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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.

480 pages, ebook

First published November 12, 2019

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About the author

Tasha Suri

6 books2,494 followers
Tasha Suri was born in the U.K., but toured India during childhood holidays. She is now a librarian in London, and studied English and creative writing at Warwick University.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 515 reviews
Profile Image for Samantha.
401 reviews16.6k followers
May 25, 2020
4.5 stars

The world, characters, and mythology of this world is so lush. It was a joy to return to this world after Empire of Sand was one of my favorite books from last year. This takes place 10 or so years after the events of the first book and follows Mehr's younger sister, who is now an adult herself and facing the consequences of the events of the first book. Arwa is a very different character than Mehr. While Mehr always embraced her heritage, Arwa was shielded from it and taught to reject it. As such, her journey is one of discovery and acceptance.

Arwa's magic is one that ties more into death magic for this world, which was something different than the magic of the first book. Both women are fiercely powerful and determined. This book had slightly more political machinations, as it takes place in the Empire and the fallout of what happened there. Because of this, it moves slightly slower at times.

Arwa's relationship with Zahir is one built on trust and mutual respect. Something I love about this series is the emphasis on choice and bonds that both couples have in the books. Arwa and Zahir don't quite pull on my heart the way that Mehr and Amun do, but I love what they represent all the same.

This was very nearly 5 stars, but I didn't love it quite as much as Empire of Sand. It was still interesting to see how the world had changed since the first book, and I'd love if Tasha Suri returned to this world in the future as I feel she did leave herself room for more stories to tell.
Profile Image for K.J. Charles.
Author 56 books7,645 followers
June 30, 2020
Good grief, this is a good book. I liked Empire of Sand a lot, but Realm of Ash is *outstanding*. A fantastically well developed world based on the Mughal Empire, with terrific politics, scheming, culture, huge complexity lightly sketched in. And it has so much to say--about women and being forced to fit into allotted places, and hurting people out of love, and the clash of what's effective and what's right, and compassion, and massively about colonialism and stolen/denied identity, the effect on the colonised, the generational damage of abuse and enslavement. All of this in a heart-thumping adventure story with high stakes, a gorgeous romance, and terrific female friendships.

Really exceptional. I hid from the children for two hours to keep reading. This is the face of SFF now, and it is glorious.

Profile Image for Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship.
1,095 reviews1,131 followers
September 25, 2021
I liked this book better than the first in the duology, which is always a bit awkward. Because they are set more than a decade apart with different protagonists, Realm of Ash could be read independently, but I’d only recommend that to people who definitely don’t want to read Empire of Sand, as they work better together.

Realm of Ash picks up with the ugly consequences of the events ending the first book, and features Mehr’s kid sister, Arwa, who was possibly my favorite character in the first book despite her limited page time. To my mind, there’s significant improvement here. The book feels more grown-up, as Arwa begins it with some adult life experience that Mehr didn’t yet have, and is missing Mehr’s teenage certainties about the world and her place in it. There’s no mustache-twirling villain and nobody who exists just to be a terrible person and antagonist, but rather complex political and magical situations for our heroine to confront. The story is less predictable, has a broader scope, and while it at first looks like the plot will be similarly structured, it winds up covering much more ground and lacks the first book’s sagging middle.

The book begins with Arwa as a young widow, a few months after madness suddenly descended on the fort her husband commanded and caused everyone inside to murder each other, leaving her the sole survivor. She moves to a remote hermitage for widows, but soon enough her secrets are found out and she is off to the royal court to see if her maligned blood might be able to help solve the problems that have descended on the Empire.

As in the first book, I was very interested in the initial setting and sorry to leave it, but the less predictable and more complex plot meant this one recovered better for me. The setting is inspired by the Mughal Empire, and the author’s research really shines here, bringing the world to life. Having recently read some nonfiction about Mughal women, I really enjoyed seeing a fictional version of the royal zenana. And in a fun Easter egg (and a slight spoiler, though the realization enhanced rather than impaired my enjoyment), the imperial siblings map closely onto Aurangzeb, Jahanara and Dara Shikoh.

