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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“Because you have a little bit of them in your blood,” Mehr told her. When Arwa wrinkled her nose, Mehr said, “No, Arwa, it’s not an insult.”

“I’m not a daiva,” Arwa protested.

“A little part of you is,” Mehr told her. “You see, when the Gods first went to their long sleep, they left their children the daiva behind upon the earth. The daiva were much stronger then. They weren’t simply small animal-spirits. Instead they walked the world like men. They had children with humans, and those children were the first Amrithi, our mother’s people.” She recited the tale from memory, words that weren’t her own tripping off her tongue more smoothly than they had any right to. It had been many years since she’d last had Amrithi tales told to her. “Before the daiva weakened, when they were still truly the strong and terrifying sons and daughters of Gods, they made a vow to protect their descendants, and to never willingly harm them.” She showed Arwa the thin mark on her thumb, no longer bleeding. “When we give them a piece of our flesh, we’re reminding them of their vow. And, little sister, a daiva’s vow is unbreakable.”

Arwa took hold of her hand, holding it near the glow of the lantern so she could give it a thorough, grave inspection.

“That sounds like a children’s story,” she said finally, her tone faintly accusing, as if she were sure Mehr was telling her one of the soft lies people told their young.

“It is a children’s story,” said Mehr. “Our mother told it to me when I was a child myself, and I’ve never forgotten it. But that doesn’t make it any less true.”

“I don’t know if my blood will work like yours,” Arwa said doubtfully. She pressed her thumb gently against Mehr’s. Where Mehr’s skin was dark like earth after rain, Arwa’s skin was a bare shade warmer than desert sand. “I don’t look like you, do I?”

“Our blood is just the same,” Mehr said quietly. “I promise.” She squeezed Arwa’s hand in hers, once, tightly. Then she stepped back.

“Tell Nahira it’s safe to return,” she said to the guardswoman. “I’m going back to my chambers.”

The guardswoman edged back in fear. She trembled slightly.

If Mehr had been in a more generous mood, she would, perhaps, have told the guardswoman that Irinah was not like the other provinces of the Empire. Perhaps she would have told the guardswoman that what she so derisively called Irin superstition was in truth Irin practicality. In Irinah, the daiva had not faded into myth and history, as they had elsewhere. Weakened though they were, the daiva were holy beings, and it was wise to treat them with both wariness and reverence when one came upon them on Irin soil.

But Mehr was not in a generous mood. She was tired, and the look on the guardswoman’s face had left a bitter taste in her mouth.

“Never mind,” said Mehr. “I’ll go.”

“Daiva aren’t real,” the guardswoman said blankly, as Mehr swept past her. “They’re a barbarian superstition.”

Mehr didn’t even deign to answer her. She walked out into the hallway, Arwa scampering after her, the lamp swinging wildly in her grip. As they left the nursery, Nahira swept Arwa up into her arms and one of the maids plucked the lamp deftly away. Mehr kept on walking until Arwa called out her name, holding out her arms again in a way that made Mehr’s traitorous heart twist inside her chest and her legs go leaden beneath her.

It would be best, she told herself, to keep walking. It would be best not to look back. She did not want to be punished. She did not want Arwa to be punished.

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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