Title: Realm of Ash
Author: Tasha Suri
Publication date: November 12, 2019
Summary: The Ambhan Empire has been plagued by a curse, which seems to have become worse since the death of the Maha. Now that the Emperor lies near death, it becomes gravely apparent to young widow Arwa, who hides the true lineage of her blood and the curse it carries, and bastard prince Zahir they must find the answers from their ancestors in the treacherous realm of ash.
This is the second book in the Books of Ambha series. I did not know that going in, but I don’t feel like I necessarily needed to have read the first book. This one made complete sense all on its own, though I am now curious about the first book, Empire of Sand.
The Characters: Beautiful Characters with a Magical Relationship
The story is told from Arwa’s perspective. She is a young widow with the blood of the cursed Amrithi people, but was raised to be Ambhan by her stepmother. The conflict in her character overlaid the story, but still managed to be beautifully subtle. I loved how it was simply a part of her, her upbringing and her blood, and helped her evolve as a person, but didn’t contain any real anger. Arwa was a bit of a lost child, but she carried strength and maturity, devotion and humility. She was a beautiful character, fragile yet strong. My one complaint about her was that it seemed like it was the effects of the realm of ash that really prompted her growth instead of it being something more internally driven.
The other main character is Zahir, the illegitimate son of the dying emperor. He should have been put to death alongside his mother, but the love of his sister saved him, though it did condemn him to a life spent in a tomb. Studious and curious, he strove to save the empire even though his family chose to ignore his existence. Sometimes he felt a little too good to be true and maybe his humility and modesty went a little overboard, but those traits perfectly suited him. I really enjoyed reading about him.
I have a love-hate relationship with the relationship formed between Arwa and Zahir. Most of the book felt like it was friendship with a line drawn in the sand that neither of them would cross. And then they became more than friends and it seemed to happen very quickly, very intensely. Still, their relationship somehow felt magical, right, and beautiful.
The World Building: A Truly Extraordinary Place
I loved the world Suri built in this book. To put it mildly. It was extraordinarily well-done and well-thought out. The world was rich and the realm of ash was a little terrifying to me as a reader. I loved that the world made sense, that it didn’t have anything extraneous.
South Asian-inspired, it was beautifully painted and had a rich culture to match. The people and the world worked together to create a rich tapestry of life and history. I loved that the history played a strong role even as the characters were looking toward making a better future. The building blocks were perfectly placed, which made it so easy for me to immerse myself in the world. I was sad to come to the end of the book because I didn’t want to leave the world just yet.
The Plot: Beautiful in it’s Sheer Simplicity
I must be honest and say I didn’t pay as much attention to what the book was about as I should have. I was too often caught up in the characters and the world to really think about what the story was. It was nicely character-driven, so the story simply flowed around them. Every plot point made sense, every wench held a strong purpose, every setback was perfectly placed. The story advanced at its own pace when it was necessary in support of the characters. It was so lovely to be swept up in the lives of Arwa and Zahir.
Now that I’ve come out of the book and reviewed what it was about, I realize the plot, at its core, is quite simplistic. It’s two people working to save their empire. There are pieces built onto it to provide complexity, but the sheer simplicity made this a beautiful read. There were a few major events, but the story did move at a slow pace. Strangely enough, I never noticed until now just how slow it had been.
Overall: Slow, but Rich
Overall, I thought this a truly beautiful book. It makes me think of pouring out honey: slow, but rich and sweet. I wanted to both finish reading to see how it ended and to never finish reading so I could stay with the characters and the world. Arwa and Zahir felt alive to me and I felt pieces of myself in them. The world was stunning and I wanted to keep exploring. Even though I haven’t had the benefit of reading the first book, I didn’t feel any confusion, and I can’t help but be in a bit of awe about what a lovely read this was.
How many cups of tea will you need?
5 excellent cups of tea
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Thank you to the publisher, Orbit, for a free e-copy. All opinions expressed are my own.
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