Meanwhile, the plot is engaging, and Arwa and her journey generally compelling. In the first book she can barely get through a scene without being physically restrained by someone, and this book takes the time to explore the consequences of an upbringing geared toward forcing her into a particular mold; her view of their stepmother (much more complex than Mehr’s) is well-done, though I would have been happy to see Suri take this a couple steps further. There’s another sweet slow-burn romance, which again, sadly, did not do much for me. There’s a 50-page horror sequence toward the end of the book that is expertly written. I appreciate that Suri features no shortage of interesting and sympathetic secondary female characters in her casts, and particularly liked the conflicted, archery-loving older widow, Gulshera. (I also liked Princess Jihan’s presence in the book, though I didn’t necessarily like her personally.) And, avoiding spoilers here, the ending is perfect and definitely gave me what I was looking for. (Although I do wish we had learned what happened to )

I do have a couple of hesitations about the duology. These are obviously meant to be deeply emotional books, and while this one worked for me better than the last and sometimes did have me very engaged with Arwa and her story, at other times it fell short. Suri’s writing is a little more obvious and unsubtle than I like, and her characters slightly lacking in personality. It reads a bit as if, when creating the women for instance, she starts with the premise that a character will be a strong woman, then fleshes out her circumstances, life experiences, values and loyalties, but not so much her temperament or individuality. Despite all the book’s attempts to convince me, I’m not sold on the idea that Arwa is really a different person from Mehr, aside from having lived a different life. (Same with, say, Gulshera and Eshara.) Both make good heroines, but they read basically the same.

I am also skeptical about aspects of the premise, carrying over from the first book. There’s this “balance between good and evil” thing going on that sounds deep when you’re a kid but is actually awful—we should just allow death spirits to roam around causing massacres because why? The Maha’s solutions are discarded more or less out of hand because he was a mustache-twirler, but then his methods of achieving his ends were idiotic, featuring completely unnecessary brutality. (So, a select few people in your Empire can dance a rite that will bring blessings to all. Do you a) kidnap, enslave, persecute, and kill them until there are barely any left, and they all hate you or b) make an offer most people can’t resist? Because I guarantee you, if on one side of the scale for a potential job offer, you have ethical/religious concerns, possible negative long-term consequences for the world, and the fact that a few days a year will be grueling, and on the other hand you have great money, social prestige, and the fact that the job is literally to rain blessings on your country—you’ll never run short of manpower again. Of course, this sensible approach would also have ruined the plot.) This is perhaps more a criticism of the first book’s premise, but Arwa and Zahir come very easily to the same conclusions Mehr drew in the first book, but without the life experiences that brought her there.

Overall though, despite those hesitations I enjoyed this book a lot. It’s a well-told, engaging story featuring characters you can root for in a well-drawn non-western setting. And even as a reader who is not easily emotionally engaged, I did get caught up in it, to the point I suspect it would be a very intense experience for those who are. I am interested in reading Suri’s next series!
Profile Image for Charlotte Kersten.
Author 3 books427 followers
February 7, 2022
"The lamp of truth reveals the world. But when we lift the lamp we see-knowledge that cannot be unknown or undone."!

So What's It About? (from Goodreads)

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.

What I Thought - The F Word

After absolutely loving Suri's Empire of Sand, I've been eagerly looking forward to Realm of Ash's publication. I read it as soon as it was released, and I'm so pleased to report that this book is quite as good as its predecessor. I have such a fondness for the way that Tasha Suri writes; I feel like she has a lovely,  graceful style all her own and ends up telling stories that are so thoughtful and lush and sweepingly romantic while also having a great deal to say about the nature of oppression and empire-building.

This time around, the story is greatly focused on the matter of respectability politics and assimilation and the way that they go hand in hand with processes of cultural genocide, which was explored with the Amrithi people in the last book. What I love is that we see the way that these factors intersect with Arwa's experience as a woman. Arwa's story is one of learning to suppress and suppress the unwanted parts of her Amrithi heritage while molding herself into a desirable, conforming Ambhan woman - and this process is not done out of cruelty, but out of her family's misguided love:

"She had been molded and erased and silenced for safety. She had been denied the truth for safety. Her history had been cleaved in two, for safety. They had almost broken her for the sake of making her safe, for the sake of their love for her, and she would carry the wound of it all her life."

