Chosen by Farhana
Sometimes, you just want to be swept away by a book and forget the world. And if you’re not careful, Empire of Sand will do just that. Unlike other fantasy titles that reuse thinly-veiled versions of medieval European history, this South Asian-influenced fantasy is a refreshing and welcome addition to the genre.
Born in London to Punjabi parents, author Tasha Suri is a big fan of history, mythology and period Bollywood films – in particular Mughal-e-Azam, the 1960 classic set in the Mughal court. Traces of this are apparent from the outset of Tasha’s debut, which follows a young mixed-race woman called Mehr, who is seen as part-noble and part-outcast, as she fights to maintain her independent spirit in the face of two conflicting forces. These forces are: the expectations of the metropolitan ruling classes of the empire to which her father belongs; and the pull of her exiled mother’s blood and people, seen as nomads who worship the spirits of the sands. And when Mehr is caught performing such rites, there’s trouble – and a magical storm – coming...
Full of lush descriptions of architecture, landscapes, clothes, food, and a magic that is literally in the air, this is a richly imagined and alluring world. An intriguing cast of characters earn their presence too, and in particular it's Mehr’s relationships with her younger sister, her stepmother, her mother’s best friend and other women she meets on her journey that feed the emotional core of the story, which is just as much about family. Though, there’s also the possibility of love and companionship from another, unlikely source.
I mentioned magic, and the scenes related to Mehr’s growing awareness and training of her magical gifts are captivating, especially the descriptions of ‘dreamfire’ and the ‘daiva’, which are magical rains/sandstorms and mysterious jinn-like beings, respectively. Plus, there are ornate dance-like poses/stances that recur throughout the novel and are used for fighting, which are partly influenced by Indian classical dance (eg Bharatanatyam) and elements from Hinduism. And how many times do you hear all that about a popular fantasy title? Pretty cool, eh.
Finally, I can’t remember the last time I read a book so quickly – and weighing it at over 400 pages, that’s no mean feat in terms of readability, and a testament to how seamless and unique the world-building is. So, if you want to lose yourself in something that’s a little bit different, but a whole lot awesome, then we think you might be interested in Empire of Sand.
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