Empire of Sand Book review
Author- Tasha Suri
Published by Orbit Books in 2018
Genre: Coming-of-Age Fiction, Fantasy Fiction, High fantasy, Romantic fantasy, Historical fantasy
Award-nominated Tasha Suri
Where do I start with Empire of Sand? Tasha Suri’s debut novel was nominated for the British Fantasy and Locus awards and in my opinion, rightly so. I often struggle to articulate what this book means to me, but I’ll do my best!
So, a little bit about the story. Empire of Sand is a story inspired by Mughal India (I’ll come back to this shortly). It tells the story of Mehr, the daughter of a governor and an Amrithi woman. In Empire of Sand, the Amrithi are outcasts, who have a connection to the desert spirits and magic in their blood. Mehr has inherited this magic from her mother, but when she catches the attention of the Emperor and his mystics, Mehr has to find a way to avoid being used for their cruel purposes and the gods’ vengeance…
Empire of Sand and Themes
One of the main themes running throughout Empire of Sand is sacrifice, and the lengths the characters go to protect loved ones. It’s a story about choices and the driving forces behind those decisions. It makes for some interesting character growth and this is done extremely well. It’s a slow and gradual process, but intriguing and captivating nonetheless. I found myself gripped as I was reading, always wondering what Mehr’s next choice would be and what impact it would have.
At the start of the story, Mehr is a young woman who has been sheltered from the outside world, partly by her status as a noblewoman and partly because Mehr’s father is trying to protect her from those who would harm her because of her Amrithi blood. As the story progresses, Mehr faces some tough choices and goes through a steep learning curve as she tries to survive. Tasha writes Mehr in such a way that you can’t help but root for her and at least try and understand why she makes the choices she does. Mehr’s strength and power come from a very different place compared to your typical strong female character, and it’s really refreshing to see strength portrayed in a different way.
The inspiring setting of Empire of Sand
One of the other things I really want to talk about is the story’s setting. Empire of Sand is set in a world inspired by Mughal India. This was one of the things that made me genuinely excited about reading Empire of Sand. Finally, here was a book inspired by Indian history and the women who held power! I can tell you now, it did not disappoint. Tasha has created an incredible world and magic system. It’s definitely a world I’m looking forward to exploring more. There are elements that I recognise from my own history reading, but also elements that are inspired and unique. The world-building isn’t complicated, but simple and elegant and it works.
Another one of the things that made me excited to read Empire of Sand was the fact that this was a book I could see myself in (I was fortunate to meet Tasha at the launch event of Empire of Sand and I got the chance to thank her…it was kind of embarrassing and emotional, but it goes to show how important this book is to me). I can’t emphasise enough what having a fantasy book set in a world not inspired by Western Europe really means. While the number of books written from the perspective of a non-western culture has been increasing, I feel like it’s only recently that these books are really making themselves known.
The above point is one I could discuss a lot more, so I’ll leave it at that for now! Seriously though, Empire of Sand is a beautiful debut of a book. There is an elegance to this book that sinks its claws in and doesn’t let go until the very last page. With Realm of Ash (a companion novel set in the same world) out later this year, I am really excited to see where Tasha goes next with these books. If you decide to pick up Empire of Sand, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.