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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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  • First Published:
    Nov 2018, 496 pages

    Paperback:
    Nov 2018, 496 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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The dance was ancient, and its age comforted her. Amrithi had greeted the dawn just like this for generations. There was an endless, unbroken history of men and women who had moved exactly as Mehr was moving now: arms upraised, then lowered, fingers interlocked, then spread in a constant rhythm that matched the rising beat of her heart. Mehr was merely a link in the chain. She didn’t have to think. She was elemental.

From dawn she moved to day, and from day to dusk. There was a whole cycle of rites simply for the passing of the hours. Mehr knew them all. Lost in her body, she didn’t even notice when Lalita finally entered, even though a maid had surely arrived to announce her. She only realized Lalita was there when she heard a voice humming with the rhythm of her steps, fingers tapping along with the smack of her feet against the floor. Mehr stopped immediately, falling into the finishing stance.

“Welcome back,” Lalita said wryly. Her Chand guard Usha, standing in the doorway, gave a shy wave. “Are you wholly with us now?”

Mehr’s legs were cramping. She must have been dancing for hours. It wouldn’t have been the first time she’d lost herself in the rites. She stretched out the soreness in her muscles, her breath still a shade too fast. “Were you waiting long?”

“Oh no, not long,” Lalita said. “One of your maids offered me refreshments. Such a pleasant girl.” She raised a small glass of fruit nectar to illustrate. “Will you join me in a drink?”

Mehr joined her on the floor cushions, crossing her aching legs before they could resist her will.

It was hard not to look at Lalita without being reflexively astounded by her beauty. Although she was a woman old enough to be Mehr’s mother, she wore her age the way she wore her loveliness: proudly, like armor. She’d once been a courtesan in Jah Ambha, the Emperor’s city. Usha had told Mehr in awed, hushed tones that Lalita had danced once for the Emperor himself. But now she lived a quiet life in Jah Irinah, near the desert of her ancestors, holding small salons and entertaining only the most select of guests.

Lalita passed her a drink. Her mouth curved into a smile. Her hair was loose around her shoulders in glossy curls; her lips were painted red. But her eyes were tired, and she couldn’t quite hide the tremor in her fingers as she handed over the glass.

“Are you well?” Mehr asked cautiously.

Lalita dismissed the question with a wave of her hand. “You need to practice matching your sigils with your stances,” she said. “Your timing is imperfect.”

“Blame my teacher.”

“Very funny,” Lalita said dryly. “I am well, dear one. But I have unfortunate news.”

“Tell me,” Mehr prompted.

Lalita’s gaze flickered over to the doorway, where Usha stood. They shared a glance. Then she returned her gaze to Mehr, her face now grave.

“I have to leave Jah Irinah. I may not be able to return for a long time, Mehr.”

“Ah,” Mehr said. She swallowed around the lump in her throat. “I see.”

“I am sorry for it,” Lalita said softly. “But I have drawn some unwanted attention. One of the perils of my work, dear one. But I will write to you, and you must write back, you understand?”

As a courtesan, Lalita faced many risks. Mehr understood that well enough.

But Lalita was not simply a courtesan. She was also an Amrithi woman hiding in plain sight under a Chand name and a Chand identity. And that, more than her profession, placed her at risk of terrible danger. It was Lalita who had carefully, gently explained to Mehr the dangers their shared heritage posed.

Mehr looked at Lalita’s hands, which were still trembling faintly. Lalita’s calm, she realized, was as fragile and brittle as fine glass. It was not Mehr’s place to shatter it. Instead, she swallowed her questions away, and simply nodded.

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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