Published by Orbit Books, November 2018
Source: review copy
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…
Empire of Sand is a lushly realised world filled with gods and mystics, spirits and empire, and some quite beautiful writing. It’s an epic fantasy, but not what you might expect, set in a world with analogies to the Mughal era of medieval India.
Mehr is a young woman who has inherited her mother’s ability to wield magic in the form of ritual dance, with blood rites and demons ever present. She comes to the attention of the Maha, the Empire’s religious leader, and is summoned to his palace to placate the awakening gods. But can she and her husband Amun break the bonds of their vows to the Emperor?
It’s a book of love and loss, control and breaking bonds, with a truly original heroine in Mehr. I’ve been on a bit of a quest to read more diverse fiction from diverse authors, and Empire of Sands delivers on every level.
The setting is wonderful, you can almost feel the heat from the sands and the mile upon mile of unending desert punctuated by the settlements and the grand palace of the Maha. I loved the idea of the daiva too, the shadowy demons which Mehr and Amun must dance to keep in check.
It’s a slow burn at the start as we’re immersed in Mehr’s world, and it does take a little while for the story to get going, but when things do kick off, they do so in a grand style. Still, the book has a gentle pace, punctuated with some glorious action, and it’s clear that this is laying some considerable groundwork for the later books to come.
It’s beautifully written, with some wonderful, strong female characters, and I shall be looking forward to the next books with great anticipation.