She refuses to be sharp-tongued or outspoken or impulsive, although these traits are who she would like to be inside, represses her thoughts and her actions, but over the course of the story she learns to access the parts of herself that she has repressed for so long. Arwa learns to express her autonomy, comes to embrace her Amrithi heritage, and finds power in the parts of herself that she used to see as flaws and weaknesses. It's a beautifully written process that's accomplished with a great deal of nuance and skill.

Arwa's story is also one of exploring what it means to be a widow and find meaning in life after your husband, your supposed reason for living, has died. Arwa's grief and self-blame are beautifully written, and I loved the way that Suri explored the interior lives of women who are pitied and deemed largely useless by the rest of the world. There is also a group called the Divine Ones, who are courtesan spies and scholars who use their influence to shape events for the good of the people of the Empire. They're an incredibly badass group, and it was extremely refreshing to read about courtesans who have power, influence and agency as opposed to being treated as objects or tragic "fallen women:"

"Her mother Maryam had always taught her that fallen women were to be derided - that her own concubine birth mother had been a low, corrupting influence beyond her Amrithi blood. An influence Arwa had to rise above."

Maryam had been wrong."

The book also deals really elegantly with the aftershock of the Maha's death from the first book, and the way that Arwa and Zahir must grapple with the question of whether the Empire is worth saving, and the question of what they are willing and not willing to do in order to save the people of the land. If the salvation of the Empire comes at the expense of the Amrithi people then they agree that it is simply a price that cannot be paid - and yet Arwa feels the pain of the Amrithi's exploitation in a way that Zahir does not, perhaps cannot, because he lacks the same heritage as her.

I also absolutely loved the magic here. As ever, the daiva are a wonderful addition with their benevolent, enigmatic natures and the way they communicate with sigils. But Realm of Ash takes the mythology a step further with the magical realm that is described by the title, and I have to say that I absolutely loved exploring the realm of the dead, its mysteries and the way that it bleeds over into the living world.

Of course I mentioned the romance in the early part of this review, and I'd be remiss if I didn't finish this review by discussing the relationship between Arwa and Zahir. Having read both of Suri's books now, I think she has a knack for writing the most delicate and sweet romances. I love both of their characters, and I love the dynamic that grows between them, which is an incredibly tender one of mutual respect and slow steps of trust and vulnerability. There's one conversation that they have about boundaries that I absolutely adored - a delicate negotiation of boundaries between two good, kind people who possess a genuine mutual regard and are slowly learning to trust each other? It's CHARLOTTE CATNIP.

If I have one complaint, it's that the revelations about the empire's/Maha's corruption and the benevolent nature of the daiva were already explored in Empire of Sand, so while they were revelatory discoveries for Arwa they felt a little repetitive for the reader. All in all, though, this book has cemented Suri as one of my favorite writers  I've read for this project, and I'm eagerly anticipating whatever comes next!
Profile Image for Brenda Waworga.
571 reviews652 followers
June 29, 2020
I really love “Empire Of Sand” and super excited to read this companion Novel but I must said… I’m disappointed

The writing style is still as beautiful as I remember, the romance is also slow burning and I love it… the problem for me is the pace! It was so freaking slowwww to the point I feel bored through the story, it also not helping I do not like Arwa the main character, she was so dull compares to Mehr (her sister which was the main character on Empire Of Sand), Arwa got better tho through the story but I still don’t like her until the end, in the other hand Zahir (the main male character and the love interest) is so sweet and love how he treated Arwa as his equal

The magic system was unique and I love the idea about “The Realm Of Ash”

I still enjoy some of the moments but in the end I don’t feel blown away

This book might work for you who love slow pace and also slow character development
Profile Image for Starlah.
393 reviews1,599 followers
January 22, 2022
CW: references to chronic illness, mentions of suicide attempt and self-harm, assault, abuse, PTSD and trauma, enslavement, murder, graphic violence

Realm of Ash takes place 10 years after Empire of Sand and follows the sister of Mehr, the main character of the first book.

