Desert Isle Keeper
Empire of Sand
Empire of Sand is a fantasy début which showcases a young woman who defeats an ancient evil by embracing her heritage. Drawing from the rich, turbulent history and vibrant culture of India’s Mughal Empire this is a tale of magic, mayhem and true love.
Mehr is the eldest daughter of the governor of Irinah in the Ambhan Empire. Her mother, an Amrithi woman, was never married to her father; the Amrithi people are bound by their oaths completely and so very rarely give them, even to those they love. Mehr lives a sheltered and privileged life thanks to her father’s position, but she knows that is not the case for the majority of her people. The Amrithi have been chased from the cities and villages of the Empire and are both despised and envied for their magic blood. Even she, who has so many advantages, is not allowed to openly practice the rites of the Amrithi faith or speak openly of their beliefs. Which is why when the storm comes, bringing the magical, rare and sacred dreamfire with it, she slips from her home to dance The Rite of Dreaming. It’s a mistake that will cost her dearly.
The Ambhan Empire has a living god, the Maha. Once the general who conquered the Amrithi and countless other cultures, he is now an immortal who works dark magic for the Ambhan. Within days of Mehr’s dance, the mystics who work for the Maha, are at Mehr’s home, ‘offering’ Mehr the opportunity to marry Amun, a powerful Amrithi mystic whom they have enslaved to their purposes. Mehr knows that declining the offer will put her family in an extremely perilous position and doubts her father has the political power to survive it. Determined that no one else pay for her mistake, she agrees to the marriage.
From the beginning, Amun shows himself to be a man of honor and integrity. He has not been bowed by his forced servitude to the Maha but has learned how to survive and thrive within the small freedoms allowed him. It is his hope that Mehr has the courage, intelligence and power to set them both free. She quickly becomes determined that she won’t let him down.
I fell in love with Amun almost the moment I met him. He is a patient, kind, loving, thoughtful person hidden behind a necessary façade of a cold, dangerous man. That façade has kept him alive and kept those who are prejudiced against him for being Amrithi at a distance. It has enabled him to survive in the Maha’s temple where complete loyalty to the Maha and betrayal of your fellow mystics are everyday practices. With Mehr, he is able to open up and show who he truly is, and the author’s skill turns those moments into something poignant, tender and achingly sincere.
Mehr is a near perfect heroine. A young woman torn from familiar circumstances, she uses the skills of deceit and cunning learned in her father’s court to persevere in the face of incredible odds. The magical power of the Maha makes it impossible to lie to him but she quickly learns the art of prevarication from Amun. The need to deceive is absolute; the Maha is a creature of intense evil who destroys all he touches. The author’s skill really shines in the moment where Mehr makes a misstep. It would have been easy to be angry at Mehr or frustrated at her stupidity but instead I was awed by how long she had been able to navigate the dangerous labyrinth she was in and admired the integrity and courage she showed in owning her mistake.
At the heart of this tale is the incredible bond formed between Mehr and Amun. Forced into a farce of a marriage, they turn that event from tragedy to triumph and create something bright and beautiful in the midst of a truly dark and terrible situation.
It is always wonderful to read a story spun from a culture other than the typical Western European one. Empire of Sand, with its colonial narrative showing an abused, subjugated minority exploited and despised by those in power, is especially meaningful because it is a tale that speaks to the conversations of our own time and place. Beautifully written, this thought-provoking heartfelt love story is the perfect book for fantasy/fantasy romance fans.