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Thursday, February 14, 2019

Empire Of Sand by Tasha Suri (Reviewed by Will Byrnes)


Official Author Website
Order Empire Of Sand over HERE

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS:
When you dance with the Rite of Dreaming, you dance with the gods.
Mehr’s got it made, I guess,
There were perks to being the Governor of Irinah’s daughter—even an illegitimate one. People obeyed you. Servants rushed to your bidding. Even the ones who loathed you—and there were many—were forced to veil their contempt and keep their loathing eyes lowered. All people faced hatred. All people suffered. Few had the cushion of wealth and privilege to protect them as Mehr did. nice wardrobe, plenty to eat, time on her hands, but it comes with downsides. Her father’s grounds constitutes a golden cage. And mom’s side presents a whole other problem.
While dad is a member in good standing of the Ambahn clan, the ruling caste in the empire, Mehr’s mother was a member of the oppressed Amrithi clan. Not your usual ethnic minority. The Amrithi began ages ago when a magical being called a daiva (djinn-like, with both a physical and a more ethereal nature) got jiggy with a human, making the Amrithi not entirely our sort. The magical side DNA comes with some benefits, though, for some Amrithi anyway. An ability to communicate with the daiva who still roam the world. And how do they communicate, you may ask?

Here is the genius of the book. Amrithi communicate with the daiva via physical movement, specifically through dance and sigils,something between magic spells and prayer. (If you have ever seen the TV show, The Magicians, they do a lot of hand sigils there, and not all are of the middle finger variety) They also have dance rites that are the equivalent of the prayer rituals common to many religions. Mehr keeps up the rituals she learned from her mother and from a mentor her mother asked to look after her when she left. The rituals give her a sense of connection not only to her heritage, and her mother, but in a very real sense to the magical events in this world.

Suri took some inspiration from her own upbringing. Kids in Indian classical dance training make abundant use of hand symbols. She also wanted to incorporate that signaling with an element of martial arts. Her characters’ hand sigils are no mere form of artistry. They have real world impact. They kick ass.


More family enters into it. Mehr has a little sister she loves and wants to protect, (and whose safety can be used as leverage against her) and then there is the evil-stepmother, Maryam, (a true bloom of Ambhan womanhood) who does her best to hiss and sneer her way across the page whenever she shows up. She is particularly eager to keep Mehr from continuing the practices of her Amrithi heritage.

There’s more. In this fantasy world, which is inspired by a Bollywood version of what the Mughal Empire might have been, reality is not the relatively consistent universe we have come to know. It is a product of the dreams of the gods. Only sometimes those dreams get disturbed, generating hurricane-like storms that dump a whole new type of precip, a thing called dreamfire. Way beyond oobleck.
The dreamfire was everywhere now. It was in the air she breathed, in the sweat at the nape of her neck. She could feel the strength of it churning the city into a storm. The buildings were drenched in light, debris flying through the air as if the world had tipped on its side and sent everything sprawling. Even the earth felt like it was moving beneath her feet. It was dizzying, terrifying. Exhilirating. 
Dad, who clearly loves Mehr, and evil-step-mom, who clearly doesn’t, may have Mehr’s best interests at heart in keeping her confined to the grounds. Seems the talent she has for things magical is in high demand by dark sorts. So, when Mehr slips out and puts her skill to the test, word gets around and she is in a whole mess of trouble. Way worse than being grounded.

The religious leader of the empire (midway between Thanos and the High Sparrow), has sent a delegation of mystics and a not-so-subtle demand offer for Mehr to marry one of them, a dodgy-seeming character called Amun.
Like so many other of the other mystics Mehr had seen in Lotus Hall, his face was swathed by cloth. Only his eyes and bridge of his nose were revealed but his head was lowered, hiding his gaze. The little of his skin she could see was dark She couldn’t tell if he was young or old, ugly or handsome. He was simply male, broad-shouldered and intimidating with footsteps that were soft, too soft. He had a predator’s tread.
It is an offer she cannot refuse. No more mani pedis for you, dear. Mehr hits the road with her new associates and the game is afoot. No, really. No saddles or palanquins. They walk across the desert to the evil leader’s oasis-centered temple. His name is Maha, and the similarity to mwahahaha cannot possibly be accidental.

