Publisher: Orbit Books
Release Date: November 13th, 2018
Page Count: 432
Series: THE BOOKS OF AMBHA, Book 1
Rating: 4/5 Stars – Really Liked It
Note: I was provided a free copy of the book by the publisher in exchange for my fair and honest review.
When a desperate act reveals to the Emperor’s mystics that she possesses a rare gift of magic, Mehr finds herself forced into a marriage to save her family. Not only is Mehr bound to a stranger, she is now enslaved to the Maha, an immortal being who uses gifted people like Mehr and her husband to magically sustain the empire he established centuries ago. With no allies and only herself to rely on, Mehr must find a way to navigate her new life at the Maha’s palace, walking the fine line of living in service to the empire while maintaining the limited amount of freedom left to her. Only through these small acts of defiance can Mehr keep the hope that one day, she will shatter her chains for good.
EMPIRE OF SAND is a lush fantasy romance, the kind of book that invites you to sink into a pile of pillows and lose yourself in a tale as old as time. You will not find epic battles and action-packed sequences here. You WILL find an intimate tale of two people trying to find small moments of hope and love in the face of overwhelming odds. If you like heroines with quiet inner strength, the kind who learn to dig deep and stand firm against the tides of darkness with little more than their own willpower, you’ll love Mehr. She is the first to admit that she has lived a relatively pampered life; an illegitimate child of a “barbarian” woman, yes, but still one raised in the luxury of the governor’s mansion. At the same time, Mehr’s tenuous place in the social structure has forced her to learn how to play at social politics, choosing when to defy people and when to appear meek. It’s a skill she has to rely on constantly at the Maha’s palace as she looks for a way to escape.
As I said before, this is a romance. Enter Amun, Mehr’s new husband, a man who has been enslaved to the Maha since childhood. Amun is here to check every box of Perfect Romance Man. Tragic backstory that has led him to be closed-off and brooding, check. Absolute respect of Mehr’s boundaries, check. Loving, warm personality underneath all the brooding, check. Amun isn’t quite as fleshed out a character as Mehr, but if you want to lean into the romance angle and lose yourself in the love story that blossoms between these two trapped people, Amun is absolutely here for you. And while there is a story line about needing to consummate the marriage, an act which takes places under less than ideal circumstances, the author walks the line of having that event far enough into their relationship that it is still an act of love between these two people. It manages to be respectful and not go the dark place this story could so easily have gone to.
Lastly, I have to talk about the dance magic at the heart of the story. Mehr’s powers surface when she dances in what are known as Rites. There are many specific Rites, like Rite of the Fruitful Earth or the Rite of the Bound, which, when performed by gifted individuals, channel magical energy to specific purposes. But long before Mehr learns of her gifts, these Rites serve as Mehr’s connection to her people, a clan she knows only by second-hand-stories. There are all kinds of dances to be performed by ordinary people, rites of mourning, rites of celebration, rites to greet the sun and begin a new day. By performing these dances, Mehr honors the traditions she has been denied by being kept from her people. Reading of Mehr performing these various rites is an emotional high point of the novel. It’s how Mehr centers herself, how she expresses her deepest feelings, and how she eventually unleashes her power. Even without knowing what these dances look like, the way they are written about made me feel grounded and connected to Mehr.
In short, if you like your fantasy with a healthy dose of romance and a dreamy quality, inspired by non-Western traditions and mythology, you should check out EMPIRE OF SAND!