Realm of Ash by Tasha Suri
Publisher: Orbit Books
Publication date: 14 November 2019
Page count: 496 pages
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This review is spoiler-free for this book and for Empire of Sand.
Empire of Sand is one of those books that has left a lasting impact on me as a reader — it is a beautiful book with gorgeous magic, a lush world, and one of the best slow burn romances I’ve ever read. So naturally I was absolutely thrilled to hear that the next book, Realm of Ash was coming out this year. I had sky-high expectations for this book and had absolutely no worries that they wouldn’t be met. And I was right — this book is absolutely magnificent.
The Ambhan Empire is crumbling. A terrible war of succession hovers on the horizon. The only hope for peace lies in the mysterious realm of ash, where mortals can find what they seek in the echoes of their ancestors’ dreams. But to walk there requires a steep price.
Arwa is determined to make the journey. Widowed by a brutal massacre, she’s pledged service to the royal family and will see that pledge through to the end. She never expected to be joined by Zahir, the disgraced, illegitimate prince who has turned to forbidden magic in a desperate bid to save those he loves.
Together, they’ll walk the bloody path of their shared past. And it will call into question everything they’ve ever believed…including whether the Empire is worth saving at all.
First things first, Realm of Ash is more of a companion novel than a direct sequel to Empire of Sand and it stands alone well on its own. However, I’d highly recommend reading the first book before diving into this one because you’ll get so much more from the story, particularly the nuances of Arwa’s relationship with her Amrithi blood and her family. Realm of Ash does an incredible job of building on the first book while standing alone as its own story, but honestly Empire of Sand is also incredibly good so you should read it anyway.
The worldbuilding in Realm of Ash is magnificent — the world in the Books of Ambha series is one of my absolute favourites in fantasy. I love the stunning landscapes, the intricate architecture, and the detailed cultures and customs of both the Empire and the Amrithi people. The introduction of the realm of ash in this book adds a new, fantastic layer to the world. It is not only an incredibly magical place, but is also so wonderfully moving and sad. I don’t want to say anything more because of spoilers, but Suri created something really special with the realm of ash and the rituals surrounding it.
Realm of Ash builds on and expands the culture and customs established in the first book, this time focusing on Arwa’s position as a noblewoman widow in society. The restrictions and restraints placed upon her, as well as her worth now that she does not have a ‘use’ in society through her husband, constantly haunt Arwa as she tries to bury her true self and be a good Ambhan woman while also struggling against the expectations against her. Interestingly, the book begins with Arwa fully believing in her position in the Empire and the Empire’s rules and laws, despite the fact that her mother’s people are persecuted and she would receive similar treatment if her Amrithi blood was discovered. The fact that she does accept and support the Empire’s laws and customs as a result of her upbringing makes her an incredibly fascinating character to follow, and I absolutely loved her personal journey of discovery.
To me, this book is all about grief and loss, particularly for Arwa. The most obvious are the loss of her husband and sister, but Arwa also loses her place and ‘usefulness’ in the Empire when her husband dies. She has lost her Amrithi heritage, and she eventually loses her faith in the Empire too. After all she has been through and all she has had to suppress, it is no huge suprise that she grieves for what she once had and what was taught to her. However, it is also a story of discovery and self-realisation. These themes are wonderfully balanced and create such a beautiful and compelling story.
I’ve really struggled to write this review because I simply cannot put into words how much I loved it. It is heartbreaking, hopeful, and stunningly beautiful. If you loved Empire of Sand, you will love Realm of Ash. If you enjoy slow burn romances, refreshing magic and fantasy worlds, backstabbing court politics, hidden princes, and strong women, you absolutely must give these books a try. To me, Suri represents the best of modern British fantasy and I will read anything she writes.
Want to pick up a copy of Realm of Ash? You can find it at the following sites (affiliate links):