Book Review: Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri

Mogsy’s Rating: 3 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Book 1 of The Books of Ambha

Publisher: Orbit (November 13, 2018)

Length: 496 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

In the lusciously written Empire of Sand, debut author Tasha Suri takes readers on a journey to a south Asian-inspired fantasy world full of mysterious magic and spirits. A strong and alluring intro eventually gave way to a rather mild and slow-moving plot which is why I am only tentatively embracing this book with a middling rating, and because I didn’t find my attention hooked completely since the plodding pace made some parts of this a struggle to read.

In the beginning, we are introduced to Mehr, the illegitimate daughter of an imperial governor of Ambha and an exiled Amrithi mother she barely knows. However, it is said that the Amrithi are a group of desert nomads descended from spirits, possessing the power of magic in their blood—a power that Mehr has inherited. Growing up in her father’s noble house, she clashed constantly with her stepmother, both of them vying for the responsibility over caring for Mehr’s little sister Arwa.  Then one night, a winged demon called a Daiva invades Arwa’s room, and in her attempts to calm her younger sibling, Mehr is caught performing a forbidden rite bringing her magical lineage to the attention of the imperial mystics.

From that moment on, Mehr’s life is changed forever. She is subsequently forced into an arranged marriage to Amun, an Amrithi enslaved to the empire. Scorned by the other mystics, Mehr’s betrothed is nonetheless required for his role in a ritual which would solidify Ambha’s power and expand its borders. Since the rites can only be successfully performed by an Amrithi couple, Amun and Mehr’s fates were all but sealed, but working together with their wits and powers, they may yet find other ways to resist the empire and its cruel mystics, especially as their feelings towards one another deepen.

The first few chapters immediately drew me in. I loved Suri’s descriptive writing, and the characters and their dialogue attracted me with their charisma and emotions. The supernatural elements were introduced lightly, adding a bit of intrigue to the plot rather than overpowering it completely with talk of Daeva, spirits, or magic. The world-building is scrumptious, teasing, and mysterious—an uncertain quality at first, but you just know it will eventually take shape and grow into something more. And when Mehr’s magic was found out, the atmosphere felt as though the story itself was holding its breath, waiting to see what would happen next.

Sad to say though, that was perhaps the highest point of the book for me, at least for the next little while. What came next was about a couple hundred pages of very little action, but lots of observations by the protagonist as well as relationship building between Mehr and Amun. Speaking as someone who did not really expect this shift, the middle section of novel proved a bit tedious and a challenge to press through. However, for readers who prefer more calm “quiet” fantasy, especially those who like slow-burn romances, the style and tone of this book would probably be more to your liking.

The good news is, the characters are lovely. As the daughter of Ambhan nobleman and an Amrithi outcast, Mehr is an interesting figure struggling with her two conflicting backgrounds. She isn’t always bold or quick to take action, but she is more of a rational thinker and I appreciated the author for giving her protagonist a more level-headed personality. Mehr has found herself in a bad situation and while the odds may seem hopeless at times, she never lets them wear her down. She also has some compelling chemistry with Amun; it’s not really a fiery hot passion between them, but a softer more careful kind of love that grows sweeter over time. I can be quite picky when it comes to romance arcs and it’s not often they work for me, but I thought given how Mehr and Amun began, Suri handled the course of their relationship perfectly.

Ultimately, Empire of Sand could have been a more enticing read, but the slow-moving sections in the middle of the book really hurt my overall enjoyment. That said though, there are a lot of things going for it, and I will head into the sequel with hopes that the story will pick up in pacing and action.

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18 Comments on “Book Review: Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri

  1. I think calm quiet fantasy is one of the problems I have with YA. I know that some talk about yA books and say they are all action, then I read them and there are these long talkey parts like you say 😉 Not a fan

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My initial curiosity about this book was somewhat dampened by some of the early reviews I read, that spoke of a slow, uneven pace – an element that your review seems to confirm. On the other hand, though, there seems to be a good payoff if one can exert some patience, so I will still keep it in my sights and probably give it a chance since the slowness seems to be quite balanced by strong characterization – something I always enjoy.
    Thank you so much for sharing this! 🙂

    Like

    • Yeah, I read some reviews after my own went up, and was not surprised I saw many of them talk about the same pacing issues. I think in general most of us were knocked for a loop based on what was expected from the story’s blurb, and what the book actually delivered. Patience is most definitely recommended for this one, but the series beyond does have potential.

      Like

  3. I’ve actually seen some rave reviews of this, so now I’m very curious to read it. I don’t mind a slower paced story, but such a big change from the beginning excitement might not work for me. We’ll see!

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  4. I did look at this one and whilst I don’t think I’d mind the slower pace I decided to leave alone mainly because I’m trying to be careful with review books so I can catch up.
    Lynn 😀

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  5. Hmmmm. I was thinking about checking out this book, especially because of the Indian / Middle Eastern inspired vibe it was giving me. But now, after hearing you thought it was just OK, I’m not so sure…

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    • Well, I was disappointed in the story’s pacing and unevenness, but if you are interested in the Indian inspired vibe, I would say you should still check it out for sure. The author writes beautifully and I think you’d love her evocative prose and her characters 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: Mogsy’s Bookshelf Roundup: Stacking the Shelves & Recent Reads | The BiblioSanctum

  7. Pingback: Mogsy’s Bookshelf Roundup: Stacking the Shelves & Recent Reads | The BiblioSanctum

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