Excerpt from Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Empire of Sand

The Books of Ambha

by Tasha Suri

Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri X
Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri
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  • Published:
    Nov 2018, 496 pages

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“What are you doing?” whispered Arwa.

“Speaking,” said Mehr. “Hush now.”

She drew her hands close together, thumbs interlocked, fanning out her fingers in the old sigil for bird. The daiva rustled its wings in recognition. It knew its name when it saw it.

“Ah,” breathed Mehr. Her heart was beating fast in her chest. “You can move now, love. There’s nothing to be afraid of.”

“It still looks like it wants to bite me,” Arwa said warily.

“It’s a bird-spirit,” Mehr said. “That’s what birds do. But there’s nothing evil inside it. It’s a simple creature. It won’t hurt you.”

She took another step closer. The daiva cocked its head.

She could smell the air around it, all humid sweetness like incense mingled with water. She sucked in a deep breath and resisted the urge to set her fingers against the soft shadows of its skin.

She held one palm out. Go.

But there was no compulsion behind the movement, and the daiva did not look at all inclined to move. It watched her expectantly. Its nostrils, tucked in the shadows of its face, flared wide. It knew what she was. It was waiting.

Mehr drew the dagger from her sash. Arwa gave a squeak, and behind them the guardswoman startled into life, drawing the first inch of her sword out with a hiss of steel.

“Calm, calm,” said Mehr soothingly. “I’m just giving it what it wants.”

She pressed the sharp edge of her dagger to her left thumb. The skin gave way easily, a bead of blood rising to the surface. She held her thumb up for the daiva.

The daiva lowered its head, smelling her blood.

For a long moment it held still, its eyes never leaving hers. Then the shadows of its flesh broke apart, thin wisps escaping through the lattice. She saw it coalesce back into life beyond the window, dark wings sweeping through the cloudless, brightening air.

Mehr let out a breath she hadn’t known she’d been holding. There was no fear in her. Just the racing, aching joy of a small adventure. She pressed her thumb carefully against the window lattice, leaving her mark behind.

“All gone,” she said.

“Is it really?” Arwa asked.

“Yes.” Mehr wiped the remaining blood from the dagger with her sash. She tucked the blade away again. “If I’m not here and a daiva comes, Arwa, you must offer it a little of your own blood. Then it will leave you alone.”

“Why would it want my blood?” Arwa asked, frightened. Her eyes were wide. “Mehr?”

Mehr felt a pang. There was so much Arwa didn’t know about her heritage, so much that Mehr was forbidden from teaching her.

To Arwa, daiva were simply monsters, and Irinah’s desert was just endless sand stretching off into the horizon, as distant and commonplace as sky or soil. She had never stared out at it, yearning, as Mehr had. She had never known that there was anything to yearn for. She knew nothing of sigils or rites, or the rich inheritance that lived within their shared blood. She only knew what it meant to be an Ambhan nobleman’s daughter. She knew what her stepmother wanted her to know, and no more.

Mehr knew it would be foolish to answer her. She bit her lip, lightly, and tasted the faint shadow of iron on her tongue. The pain grounded her, and reminded her of the risks of speaking too freely. There were consequences to disobedience. Mehr knew that. She did not want to face her stepmother’s displeasure. She did not want isolation, or pain, or the reminder of her own powerlessness.

But Arwa was looking up at her with soft, fearful eyes, and Mehr did not have the strength to turn away from her yet. One more transgression, she decided; she would defy her stepmother one more time, and then she would go.

Excerpted from Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri. Copyright © 2018 by Tasha Suri. Excerpted by permission of Orbit. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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