Empire of Sand delighted me with its well-crafted world inspired by Mughal India. One could argue that it could have been more detailed on some aspects but perhaps thanks to the palpable atmosphere, I needed nothing more. I loved Mehr, I adored Amun, I was enraptured by everything about the rites and the mythology, and absolutely repulsed and terrified by the villain.
Somewhere, immortal dreams of his death lay, crushed beneath the weight of the mystics’ prayers and the rite. If he had managed to twist himself into something so inhuman through the power of the rite, what had he done to the Empire? What had he done to the world?
I’ve seen reviews complaining that the plot was predictable and really, I do get it. I think, maybe, that when we read and review a lot we tend to lose a bit of our early freshness. Are our reviews better? In some aspects, of course. Yet in others I can’t help but think that there’s a very thin line between noticing tropes and giving them such power that they make enjoying a novel bloody tough. For me though? It was never annoying but on the contrary, Empire of Sand fulfilled my expectations perfectly. I mean, I got everything I wanted. I’m not going to whine about it, surely? Plus – in my opinion the romance between Mehr and Amun was handled beautifully: so so slowly building trust and learning each other – I believed in them, and loved them very much, okay?
“Please. I need you to remind me.” His voice was suddenly raw, wild.
Now – Was it slow? I don’t know. It certainly didn’t feel slow – not much happened sometimes, but it was never boring. The pacing felt right to me. In all honesty, I often find “nothing happens” quite subjective because really, it all depends on what your expectations are : do you mean plot-related actions and twists? Then sure, some parts feel a bit repetitive and not a lot happens then (still enough in my opinion, but – not the point : I’ve always preferred my fantasy on the quiet side, question of taste first and foremost). But if the stuff happening is inward, as are thoughts and hurt and character development, then well, for me plenty of stuff do happen in Empire of Sand. Condemnation of imperialism, colonization, and the genocide of indigenous folks happen. Reflections about the sense of belonging and (at times found-) family happen. Love between two beautiful imperfect souls happen. A most satisfying ending happens.
“A choice like a knife at your throat is an illusion,” Amun said bluntly.
Bottom line: In the end, I don’t know about you, but I very much intend to read Arwa’s book. Recommended.
CW – Racism, manipulation, physical and psychological abuse, violence, execution (slit throat), blood magic