Empire of Sand
by Tasha Suri
4.5 stars, actually.
Mehr is the half-Amrithian daughter of the Governor of her province. She lives a sheltered life trying to avoid her step-mother’s disapproval of her Amrithian tribal ways she learned from her mother and her mother’s friend Lalita. The main thing Amrithians have is blood that acts as a deterrent to the magical daiva beings that haunt the desert, and dancing rites that have broader, less defined magical powers.
Her careful life is upset when the emissaries from the Emperor’s mystics (who are the servants of the semi-immortal Maha the founder of the empire’s faith and conduit to the god-dreaming storms that are the main foundation of the magic updholding the empire) come to offer her marriage to a tall, mysterious mystic, Amun.
She has no choice but to leave the only home she’s ever known and marry Amun. Only as an Amrithian, her vows carry a physical weight, and by marrying him, she takes on his vows and his burdens, and Amun is bound to the Maha.
I didn’t get into Mehr’s story at first. Like not the first half of the book. While the writing is poetic, Mehr tends to wax on and on about her rite dancing and exposition about the society. There seems to be alot of things we’re required to suspend disbelief on (not related to the magic, the daiva bits were the best parts!) with no explanation really– the universal hate and mistrust for Amrithi, the fact no one notices them disappearing, the fear for daiva but people not at all really being affected by them at all so not sure why the fuss? And don’t get me started on the hours and hours and hours Amun and Mehr spend on learning a dance with hand-signals. Hmmm.
Once Mehr learns the nature of Amun’s bonds to the Maha, and she comes under the Maha’s evil and manipulative gaze, things start to get interesting. Amun, in particular, is put into a deliciously angsty and untenable position. Together, they attempt to defy Maha and its super cool. Then….just as things look like the two will use their own agency and passion to change things….it all kind of gets swept away and Mehr loses a bit of agency. I found her final confrontation with the Maha deeply unsatisfying.
However, despite the kind of repetitive, vague descriptions of the world, the over-focus on the dancing, I did enjoy the world, culture, and Mehr’s voice enough to give it 4.5 stars. I just hope the second book doesn’t pull away the heroine’s agency carpet from under her feet and that there’s a little more focus on showing us the beautiful world and the fascinating daiva instead of just lecturing us on it.