Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri
|Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri|
|Reviewer: Stephen Leach|
|Summary: Beautifully-written Indian-inspired fantasy epic with an enthralling setting and a touch of darkness.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 464||Date: November 2018|
|External links: Author's website|
Mehr is a girl trapped between two cultures. Her father comes from the ruling classes of the empire but her mother's people were outcasts, Amrithi nomads who worshipped the spirits of the sands. Caught one night performing these forbidden rites, Mehr is brought to the attention of the Emperor's most feared mystics, who force her into their service by way of an arranged marriage. She discovers that her new husband is a mysterious, enslaved Amrithi with abilities like her own: together they must use every ounce of cunning, power and will they possess to resist the order's cruel agenda - and should they fail, the spirits themselves may awaken seeking vengeance...
I'm often incredibly picky with my fantasy, so selected Empire of Sand with a slight wariness. But that blurb sounded too good to pass up, and it turns out I made the right choice. What a fantastic debut this is. Tasha Suri writes beautifully - her sentences short, but richly described, alive with detail. I'd read some other fantasy inspired by Asian mythology, and there's a risk that this sort of setting can feel somewhat corny to an audience used to Westernised fantasy, but Suri takes care to make the setting feel properly fleshed-out, and the magic feels more suggestive than explicit – something I prefer in fantasy. It doesn't shy away from touching on grislier aspects, too: some of the descriptions were quite eerie.
The novel kicks off with a great opening – one of the best I've read in a fantasy novel for a while, in fact. Somewhere, though, it loses the momentum it opened with. The pace of the book could best be described as peaks and troughs: there's a lot of exposition, and a lot of set-up, but once it gets to where it's heading it's worth it – and then it goes back into set-up and exposition. Despite this, the novel doesn't feel bloated, and I finished Empire of Sand thinking that it was just about the right length.
Whether there'll be a sequel to this, I'm not sure, but I'd be happy either way (a standalone would be refreshing, but… I'd like more). It felt perfectly like the opening number to a potential trilogy, so much so that I was surprised to find out that it's actually not intended to be for a young-adult audience. In fact, so convinced was I that this had to be YA that I wrote the first few lines of this review as if it were, only to shamefacedly delete what I'd written when informed otherwise. I suspect more than a few other readers might do the same (though maybe that's just me trying to save face).
Regardless, I think it'll be read by people young and old. This was an excellent read, and one I can't wait to recommend.
If this doesn't satisfy your appetite for fantasy, Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi is another great read that also draws from non-European mythology.
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