Book: “Empire of Sand” by Tasha Suri
Publishing Info: Orbit, November 2018
Where Did I Get this Book: ARC from the publisher!
Book Description: The Amrithi are outcasts; nomads descended of desert spirits, they are coveted and persecuted throughout the Empire for the power in their blood. Mehr is the illegitimate daughter of an imperial governor and an exiled Amrithi mother she can barely remember, but whose face and magic she has inherited.
When Mehr’s power comes to the attention of the Emperor’s most feared mystics, she must use every ounce of will, subtlety, and power she possesses to resist their cruel agenda.
Should she fail, the gods themselves may awaken seeking vengeance…
Review: A big thanks to Orbit for sending me an ARC of this book! I’ve been on a bit of a roll lately with fantasy stories set in desert climates, so reading the description for this one, I was quick to place a request. Unfortunately for me, while not a bad book, this one didn’t quite do it for me. My streak had to end sometime, I guess, and it was unfortunate that it had to be with this book.
Mehr has grown up straddling two worlds. In one, she is the noble daughter of an imperial governor, raised in luxury and comfort and largely protected from any tumult going on in Empire at large. In the other world, she is the bastard daughter of a mother whose people have become outcasts in their own land and who are becoming increasingly persecuted by the Emperor. Of course, these two worlds will inevitably clash, Mehr must find a way to fight for not only her own future but that of her people.
While I already noted that this book wasn’t a win for me, there were a few things that played in its favor that I want to highlight. Firstly, the setting. I still love a good desert-based fantasy novel, and this one perfectly captures the wild nature of its location and plays with usual cast of fantasy characters often found there, such as daevas. I also enjoyed the descriptions of Mehr’s Amrithi culture and the intricate dances they perform as part of their power.
And lastly, Mehr herself is a strong enough character. She’s not one that will likely stand out in my memory, but she also didn’t commit any of the cardinal sins that get my hackles up with main characters. She’s practical and level-headed (though she does make a few confusing decisions early in the book, but no one’s perfect, I guess). She also has a lovely relationship with her much younger sister. Sadly, this character and a few others that we meet early in the book pretty much disappear from the story, which is too bad.
Ultimately, I think my biggest problems with this book had to do with pacing and the odd balance that was trying to be struck between YA fantasy fiction and adult fantasy. There are elements of each in the book, and yet they never mesh together well, and what may appeal to one set feels like exactly the points of note that would ring false with others. The pacing is quite slow and the world-building, history, and politics are quite detailed. These are elements that one is more often able to find in adult fantasy. However, on the other hand, character moments and the overall story arc largely follow a pretty familiar beat-by-beat YA story. Put together, I was never able to fully engage with the book. The detail that was given to the world and history combined with the very familiar order of events left many of the “reveals” feeling predictable and lacking the excitement and thrill that one would want. Even with a few more surprises, I think the pacing itself would still have been lacking. It was just slow. There was a lot of discussion and preparation and very little action for a book that is following the now very established “weapon floating on cover” book design.
As I said, there’s nothing objectively “wrong” with this book, perhaps other than its slow nature. But even that may appeal to some readers. For me, the other elements in the story were all just…fine. And “fine” characters, “fine” romance, and “fine” magical elements just weren’t enough to boost this one up my interest scale. But fantasy readers looking for a slower-moving story that plays to its strengths with its desert setting may still want to check this one out!
Rating 6: Just kind of meh, for me, unfortunately.
“Empire of Sand” is a newer title, so it isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists, but it is on “Diverse Books by Diverse Authors.”
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