This was a good book but honestly just not as good as the first. I love Tasha Suri's writing and think this series is great as a whole, but I just didn't love the characters as much as I loved Mehr and Amun who holds my whole heart.

I don't have a problem with time skips in series but I just don't think it worked here. I get it was done to follow Arwa as an adult, but the updated world-building in this wasn't enough to fill in all the gaps and questions that were left after the first book.

All that being said, I still recommend this book and this series as a whole. Tasha Suri is a master of slow-burn romances and her writing is stunning.
Profile Image for Hiu Gregg.
113 reviews152 followers
November 12, 2019
There’s something about Tasha Suri’s books that is just… wonderful. Both in the sense that they are wonderfully written, and in the sense that they evoke a sense of wonder.

There’s magic in the pages, dangerous but alluring. A sense of flow that keeps you reading long past the time you should have stopped. A world that is striking and enchanting and dangerous. Characters that march through the front door of your heart and tell you to make room, because they’ll be staying a while.

Realm is Ash is something of a sequel to Suri’s debut novel, Empire of Sand, but written in such a way that it functions as a standalone story. It explores some of the consequences of the first book, but never uses it as a crutch. Arwa’s story is not Mehr’s. They see and experience the world in different ways. Which, to be honest, is one of the many things I loved about this book.

Arwa has never quite been able to live her own life. Born to an Amrithi mother and an Ambhan nobleman, raised by her father and stepmother, she was never able to explore her maternal heritage. She was raised to be an Ambhan noblewoman. A dutiful wife.

But when her husband lies among the dead after the brutal and mysterious Darez Fort massacre, what is she to do? Her life has been defined by how she should serve other people. First her parents, then her husband. She doesn’t really know how to be her own person.

But she finds out, and we find out with her. She’s empathetic. She’s determined. She’s intelligent, resilient, and strong. She can feel scared and fragile and vulnerable at times, yes, but anyone in her position would be. If anything, her vulnerabilities make the scenes where she shows her strength so much more powerful.

As a widow in a society where widows are expected to behave a certain way, she is forced to call upon that strength often. Especially at court, where she and an illegitimate prince must research and practice illegal magic (in secret!) to rid the Empire of its curse. A magic tied to the culture that was denied to Arwa as a child.

If you’ll forgive me a brief tangent… A month or so ago, I was able to catch a panel with Tasha Suri on the subject of translated works of fiction. During that panel, Tasha theorised that any translation necessitates a “confrontation with loss”. Some nuance, some meaning, some thing is always lost along the way.

And for me, that phrase fits Realm of Ash so well. Over the course of Arwa’s story, she confronts the loss of her mother’s culture, the loss of her family, and the loss of the life she was supposed to have had — which in turn was a direct result of the loss of her agency.

But what I love about this book is that it doesn’t stop there. Arwa confronts the loss of all of these things, and then she does something about it. She fights. The fight might be impossible. She might never win. But she fights anyway.

I’ve seldom read a more elegant, romantic, and empowering piece of fantasy.

Why haven’t you started reading it yet?
Profile Image for Sahitya.
1,003 reviews200 followers
August 1, 2020
I have been procrastinating on this book for a long while, so I was quite happy for our Indian Lit Readathon 2020 because it finally made me add this to my tbr and get to it. And while I won’t deny the brilliance of it, I also think I was not in the right headspace to appreciate it completely.

I read Empire of Sand too fairly recently, so the world of Ambha is still fresh in mind and it was nice to be back here. While EoS was more about one of the main pillars of this world - the faith in the Maha and the exploitation/genocide of the Amrithi people; this companion novel takes on the other major pillar - the Emperor and the politics of his court, and the role women play in this world. The Mughal inspiration is very much visible in the representation of the women - from the power the women closest to the Emperor wield in the household and influence his decisions behind the scenes to the courtesans who have their own secret influence across the court to the forgotten women - the widows who are expected to be ghosts because they are nothing after the death of their husbands. And just like we got to know more about the daiva in the first book, here we get to navigate the realm of the dead and how the knowledge they possess can be used to save the world.

