Dark secrets lurk at an empire’s heart in this complex, affecting epic fantasy from debut author Suri. In a land inspired by Mughal India, Mehr is a young noblewoman of ambiguous status: her father is a governor from a powerful Ambhan family, the most privileged group in the Ambhan Empire, but Mehr is an illegitimate child, and her exiled mother is one of the outcast Amrithi. Her mother’s people claim descent from the daiva, strange, djinnlike creatures that roam the desert, gathering around magical storms said to be the sleeping gods’ dreams. Mehr’s latent magical abilities draw the attention of the empire’s spiritual leader and his mystical coven, including a young Amrithi man named Amun who possesses similar abilities. Alongside the fantasy setting’s courtly intrigue and magic, Suri explores deeper questions of power, love, and the human cost of prosperity and order. That cost falls heavily on the subjugated Amrithi, who are “the kindling wood that the fire of the Empire’s strength”; on women, whose complex relationships with one another are brilliantly portrayed; and on the young people unwillingly caught up in the Ambhan arranged marriage system. Intricate worldbuilding, heartrending emotional stakes, and Suri’s well-wrought prose (“Dreamfire bled across the sky, swift as spilled ink on paper, its jewelled edges tinged with darkness”) make this a worthy addition to any epic fantasy fan’s bookshelf. Agent: Laura Crockett, Triada U.S. (Nov.)
"A stunning and enthralling debut, Empire of Sand thoroughly swept me away. With wonderfully lyrical prose, Suri deftly balances fantastic world-building with a nuanced exploration of family ties and the lengths one will go for love. A quiet, powerful and unexpected love story set in a crushing world of magic and tyrants, Empire of Sand is a gripping tale of survival I'll be recommending for a long time!"S. A. Chakraborty
"The best fantasy novel I have read this year. I loved it!"Miles Cameron
"A brilliant debut that shows us a rich, magical world with clear parallels to this one: it has a sadistic leader with a cult-like following who warps the world for personal gain, a few individuals with the strength to resist him, and a planet seeking balance. But its core is a heroine defined by her choices, and her journey is absorbing, heart wrenching, and triumphant. Highly recommended."Kevin Hearne
"Empire of Sand is astounding. The desert setting captured my imagination, the magic bound me up, and the epic story set my heart free."Fran Wilde
"I was hooked from the moment I began Tasha Suri's gorgeous debut novel, Empire of Sand. Suri has created a rich world full of beautiful and powerful magic, utterly compelling characters, high stakes and immersive prose. I absolutely loved it!"Kat Howard
"A darkly intricate, devastating, and utterly original story about the ways we are bound by those we love."R. F. Kuang
"This is the future of fantasy: rich, complex, unflinching. Empire of Sand is a stunning achievement."Mark Oshiro
"Genuine, painful, and beautiful. A very strong start for a new voice."Kirkus (starred review)
"Complex, affecting epic fantasy.... Intricate worldbuilding, heartrending emotional stakes... well-wrought prose."Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"The desert setting, complex characters, and epic mythology will captivate readers of Suri's debut fantasy."Booklist (starred review)
"A lush, atmospheric and sweeping epic fantasy, a powerful story of resistance and love in the face of terrifying darkness. You'll want to devour Empire of Sand."Aliette de Bodard
"Riveting and wonderful! A fascinating desert world, a compelling heroine, and a richly satisfying conclusion. Empire of Sand will sweep you away!"Sarah Beth Durst
"A lovely dark dream full of wrenching choices and bittersweet triumph. This gorgeous, magic-woven story and its determined heroine spin hope from hopelessness, power from powerlessness, and love from desolation."Melissa Caruso
"Empire of Sand draws you into an intricately realized world of blood and secrets. An arresting and magical history told through the eyes of an indomitable heroine. I cannot ask for more."Jeannette Ng
"An oasis of a story that you fall into, head-first. A mesmerizing tale full of magic and mystery."Sayantani DasGupta
"A powerful story of empire, magic, and resistance, told with an intimate poignancy and emotional resonance."Rowenna Miller
"A study of elegance, eloquence and a unique example of how words can be used with restraint and care to create something wonderful.... The start of an incredible journey."Geek Syndicate
A woman confronts the evil at the source of a powerful empire in this fantasy debut that draws from the history and culture of India's Mughal Empire.
Mehr is the illegitimate daughter of the governor of Irinah in the Ambhan Empire and an Amrithi woman, a member of a feared and despised race of nomads descended from spirits. She lives a sheltered and privileged existence despite her ongoing conflict with her stepmother, until she performs an unwitting act of magic. That draws the attention of the Maha, the apparently immortal and infinitely cruel man who founded the empire, and his worshipful disciples, the mystics. They coerce Mehr into marrying Amun, their Amrithi mystic. Although the other mystics loathe the Amrithi and Amun in particular, they need an Amrithi couple to dance the Rite of the Bound, a magical act that warps the dreams of the sleeping Gods to fulfill the prayers of the mystics, maintaining and expanding the empire, and extending the Maha's life. Is there any way for these two to escape the vows that bind them and find their own way toward freedom, love, and the possibility of honoring their own traditions? One must hope that this book is a harbinger of a coming flood of other fantasies that draw on traditions and cultures outside the confines of Northern Europe. Certainly, a post-colonial narrative in which a minority is both exploited and forced to assimilate has painful relevance in our own world and time. And there is something undoubtedly refreshing about a form of magic that is expressed in gesture instead of words. Those accustomed to the usual run of epic fantasy will find familiar elements: an obviously evil villain set against a heroine who has an unpleasant stepmother and who, despite being the chosen one, is struggling against overwhelming odds. But Suri's deft and textured characterization breathes new life into these elements; she even takes a tired and often cloying trope—the triumph of the power of love—and makes it seem genuine, painful, and beautiful.
A very strong start for a new voice.
Mehr is the illegitimate daughter of an Ambhan Empire governor and one of the Amrithi, a group of feared and despised nomads descended from spirits. In conflict with her stepmother, Mehr nonetheless lives a privileged life until she performs a rite that brings a band of mystics to her father's door. They are tools of the Maha, the powerful near immortals who created the empire. Faced with marrying the group's Amrithi mystic, Amun, Mehr sacrifices her freedom for the safety of her father and sister. While the mystics would rather see the Amrithi expunged from the empire, the couple's magic will fulfill the mystics' plans of continuing to extend the Maha's life and rule. With lives and beliefs at stake, Mehr must use her skills and growing abilities to thwart their plan. Familiar tropes such as overthrowing evil and a heroine finding love through adversity are given fresh life through the influences of Indian culture and history on both setting and plot. VERDICT This intriguing debut by a London-based librarian is a fabulous South Asian epic fantasy and recommended for those who enjoy S.A. Chakraborty (City of Brass). [Prepub Alert, 5/21/18.]—Kristi Chadwick, Massachusetts Lib. Syst., Northampton