed on their own, and slowly grew closer as they got to know one another. Though they could barely tolerate one another due to their situation in the beginning, I loved how the vows between Mehr and her husband, Amun were something that gave the two strength, despite the fact that they were supposed to force them into submission to the Maha’s will. I also enjoyed how the two character’s utter goodness was brought out and made stronger and better by the other. 


“It was his hesitation, the deliberate distance he kept between them that made her so utterly aware of his strength and the leash he kept it on. Amun was so sure he was a monster. But it was the way he handled touch—with utter care and respect—that told her he was the opposite of one.”


I feel that in a lot of books that feature fantasy and romance, especially when the novel is only written from the main heroine’s point-of-view, that sometimes her love interest’s personality, goals, and background gets lost in the telling of the heroine’s story. But this is not the case in Empire of Sand, Amun is a fully fleshed out character with fears, a tragic backstory that affects his present, and his own hopes and dreams. As a result of this development, the romance developing between Amun and Mehr is that much more touching. It even brought tears to my eyes. The author truly makes you feel the love between these two characters and the sanctuary that they are for each other in their tragic situation.


I’m so glad I read Empire of Sand. Mehr’s characterization made me feel so seen as an ordinary young woman. And her relationship with her husband is one of the best developed and executed romances I have read in a while–truly the dream for a slow-burn romance fan. Plus, what a truly unique world and magic system! Empire of Sand is the first novel I’ve read that involves slumbering Gods and their dreams and the use of dancing! If you’re looking to escape into a world where magic is glimmering on every page, and full of endless possibilities, then snap up Empire of Sand immediately. I’ve already grabbed the sequel and I cannot wait to read it. 

Book Review : Empire of Sand

Posted July 27, 2020 in Book Reviews, Fantasy

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