Empire of Sand (The Books of Ambha #1) by Tasha Suri

empire of sand.jpgEmpire of Sand is a book that I picked up with very little knowledge of other than liking the sound of ‘sleeping Gods’.  I also confess that I was feeling a little under the weather when I finally had chance to read this and so I suppose I went into the book with a little less enthusiasm than I would normally feel.  I suppose, basically, I’m saying this book had its work cut out to win me over and yet in spite of that I found myself being drawn in quite quickly and enjoying this more than I anticipated.

This is a very character driven story, beautifully written and with some wonderful world building that really brings the story to life.  I did have some reservations but these really centre around a slight slowing of pace during the middle section of the book but in spite of that slight bloating I found myself enjoying Empire of Sand and think it’s an impressive debut indeed.

This is a story of Mehr, not so much a coming of age tale as a story of finding Mehr herself.  With a dual heritage Mehr struggles to fit in.  Her mother belongs to a now conquered race of people who are being forced to leave their culture and rituals behind, her father is a governor for the people who were the conquerors.  Meanwhile the place itself seems to be balanced on a knife edge.  The Gods themselves seem to be trapped in eternal sleep, enforced by the very magic that Mehr’s race are forbidden to use.  The tension and danger are building and storms loom large.  Gods don’t like to have their dreams dictated by mortals and there are few humans left who can now keep the God’s wrath in check.  Mehr’s blood holds a hint of magic, her heritage stems back to a time when the God’s children, the Daiva, mingled with people leaving a trace of themselves in the blood of their offsprings.  Most have now lost the ability to perform magic of any kind but a few still hold the secret in their blood.

The opening chapters were absolutely captivating.  We meet Mehr and witness her struggles living amongst people who despise the Amrithi race, believing them to be  uncivilised.  Regardless of this Mehr practices the rituals that belong to her Amrithi background on a daily basis, taught by the one friend and remaining Amrithi woman who still lives in the city (under a different guise of course).  Her step mother seems to despise her and her father rarely intervenes although he clearly loves his daughter.  I guess he’s only too aware himself of the threat of exposure that hovers over his daughter’s head.  Mehr’s sister, although sharing the same heritage, has been taken under the wing of Mehr’s stepmother who believes that she will be easier to mould being a much younger age than Mehr.

Of course, Mehr is fairly headstrong and when a storm finally hits the city she sneaks out to perform the dance rituals of her Amrithi people bringing herself to the notice of the Maha – the priest who heads the religious aspect of the empire.  The Maha is worshipped almost fervently by some and when he sends his mystics with a marriage proposal for Mehr her fate is sealed.  One simply does not refuse the demands of the Maha and his mystics!  And so Mehr is wed to Amun.  Wow, is Amun disliked or what – why yes, yes he is.  Fully Amrithi, Amun is a dark character, he seems to have a foreboding or brooding presence, he speaks little and his skin is heavily covered with blue sigils that the Maha uses to enslave him and demand obedience.

I liked Mehr and thought her story showed a really impressive character arc.  Put bluntly, and although she thought she had a difficult time at her father’s abode, she realises fairly quickly, once she leaves the city, just how privileged her upbringing has really been.  Forced to march relentlessly across the desert, with little food and the most basic clothing she really struggles.  When she finally reaches the Maha’s temple, an artificially created oasis deep within the desert, things become even worse.  The Maha is a tyrant, he’s cruel and controlling.  He demands that Amun and Mehr perform a dream ritual when the next storm approaches and Mehr isn’t anywhere near ready.  The two will need to find a truce of sorts in order to succeed.

The next element of the story is where things slow down.  This aspect of the story revolves around Mehr and Amun and the pair of them tentatively getting to know each other.  This involves baby steps in which we see a growing of trust between the two until they both finally reach an understanding and come up with their own secret plan.  Both of their lives will be in danger if the Maha discovers their duplicity.  Here’s the thing, I’m not big on romance in books, but, more than that, I’m really not into instalove and so I have to hand it to the author for creating a relationship that develops in, for me, what felt like a natural way, that starts out from a basis of need and mutual respect to become a much deeper rooted feeling.  Okay, this also slows down the movement going forward somewhat but to be honest I quite liked this element of the story.  I also liked that it takes time for Mehr to get a feel for her new surroundings and the place she lives in.

