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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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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Nov 2018, 496 pages

    Paperback:
    Nov 2018, 496 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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A captivating debut fantasy based on the history of the Indian subcontinent's Mughal Empire.

Tasha Suri's debut novel, Empire of Sand, reads like something out of 1001 Arabian Nights, both exotic and magical.

Mehr is the daughter of the high-ranking governor of the land of Irinah. She is also Amrithi, a clan of nomadic desert-dwellers who are despised and persecuted by the Irinah. Some of the Amrithi have the ability to communicate with daiva, a type of demi-god who appears during cosmic disturbances known as "dreamfire." Mehr has not only inherited this gift from her mother but is able to channel it in ways no one else can, and as a result she becomes the prey of those who seek to control the will of the gods.

Tasha Suri has used the history of the Indian subcontinent's Mughal Empire (1526 CE to 1857 CE) as a basis for her fantasy, in particular referencing the strong Mughal women who helped form the dynasty. Her heroine Mehr is named after Mehr-un-Nissa (later renamed Nur Jahan), one of the most influential Mughal rulers (See Beyond the Book). As a result, the book has both the feel of historical fiction as well as being an imaginative fantasy novel. Although the locations and characters are clearly products of Suri's imagination, various historically accurate details come across clearly, from the opulence and intrigue of court life to the harsh living conditions of the desert. Suri has also stated in an interview that "Amrithi rites and sigils were influenced by Indian classical dance… and by the depiction of the god Shiva creating and destroying the world with dance and cosmic fire." These allusions are vibrant throughout the narrative.

The plot is creative and kept my attention, although the pacing felt a little slow at times. A romance at the core of the novel between Mehr and a similarly-talented Amrithi man she's forced to marry adds to the tension. Mehr herself is the highlight, though; over the course of the novel she transforms from being a puppet conforming to the will of others to a strong, independent woman determining her own destiny and that of an entire empire.

Billed as an adult fantasy, the novel seems more appropriate to a younger crowd and wouldn't be an out-of-place recommendation for a young adult reader. The romantic interludes between Mehr and her husband are definitely PG-rated; teens can find more explicit (and illicit) partnerships on just about any prime-time TV show.

Overall Empire of Sands is one of those books to be treasured as a complete escape from present concerns; it's not a story one has to think about for a long time afterwards to completely comprehend its inner meaning, and sometimes it's a joy to just disconnect for a while. This novel is a great choice for that. It is the first book in what is expected to be at least a two-book series, and I'm sincerely looking forward to the sequel.

Reviewed by Kim Kovacs

This review first ran in the January 9, 2019 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.

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Beyond the Book:
  Nur Jahan: Mughal Empress

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