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  • A wonderful debut novel

    'Empire Of Sand' is a wonderful (and award winning) debut novel from Tasha Suri. Set in a South Asian / Mughal Indian inspired fantasy world, where the ruling Ambhan Empire has oppressed and driven out the Amrithi clans, due to them communing through rites of dance and sigil with daiva, djinn like spirits that exist in between the human and ethereal planes. The Amrithi are now looked down upon with scorn and vitriol and are classed as little more than savages and heathens by the Ambhans. The story follows Mehr, daughter to the Governor of the city of Jah Irinah in the Ambhan Empire. But with Amrithi blood in her thanks to her mother, a concubine in the Governor's court who was banished not long after Arwa, Mehr's younger sister, was born, the Governor's Palace where she lives has effectively become a golden prison, despite sheltering the girls from the wrath of the Empire outside. But when Mehr performs an Amrithi rite, in an attempt to try and find a friend during a dreamfire storm that engulfs the city, it brings her to the attention of the Maha, the religious leader of the Ambhan Empire. Soon a delegation of acolyte mystics are sent to Jah Irinah, forcing her into an arranged marriage with Amun, one of mystics in the dispatched entourage, and bringing her back to the Maha's compound, where she soon finds out that she is a pawn, caught in the middle of gods and men. 'Empire of Sand' is a slow burn kind of read, but definitely not a boring kind of read. The layers of lore of the Ambhan, Amrithi, and daiva are gradually peeled away as Mehr's journey continues, with plenty details revealing themselves, keeping me engrossed in the story and the world page after page. I was also immediately invested in Mehr as a character. She goes through so much, having to suffer and then adapting to situations she's pushed into, that you're rooting for her from the start. And yet by the end of book, she is unrecognisable from the Mehr we see at the beginning, becoming someone that is more stronger and confident in herself and in the love she finally finds despite all the hardship she has had to come through. The prose is beautiful, lyrical and poetic, effortlessly sweeping you along in the story. With a magic system that is based on dancing and sigils, the writing style was certainly a great match. It's also a magic that I've not encountered in previous fantasy reads, and I enjoyed the originality and grace of the rites. I've recently been enjoying fantasy reads that are breaking more and more away from the well worn medieval European fantasy tropes - books by NK Jemisin, Nnedi Okorafor, Rena Barron, JY Yang, RF Kuang and Samantha Shannon all spring to mind. It's great to see these ideas and other cultures from around the world being incorporated and inspiring some great reads. I really enjoy reading stories with protagonists and worlds inspired by cultures other than my own, and Tasha Suri's 'Empire Of Sand' is a worthy addition to that list. Recommended.

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  • Elegant and assured

    A rich and assured debut fantasy, easy to read and engaging, not my usual type but highly enjoyable despite that. That it is a debut is all the more impressive

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