There were a couple of things that perhaps got in the way of this being a 5* read for me.  I didn’t particularly feel any real fear on behalf of Mehr or Amun.  I don’t know why, perhaps I’ve become immune to threats when they’re posed, but I never really felt that the characters were in too much danger – although don’t let that belie the fact that they’re both put through the wringer a fair bit.  It felt a little more like telling rather than showing.  I felt the ending had a slightly rushed feeling to it and the threat of the Maha was maybe tackled much more quickly than I expected.

Regardless of a couple of small things I enjoyed Empire of Sand.  I think I went into this read with less expectation than I usually would and this tempered the read for me.  I wasn’t expecting a romance but as it happens I found it a vital part of the story and I loved the two different settings and the writing.  This is lush – that’s the best way I can think to describe it.  The colours, the sand, the Daiva, the dances, the rituals, the culture – just everything really.  I also couldn’t help feeling that there was a subtle message tucked into the pages of this book, a message about the environment and keeping things in balance – but that could just be my vivid imagination at play.

I think my only proviso to future readers would be to be aware that the story takes it’s own time and refuses to be rushed by expectations of breakneck speed and of course there is a romance – which doesn’t always work for everyone.

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.


16 Responses to “Empire of Sand (The Books of Ambha #1) by Tasha Suri”

  1. sjhigbee

    I like the sound of this one, Lynn. Thank you for a thorough review that will leave prospective readers very aware of what they are getting.

  2. Shalini

    I loved your review 😍 seems like a fun read

  3. maddalena@spaceandsorcery

    I’ve had my eye on this one for some time now, but having read a few mixed comments I was unsure about reading, so thank you for sharing your thoughts: I believe now that I might enjoy this quite a bit! 🙂

    • @lynnsbooks

      I think the slow pacing and change of style in the second half affects the story for some. I didn’t mind so much and probably I was forewarned before picking it up which I find always helps
      Lynn 😀

  4. Lisa (@TenaciousReader)

    So glad to hear you enjoyed this one, I’ve been looking forward to it. Beautifully written and character driven sounds wonderful right now 😀

    • @lynnsbooks

      I liked it although I would mention that it does slow down in the middle – it’s almost a book in two halves but I had a good time nonetheless.
      Lynn 😀

  5. Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum

    I think I expected a little more out of this book, though I completely agree with you on the beginning, which was absolutely captivating. It was when things started to slow down during the middle that the story started to lose me. I think I’ll still read the sequel, because hopefully the pace will pick up now that we’ve established the foundation with this one.

    • @lynnsbooks

      Definitely a book of two halves with the feel and pace. I didn’t mind the slow pacing although it did feel like it took a while to finish.
      Lynn 😀

  6. waytoofantasy

    Great review! Looking forward to getting to this one when I have a chance to squeeze it in. Honestly not sure how this will go for me because I love character driven stories and romance but slow pacing can kill it for me, haha. Well. Guess I’ll have to read and find out!

    • @lynnsbooks

      I think the slow pacing works well for this although it did make it a long read (or it felt that way at least).
      Lynn 😀

  7. Carmen

    Nicely done, Lynn! I like your impressions on this debut. I got the feeling that despite some slowing towards the middle, it is a solid story overall. I like the elements of mythology and magic in it, and the cover is just plain gorgeous. I wouldn’t mind reading it, tbh.

    • Carmen

      Btw, I like a slow building romance; it is more credible that way. I think I would enjoy this novel overall. 🙂

      • @lynnsbooks

        Yeah, I think the romance has to be slow – it’s all about building trust and it works well this way.
        Lynn 😀

    • @lynnsbooks

      Thanks 😀 Hope you get a chance.
      Lynn 😀

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