It is in this world that we follow the story of Arwa who is a 21 year old widow. She has never been the kind of person a noblewoman of their land is expected to be, but she has suppressed her inherent nature, made herself small and tried to fit into the expected mold of a useful daughter and wife. But when her whole world is upended, she just doesn’t know what to do anymore. She is full of grief and rage, but no way to channel it. And when she learns how the empire she has grown up revering is built upon lies, her self loathing only increases. She throws herself into finding a cure for the curse affecting the empire, to be useful for something and not just waste away without purpose. In this endeavor, she gets to team up with Zahir who is the Emperor’s illegitimate child, unwanted in his own way. This is a tale of two people who are not valued in this society because of their lineage and circumstances, trying to do something useful so that they can survive, even if it means putting their lives on the line because they have no other choice.

The reason I say I couldn’t appreciate the book enough is because being in Arwa’s head throughout, we get to experience her immense grief and loss in close quarters and that really made me more depressed (I don’t think I would’ve been so affected if not for the pandemic and lockdowns). But I also loved the friendship that develops between her and Zafir based on mutual respect and their quest for survival and knowledge. It’s a very slow burn romance that is beautiful to watch unfold.

The best part of the book (and the series in general) is the themes the author tries to discuss and make us think about. Especially in Realm of Ash, we get to question if an empire whose centuries of prosperity is built upon the backs of an oppressed people, their exploitation and genocide, is worth saving. And we can’t help but see the parallels between this story and the history of US/UK built upon slavery and colonialism. We also see a whole group of people completely cutoff from a part of their heritage and forced to conform/assimilate to the majority culture, and how much trauma this can lead to. And finally, the one theme which is the major source of grief for Arwa is how much love can hurt; how even when we act based on love and kindness, these actions may cause long time harm on our loved ones.

To conclude, I feel like I’ve just rambled incoherently and this has been the case for a while. I seem to have lost my touch in being able to articulate my thoughts about books, so please excuse my ramblings. Just go and read this series because the writing is beautiful, the world building is amazing while also having so many parallels to our real world, the characters are unforgettable and the romances are just the most evocative and emotional. The pacing can be slow, so be prepared to savor these books instead of binging them. And I also recommend the audiobooks because the narrator Soneela Nankani has such a lilting and soothing voice that you will get lost in her storytelling.
Profile Image for Sophie.
456 reviews186 followers
January 29, 2020
I am so happy to have discovered a new favorite author. The writing is beautiful, her women are well written, and I love both the love interests and how the romance is done. I was looking forward to reading this one because I was curious about Arwa after the first book and I wanted to see how events from the first book impacted this one. Interestingly enough, not as much as I would have thought. Still, I loved looking at a very different type of story and character from the first one, with more about the court life and how different groups of people make life their own, particularly the widows.

That being said, the last part of the book felt incredibly rushed. I was ready to give this book a full 5 stars but then kinda went, that's it?? I really hope there's another continuation.
Profile Image for Justine.
465 reviews297 followers
November 14, 2019
Originally posted to I Should Read That

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This review is spoiler-free for this book and for Empire of Sand.

Empire of Sand is one of those books that has left a lasting impact on me as a reader — it is a beautiful book with gorgeous magic, a lush world, and one of the best slow burn romances I’ve ever read. So naturally I was absolutely thrilled to hear that the next book, Realm of Ash was coming out this year. I had sky-high expectations for this book and had absolutely no worries that they wouldn’t be met. And I was right — this book is absolutely magnificent.

First things first, Realm of Ash is more of a companion novel than a direct sequel to Empire of Sand and it stands alone well on its own. However, I’d highly recommend reading the first book before diving into this one because you’ll get so much more from the story, particularly the nuances of Arwa’s relationship with her Amrithi blood and her family. Realm of Ash does an incredible job of building on the first book while standing alone as its own story, but honestly Empire of Sand is also incredibly good so you should read it anyway.

The worldbuilding in Realm of Ash is magnificent — the world in the Books of Ambha series is one of my absolute favourites in fantasy. I love the stunning landscapes, the intricate architecture, and the detailed cultures and customs of both the Empire and the Amrithi people. The introduction of the realm of ash in this book adds a new, fantastic layer to the world. It is not only an incredibly magical place, but is also so wonderfully moving and sad. I don’t want to say anything more because of spoilers, but Suri created something really special with the realm of ash and the rituals surrounding it.