Ok, entire-world-fantasies can really get you bogged down in describing everything, (like the above) and then you lose track of the thread. Ok? We got all our words straight, Daiva? Sigil? Amrithi? Ambahn? Jeez, can we move on with it already?

The change of scene also signals a change in approach. What ensues is not just learning what dark plans Maha, who is entirely cruel and not entirely human, has in store for Mehr, and taking on that challenge, but getting to know Amun. Is this bad boy really so bad? Why does everyone think he’s a monster? What’s the deal with all the blue tats? And what else will be forced on Mehr? A challenge for sure.

The book heads in two directions here. First is getting the lay of the land and finding out who you can trust, and where you can get the best figs. Part of this is dealing with being invited to hang by one group, when you really want to be doing something else, figuring out who can be trusted, deciphering the palace politics in her new town. Very relatable, particularly for the younger set. The other major element is the reveal of what the Maha has in mind, and how Mehr will cope. But the major bit for what seems the largest chunk of the book is Mehr getting to know Amun. They have to come up with modus vivendi in order to accomplish the tasks with which they are charged, and not get, you know, murdered.

It was not the fastest read. I enjoyed the first 100 pps of intro to the world and Mehr’s situation, and I enjoyed watching her face diverse challenges and overcome, or not, yet still grow in the process. But I did not enjoy the pace or duration after that. It was reasonably-paced and engaging at first, but settled into a slower, drawn-out tempo that was a bit frustrating. The book might have lost about fifty pages, maybe more, without suffering too much. There are a few interludes when we see events away from Mehr from the perspective of other characters. These offered a break from the central pillar of the tale, and added in a few details Mehr could not deliver to us. There was an element of romantic interaction that was appropriate and engaging, but which took up way too much of the book, detracting from the much more interesting magical, and palace intrigue elements.

You know I like a good romance. Well, I read a lot of romance…That’s something that romance series do really, really well. they create books that draw on each other but they’re also kind of discrete stories in themselves. You’ve got a beginning, a middle and end. You’ve got a satisfying conclusion. You know if you pick up the next one you’re going to get the same thing. So, that’s what I’m trying to do with the series. - from the Reddit session

Not the romance thing, per se, but the beginning-middle-end thing.

It was a bit unclear to me whether this was intended for YA readers or adults. Certain tropes made me think YA. Things like a sheltered girl being forced to face life’s realities and find out if she will face-plant or be the stuff that dreams are made of. We have certainly seen plenty of examples of kids or teens with hidden powers that emerge as they grow and confront danger of one sort or another. Evil stepmothers are a dime a dozen in YA tales. And Mehr has a little sister she is eager to protect, like that Everdeen kid.

But then, the challenges that Mehr confronts extend well beyond showing the world her stuff. She has to contend with complex moral questions. Suri is also looking at larger issues relating to women. She is interested in how women could exercise power in a heavily patriarchal society, and not settle for invisibility. She shows them choosing paths for themselves, despite the external limitations on their freedom, and sometimes having to hide their true feelings.
She managed to catch herself on her hands before her skull met the floor. Then she bowed to the floor, her forehead to the cool marble. She allowed herself to tremble; feigned being a thing bent and broken by his cruelty. She did not have her jewels or her fine clothes, but she had this power, at least: she could give him a simulacrum of what he desired from her. And hold her crumbling strength tight. Let him think he had broken her. As long as he believed he already had, as long as she fooled him, he would not succeed in truly doing so.
CONCLUSION: I very much enjoyed the extreme creativity that went into the literary construction of this world. The magical concepts were impressive, exciting, and fit well with the story. Mehr is an engaging character you will find it easy to root for, particularly when she is faced with wrenching decisions. The writing is beautiful and evocative. I enjoyed much less what seemed a shift from the magical elements and court machinations to an excessive focus on the romantic. But was brought back by the action, twists, and resolutions at the end. I expect there are many castles to be made of Suri’s sands. She has a second book in the series planned, The Realm of Ash, set many years later, looking at the consequences of the actions in book 1. Some dreams can be made real.

NOTE: This review was originally posted by Will on Goodreads.

1 comments:

Leslie Zemeckis said...

Its amazing book I have read this book. i love one more book Behind the burly q.

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