Title: Realm of Ash
Author: Tasha Suri
Series: The Books of Ambha, #2
Release Date: November 14th 2019
“The fate of an empire rests in the hands of a young woman with magical blood and nothing left to lose, and an outcast prince determined to save his family at any cost, in this “dark, melodious, and memorable” new fantasy (Library Journal, starred review) from the author of the award-winning Empire of Sand.
The Ambhan Empire is crumbling. A terrible war of succession hovers on the horizon. The only hope for peace lies in the mysterious realm of ash, where mortals can find what they seek in the echoes of their ancestors’ dreams. But to walk there requires a steep price.
Arwa is determined to make the journey. Widowed by a brutal massacre, she’s pledged service to the royal family and will see that pledge through to the end. She never expected to be joined by Zahir, the disgraced, illegitimate prince who has turned to forbidden magic in a desperate bid to save those he loves.
Together, they’ll walk the bloody path of their shared past. And it will call into question everything they’ve ever believed…including whether the Empire is worth saving at all.”
“The dagger sank hard and fast into the soil. The shadows of its body surrounded her, the daiva shattered into a dozen smaller birds. Wings battered her face and her hair—even her arms, as she raised them to protect herself. Her hand was still bleeding freely. She was lightheaded with pain.”
Tasha Suri returns to her luscious fantasy world of the Ambha Empire with Realm of Ash, the companion novel to her debut Empire of Sand. This newest installation focuses on Mehr’s younger sister Arwa. Having recently been widowed, Arwa as taken refuge in a sanctuary for widows of nobility. But no matter how hard she tries, she cannot escape the memories of how her husband and everyone at his fort perished, leaving her the only survivor. Around her the Ambhan Empire is collapsing, a consequence of their Maha’s demise a decade earlier. When Arwa’s bloodline is discovered, she agrees to aid one of the Emperor’s sons in an effort to save the Empire. Zahir is the illegitimate son of the Emperor, unacknowledged and hidden away by his sister. He’s spent years trying to find a way to save the Empire, seeking out knowledge only the Maha possessed. Together Arwa and Zahir traverse the realm of ash in search of a way to keep the Empire from crumbling, but on their journey they uncover truths that call to question whether they can or should save the Empire at all.
Suri has created one of the most profound, multi-layered worlds I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. The Ambhan Empire has prospered largely in part because of the mystical Maha. As long as the Emperor showed reverence, the Maha blessed the land. Since his death, however, the Empire has been in decline and mysterious illnesses have plagued its people. In Darez Fort a darkness found its way inside, consuming its inhabitants and turning them against one another. Arwa, because of the secret of her bloodline, being Amrithi on her mother’s side, was spared. The Amrithi people have been a part of this land, but have been driven out and their religion has been regarded with distrust. The Emperor and the Maha have collectively taken part in ethic cleansing. Amrithi have been driven to their deaths or forced to hide away. Descendants like Arwa have been taught their heritage must be kept hidden, that her blood has made her a curse upon those around her. In reality the Maha has used these people for the Empire’s advancement, tapping into their special relationship with the gods of old. He and those in power have villainized and dehumanized them, so in the end their receding numbers are regarded justly or indifferently.
Arwa is one of the few people left who straddles both worlds, born from an Amrithi mother and a Ambhan father. Her ties to her maternal side are tentative at best. Her adopted mother has drilled it into her that she must shape herself into someone worthy. She’s spent years molding herself into someone more gentle, someone vulnerable who is subject to the will of others. In truth, she struggles to rein in her anger and her sharp-tongue. Her relationship with Zahir develops into more of a partnership and both are finally able to be who they are without consequence. Zahir, much like Arwa, has grown up in a kind of cage. As the illegitimate son of the Emperor he has been regarded as a threat, but his sister has done her best to keep him safe. He has spent years in study, trying to prove his worth to the Empire, but knowing that one day the favor of his sister may not be enough to keep him alive. Both of these characters have been used as pawns, taught that they are unworthy, and stripped of their agency. Together they find the strength to forge their own paths.
Realm of Ash is the perfect companion novel in a superlative duology that showcases the quiet yet fierce strength of its characters with a magical system that will steal your breath.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★