I was incredibly fortunate to have Bothari43 as my CBR11 Book Exchange gifter. I gave her a list of authors and she rewarded me with a bounty, all of which you will eventually hear about. By coincidence, the Romance Sparks Joy book club announced that their January read is Tasha Suri’s Empire of Sand, one of the books Bothari43 gifted to me. You can follow RSJ on twitter @SparkJoyRomance. The general discussion of the book has already happened, but there will be a chat about the book with the author on January 25.
Mehr is the eldest of the the Governor of Irinah’s illegitimate mixed race daughters. Irinah is a conquered territory and part of the Ambhan Empire. The Empire rules through law and religion. One of the people’s that populated Irinah were the Amrithi, a nomadic people descended from the descendants of gods. They are despised by the Empire and viewed as savages. Mehr and her sister are half Amrithi. While her younger sister looks Ambhan, Mehr looks like her mother’s people and she honors their customs. As the Ambhan Governor’s daughter, she is protected in a way most Amrithi are not. She makes an unwise choice and brings herself to the attention of the Empire’s mystics.
This is a hard book to review because it is so rich. There are so many fantastic things about it. The author, Tasha Suri, is a queer, Desi American writer. She grounds her fantasy world in Hindu mythology and the lives of Mughal women. Her characters’ internal conflicts are grounded in the experience of being caught between two cultures and in existing in a country that sees you as an other. Mehr is both Ambhan and Amrithi, but also neither. Amun is Amrithi, but as a slave to the Empire his connection to culture and heritage all but destroyed. Their heritage is used like a weapon against them while they are used as weapons against anyone opposing the Ambhan Empire.
One of my favorite reads of 2018 was Ann Leckie’s Imperial Radch books. Like them, Empire of Sand explores the problem with empires. Empires require conquest. Conquest requires resources and tools. Using people as resources and tools is dehumaizing, violent, and ultimately unsustainable. In many different ways, Suri juxtaposes unwilling and willing service. Those who are willing servants are shown the generosity of the empire (to a point) while those unwilling feel the violence beneath the kindly face.
Empire of Sand is a compelling read. Mehr is a heroine whose strength is not in fighting with swords, but in refusing to give up hope and her willingness to use what resources she has to make the world better. The second book in the series, Realm of Ash, focuses on Arwa, Mehr’s younger sister. It was released a couple of months ago. I’m looking forward to getting my hands on it.