Book Review: Realm of Ash by Tasha Suri

Warning! This review may contain spoilers for Empire of Sand, the previous book in the Books of Ambha series.

Copy of Book Review (12)

Enthralling, immersive and utterly beautiful. Realm of Ash by Tasha Suri is the sequel to the amazing Empire of Sand, which was one of my absolute favourite books of 2018, and so I was pretty hyped for this book! I was even lucky enough to get given an early copy as I was doing a short marketing internship with Little, Brown Book Group (Orbit are a part of them) during October… How lucky am I!

The story is set roughly a decade after the end of Empire of Sand and, following the death of the Maha, things have gone downhill for the Ambhan Empire fast. Rumour says the empire is cursed as calamity after calamity engulfs it and creatures of myth, Daiva and nightmares-made-flesh, are seen across the realm. Against this backdrop, we follow Arwa – sister to our previous protagonist, Mehr – as she discovers more about the powers that lurk in her Amrithi blood; powers that she has been taught to suppress all her life. These powers, as it turns out, may hold the secret to saving the empire!

Arwa as a character was fantastic and engaging, and for those who know a but about her Amrithi heritage from the previous book, a little tragic. Arwa was far younger than Mehr when they lost their mother, and as such, knows little of their Amrithi heritage. She sees it as a curse that has dogged her and that she must fight to rise above – she wishes nothing more than to be a perfect Ambhan noble women. What makes this so interesting is the way that we see the Ambhan Empire at the start of this book, we see it in a semi-sympathetic light and how it brings stability to the lives of thousands, and how her understanding of her own heritage affects this view. Ultimately, this book is basically about Arwa’s acceptance of her Amrithi side and how her world-view becomes shaped by this as she discovers more about herself, her peoples’ history and the Ambhan Empire’s darker sides.

Our other main character, Zahir – an outcast, bastard prince of the imperial line – wasn’t quite so engaging unfortunately.  I just found him a bit limp, which was a real shame as I think his concept was great. Perhaps I am just unfairly comparing him to Amun from Empire of Sand, who really shone as the ‘secondary’ main character in Empire of Sand.

Away from the main characters, this book really shines in its beautiful description and world-building. We discover so much more about the rich and vibrant Mughal-inspired world these books are set in, ranging from the tangled politics and dangers of life in the imperial court to life in a hidden hermitages throughout the empire to the nature of death and the afterlife in this world. And Tasha Suri brings all of this vividly to life with her writing and it is just great.

As an aside, I would say that this book does feel more polished than the previous one. Empire of Sand was a brilliant book, one of my favourites from 2018, and while I didn’t have a problem with the pacing, I understood why some reviews said the book was a bit slow. Realm of Ash, however, is a much more dynamic story that is stretched out across more of the world, and as such, feels much quicker.

Overall, I would thoroughly recommend this book, though I would definitely say to read the previous book in the series first. I suppose you could read this one without having read the other, but I just don’t see why you would. I’ve not heard anything about a sequel to this one yet, but from the way the story finishes, there will 100% be one, and I am looking forward to it!

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