Realm of Ash builds on and expands the culture and customs established in the first book, this time focusing on Arwa’s position as a noblewoman widow in society. The restrictions and restraints placed upon her, as well as her worth now that she does not have a ‘use’ in society through her husband, constantly haunt Arwa as she tries to bury her true self and be a good Ambhan woman while also struggling against the expectations against her. Interestingly, the book begins with Arwa fully believing in her position in the Empire and the Empire’s rules and laws, despite the fact that her mother’s people are persecuted and she would receive similar treatment if her Amrithi blood was discovered. The fact that she does accept and support the Empire’s laws and customs as a result of her upbringing makes her an incredibly fascinating character to follow, and I absolutely loved her personal journey of discovery.

To me, this book is all about grief and loss, particularly for Arwa. The most obvious are the loss of her husband and sister, but Arwa also loses her place and ‘usefulness’ in the Empire when her husband dies. She has lost her Amrithi heritage, and she eventually loses her faith in the Empire too. After all she has been through and all she has had to suppress, it is no huge suprise that she grieves for what she once had and what was taught to her. However, it is also a story of discovery and self-realisation. These themes are wonderfully balanced and create such a beautiful and compelling story.

I’ve really struggled to write this review because I simply cannot put into words how much I loved it. It is heartbreaking, hopeful, and stunningly beautiful. If you loved Empire of Sand, you will love Realm of Ash. If you enjoy slow burn romances, refreshing magic and fantasy worlds, backstabbing court politics, hidden princes, and strong women, you absolutely must give these books a try. To me, Suri represents the best of modern British fantasy and I will read anything she writes.
Profile Image for Shealea.
424 reviews1,180 followers
October 1, 2020
I’m not even going to try to compare Empire of Sand and Realm of Ash because I love them equally for different reasons. Anyway, much like Arwa, my researcher heart HUNGERS for pretty boy scholars who are soft and curious and kind.

From the brilliant exploration of themes to the empowerment I felt in Arwa’s character growth to the delicious burn of her romance with Zahir, Realm of Ash slaps and IT SLAPS HARD. Full review to follow.

5 stars
Profile Image for Beatrice in Bookland.
438 reviews846 followers
May 17, 2020
"If I were a man, I would give my grief a purpose, and to the sword. I would fight for the sake of my Empire. But I am only a widow, and I have nothing to offer beyond my blood."

1. Empire of sand ★★★★☆


Realm of ash and Empire of sand are such wonderful (and sadly hidden) gems, I wish more people would give this duology a chance. It has well written characters, slow burn romance, original plots and an enchanting writing style.
Profile Image for michelle (magical reads).
819 reviews214 followers
October 24, 2019
4.75 stars

read on my blog + see some hand-lettered quotes

**I received an ARC from the publisher (thank you, Orbit Books!). These are my honest opinions, and in no way was I compensated for this review.**

If I were a man, I would give my grief a purpose, and to the sword. I would fight for the sake of my Empire. But I am only a widow, and I have nothing to offer beyond my blood.

I only read Empire of Sand earlier this summer, so the wait shouldn’t have been as excruciating as other people’s, but it was so painful! But the wait was definitely worth it. Realm of Ash truly blew me away. The yearning (to be more than you are, to be your true self, to know that more is possible) is so palpable that I couldn’t put the book down.

The prose evokes an atmosphere that’s slow but constant, like a siren song from which you physically can’t pull yourself away. I have so many quotes highlighted because we love metaphors of desire/yearning/etc. as hunger and starvation! [insert hunger.mp3 by Florence + the Machine]

Here are a bunch of quotes that made me cry:

“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.”

“When you strip everything away, Arwa thought, there is nothing in me but raw feeling: rage pulsing free like the blood of a thing unskinned.
I have to be more than this.“

“I look at you, Zahir, I speak to you and I know you and I hunger.”

“But often he would look at Arwa, and she would get up, and the two of them would walk off into the gray light, stand very close, and not think about hunger.”

“She recognized the yearning now. It was hunger for a thing she had never had.”

