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Realm of Ash (Books of Ambha)

by Tasha Suri

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: The Books of Ambha (2)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
582344,390 (4)3
"A spellbinding fantasy novel set in the Mughal India-inspired world of Empire of Sand, perfect for readers of City of Brass and The Wrath & the Dawn. Some believe the Ambhan Empire is cursed. But Arwa doesn't simply believe it -- she knows it's true. Widowed by the infamous, unnatural massacre at Darez Fort, Arwa was saved only by the strangeness of her blood -- a strangeness she had been taught all her life to suppress. She offers up her blood and service to the imperial family, and makes common cause with a disgraced, illegitimate prince who has turned to forbidden occult arts to find a cure to the darkness hanging over the Empire. Using the power in Arwa's blood, they seek answers in the realm of ash: a land where mortals can find the ghostly echoes of their ancestors' dreams. But the Emperor's health is failing, and a terrible war of succession hovers on the horizon, not just for the Imperial throne, but for the magic underpinning Empire itself. To save the Empire, Arwa and the prince must walk the bloody path of their shared past, through the realm of ash and into the desert, where the cause of the Empire's suffering -- and its only chance of salvation -- lie in wait. But what they find there calls into question everything they've ever valued... and whether they want to save the Empire at all"--… (more)

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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.

Thank you to the publisher, Orbit, for a free e-copy. All opinions expressed are my own.

( )
  The_Lily_Cafe | Jun 28, 2020 |
To read more reviews like this, check out my blog keikii eats books!

98 points, 5 stars!

Quote:
Lonely, Jihan had called him. But Arwa could only look at him and think of his vulnerable neck, his wrists, the moonlight on him and think, Starving, he is starving.
Review:
Wow. Enchanting. Beautiful. I already know this review will feel inadequate compared to the elegance that is the book itself. The way the story flows and draws you in just was so well done. I managed to feel like I was the main character, Arwa, and was so drawn into her story. Captivated, even. The setting was exemplary. Realm of Ash was just so, so good.

While reading, it really struck me how different a book Realm of Ash would be if I hadn't read Empire of Sand first. It would have been a profounding different experience. Both of these books can be considered standalone, and Realm of Ash does take place about ten years after the first book so it does have spoilers for the ending of that amazing book. I think it actually would have been quite fun to read this without the context, which is not something I typically ever say. I would have loved to have had the perspective of Arwa without Mehr getting in the way.

A lot of time has passed since Empire of Sand. The world has become different, worse since the Maha died. Less safe. Famine. Disease. Fear. This setup leads to some absolutely brilliant worldbuilding and a magic system that I wanted to know more about. There was just so much more to learn than I could have thought possible. Yet I still wanted to know more. It was amazing.

And then there is the main character. Ah, Arwa, you poor thing. Before the book began, Arwa was the sole survivor of a vicious attack that killed her husband as well as the entire military installation he was in charge of. Before that, she spent her life trying to be perfect, fearing that she would be found to be less than foolproof, because her bloodline made her cursed. Now widowed, Arwa is considered a ghost and from here her true journey starts. Realm of Ash takes Arwa from her desire to become cloistered away with other widowed women, to her decision to stand up and be useful, to Arwa being strong. I love Arwa, broken bits and all.

The romance is an adorably slow burn. The kind where you know it is going to happen, and you just want to knock these two numbskulls together to make them see what they have. Propriety? A complete taboo against the very idea of remarriage? Bah, who needs any of that? We have some love to get to!

And if all this wasn't enough gushing, just look at that cover. Isn't it exquisite?

I received this book from Orbit in exchange for an honest review. A huge thank you to Tasha Suri and Orbit for providing the opportunity to review this copy. ( )
  keikii | Jan 23, 2020 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Tasha Suriprimary authorall editionscalculated
Panepinto, LaurenCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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"A spellbinding fantasy novel set in the Mughal India-inspired world of Empire of Sand, perfect for readers of City of Brass and The Wrath & the Dawn. Some believe the Ambhan Empire is cursed. But Arwa doesn't simply believe it -- she knows it's true. Widowed by the infamous, unnatural massacre at Darez Fort, Arwa was saved only by the strangeness of her blood -- a strangeness she had been taught all her life to suppress. She offers up her blood and service to the imperial family, and makes common cause with a disgraced, illegitimate prince who has turned to forbidden occult arts to find a cure to the darkness hanging over the Empire. Using the power in Arwa's blood, they seek answers in the realm of ash: a land where mortals can find the ghostly echoes of their ancestors' dreams. But the Emperor's health is failing, and a terrible war of succession hovers on the horizon, not just for the Imperial throne, but for the magic underpinning Empire itself. To save the Empire, Arwa and the prince must walk the bloody path of their shared past, through the realm of ash and into the desert, where the cause of the Empire's suffering -- and its only chance of salvation -- lie in wait. But what they find there calls into question everything they've ever valued... and whether they want to save the Empire at all"--

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