Mehr is the daughter of two cultures, half noble Ambhan, half heathen Amrithi. She lives with her father, a governor, her step-mother and her little sister. For her’s sister’s sake, she tried to follow the wishes of her father but she can’t turn her back on the sacred rites taught by her absent mother.

A choice like a knife to the throat is an illusion.

Empire of Sand got off to a fantastic start, with rich world-building based on Mughal India. The Amrithi are hated in the empire for their association with daiva, and Mehr must suppress that side of her heritage. Yet, some people still cling to the old ways and wish to use her blood for protection. It would seem that daivas are real and can be controlled by the Amrithi.

When one fateful night draws the attention of the empire’s mystics, Mehr is forced to take a husband. There is a huge amount about arranged marriage in this book. It is important that she has a choice, it is a noblewoman’s right to choose her husband even when the introductions are made for her. What Mehr does is choose someone in order to protect her family.

It explores what happens in an arranged marriage, where affection can come later. Just because it is arranged does not mean it cannot be good. However there is a dark edge to this because the mystics want her bound to them for nefarious reasons. There is a reason why Amrithi never marry. I liked the way the relationship between Mehr and her husband develops. They are both being used, manipulated, and they make the most out of a bad situation.

The writing is wonderfully descriptive and it’s easy to imagine the opulence of the governor’s residence versus the sparseness of life in the desert. However I felt the pacing was a bit slow and I lost a bit of interest in the middle section.

You belong to your father. And you will belong to any husband you choose. His duties will be your duties, his burdens your burdens. Your immortal soul will be bound to his.

I liked the message that you can’t just rid evil from the world without upsetting the balance. We have seen so many countries destroyed by leaving power vacuums in the real world, it’s nice to have fiction that takes this into account. It even shows how good people can fall victim to evil, because when they have nothing else, a little kindness can mean the world.

Some ends were tied up a little too neatly but it’s a refreshing change to read a fantasy debut that stands by itself. I believe there are other books planned but whether or not they follow on directly or are companions, it really doesn’t matter.

Empire of Sand is published by Orbit and is available now in paperback and ebook editions. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

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Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.