Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri
Publication date: 15 November 2018
Page count: 464 pages
Rating: 4 out of 5
I received a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This review is spoiler-free.
Empire of Sand was one of my most highly anticipated books of 2018. It sounded like it would be the perfect book for me — it ticks so many of my reader boxes. When I finally got my hands on a copy, however, I found that the reading experience wasn’t quite what I had expected.
A nobleman’s daughter with magic in her blood. An empire built on the dreams of enslaved gods. Empire of Sand is Tasha Suri’s captivating, Mughal India-inspired debut fantasy.
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…
This is such a difficult review to write because I should have absolutely loved this book and given it a perfect score. Seriously, there is so much to love about Empire of Sand and many of the elements of the book are perfect on paper. However I found it to be a fairly difficult read — it took me nearly a month to finish this book, and that involved a lot of effort.
To start with the good, the world building and magic in this book are absolutely astonishing. Suri has clearly done her homework in terms of the history and mythology that influenced Empire of Sand, and as a result the book feels so incredibly real. The setting is lush and beautifully written — it feels like you’re reading a story based on fact rather than fiction. The accompanying rites and dancing, the storms of dreamfire, and the daeva are absolute gorgeous perfection. I could not get enough of this world and desperately want more — I’d happily read books set in this world for years to come.
The characters, particularly Mehr, were absolutely incredible. Mehr is such a confident and capable woman, yet she still has the capacity to grow and learn. I never once doubted her or her ability. She’s easily one of the best characters of the year for me. In addition, the romance in Empire of Sand is one of the best romances I’ve ever read, seriously. Anyone who loves a slow burn romance and marriage of convenience should stop what they’re doing and read the perfection that is Mehr and Amun. The mutual trust and respect that builds between them, even before feelings grow, is just so good and watching their relationship come together was so rewarding.
So I seemingly love everything about this book, right? So why four stars instead of five? I had a good long think about this problem and I think it all comes down to pacing. This book is so incredibly slow. Now, I certainly don’t mind a slow read when I’m expecting it. After all of the praise and hype for Empire of Sand, I had fully expected at least a standard paced novel. The opening chapters are so fantastically paced and exciting, however it slows down significantly after that and the middle was a bit of a slog. I think the problem here is the dense writing and repetition. There were some passages that could have been trimmed down or cut out completely because they essentially said the same thing over and over (and over). I think a bit more creative editing would have done Empire of Sand a world of good.
Overall, I’d highly recommend Empire of Sand. It is bursting with beautiful world building, a wonderful romance, phenomenal characters, and a gripping plot that stays with you. I would warn that it isn’t the easiest book in terms of pacing, but it is such a rewarding read — it is a book to be savoured rather than devoured (which is always my problem). I am so eager to read Realm of Ash in 2019.
CW: domestic and emotional abuse, threat of rape and sexual assault
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Have you read Empire of Sand? What did you think? Did you also have trouble with the pacing? Let me know!