Review: Empire of Sand,Tasha Suri (Orbit Books)
I have a small confession: I’ve been looking forward to this since I heard it was on the way, and am delighted to have finally got my hands on a copy!
As you’ll probably know by now, the setting is one based around a medieval Indian design, think Mughal Empire, add a dash of folklore and it’ll bring you to a good starting point with this book. Our lead protagonist is young Mehr, a daughter born and raised in the nobility of the prestigious Irinah nation. Her father governs the prestigious area though, all the while, under the powerful thumb of the Ambhan Empire and as such, the Emperor and more specifically, the living demigod that is the Maha.
Mehr’s mother left her, her father and her sister Arwa before the story starts, however it is on her mother’s side of her dual cultural heritage that she finds herself connected to the daiva, and as such an ancient magical link which is outlawed by the empire as a whole. Her privilege as the governor’s daughter grants her a degree of leeway which she enjoys indulging for a time, until one such transgression sees her father force her into marriage.
The choice of husband is a sacrosanct right of her noble Ambhan heritage, and yet before Mehr has the true opportunity to exercise this privilege, the Empire intervenes and destroys even that choice. However this is where the story starts to move up a gear or two as a very obvious thing could have happened as a result of that and doesn’t. The continuing adventure with the discovery of who her new husband is, and what he’s all about is a great tale of the levels of intrigue required to keep up appearances, deceptions, and any chance at all of surviving the whims of the Maha and his troupe of mystics.
Empire of Sand has a marvellously realised system of mystic arts which are an absolute joy to see in action on the pages. And Mehr is a wonderful lead protagonist, at once constrained and yet finding ways to challenge, impose her will and where necessary (more than once!) simply survive. This starts first with small rules of etiquette and then escalates to facing far greater machinations of the Empire, right up to relatively rapid direct confrontation with the Maha himself. The stakes she fights for rise accordingly, and the story which unfolds as this happens is truly compelling. I found myself cheering her every small victory, wincing (or worse at her every major trial) and having my mouth drop open more than once from events in the book.
Needless to say, I absolutely loved it and rattled through to the end, rooting for Mehr at every turn. A brilliant book; and I for one am seriously looking forward to finding out where the tale goes from here. Thoroughly recommended reading.