I loved following Arwa, who’s spent her entire life making herself smaller, not as angry and not as out-spoken. It was very interesting to view this world through her eyes, a world we’d previously only seen through Mehr’s eyes. It’s definitely a contrast: Arwa benefits from being Ambhan, not just because she was raised it, but because she looks it. Mehr, instead, was so obviously Amrithi, dark-skinned and curly-haired.

This advantage of being lighter-skinned (and, possibly, white-passing) is still so prevalent today. Reading about the effects of this in a fantasy was so realistic, and Arwa’s struggle with passing as Ambhan was difficult to feel but heartening to read.

She falls into the world of politics and propriety, but also a world that’s rediscovering itself after the loss of the Maha. Although she’s a widow, she defies tradition and goes to court to work in secret to solve the mystery of her blood. Insert Zahir, the king’s illegitimate son who’s trying to fix the curse that’s fallen over the empire since the Maha’s death. He and Arwa work together to discover the secrets of the gods, and they gradually form a bond.

“I deserve little. I should be grateful for what I have. But whatever I deserve—I do not want it.”
She did not say, I want more. He understood.

Their relationship was a steady slow burn, filled with such tension that I was holding my breath the entire time. Add in the standards of society (Arwa is a widow and she can’t sacrifice her honor), and the tension multiplies. It’s a lot. I totally wasn’t crying.

Realm of Ash is a truly gorgeous book that details the character growth of accepting that you can be more, that you can have more, and that fleshes out the world of Empire of Sand. The writing sets a slow, entrancing tone that you can’t stop reading, and the characterizations are stunningly detailed. I can’t wait for the third book!

original review:

ah, the hunger of it all.
Profile Image for imyril.
436 reviews59 followers
May 20, 2020
I have no words.

This is spectacular. So much, so deeply felt, so elegant, so measured.

I'll try to find words.

But first, some heartfelt sobbing from all the FEELINGS.

Profile Image for Tammie.
302 reviews543 followers
April 10, 2021
This was a good book, but honestly just not as good as the first one. I adore Tasha Suri's writing, and I think this series is still great, but I just didn't love these characters as much as I loved Mehr and Amun.

I think a big time skip between books is always a bit of a risk, and I'm not too sure if it worked here. I understand why it was needed in order to follow Arwa as an adult, but I didn't feel like the worldbuilding was sufficient in order to fill in some of the gaps and questions I was left with after the end of the first book. I thought she did do a good job at expanding the magic in the second book, and we managed to expand on some of the themes from book 1 with a new perspective, which I liked.

That being said, I would definitely still recommend this series overall. Tasha Suri is a master at crafting slow burn romances, and her writing is just stunning. She's definitely an author that I will continue to keep an eye out for, and I am extra excited for The Jasmine Throne coming out later this year!
Profile Image for Lucie.
825 reviews90 followers
May 28, 2020
Tasha Suri did it again. Realm of Ash was such an amazing yet quite different follow-up to Empire of Sand and I adored it even more than the first book. I loved discovering Arwa's story, the world was fascinating and the magic took a turn I personally love, plus the romance was well-written. Just like with the previous book, I cried a lot during most of the ending because it was everything and I was pretty much drowning in my feelings. I loved this duology so much and I can't wait for Tasha Suri's next book!

If an adult fantasy duology set in a Mughal India-inspired world, with amazing characters and a slow-burn romance sounds appealing to you... Please pick up Empire of Sand and Realm of Ash!
Profile Image for Grapie Deltaco.
506 reviews1,088 followers
February 12, 2022
In a stunning second half of the epic high fantasy story filled with vows, magic, and a crumbling empire, we are reunited with Mehr’s little sister years after the events of book one. Arwa, grown up and tragically widowed, is now the main character and we watch her journey of reconnecting with her Amrithi heritage and finding her purpose in life.

Arwa is incredibly fiery and complex, struggling constantly with feelings surrounding identity and pushing against the things she was told she should do according to everyone else’s rules. As she’s determined to help break a curse that’s fallen over the empire, she meets an awkward and beautiful scholar named Zahir.

Tasha Suri does these overwhelmingly perfect romances filled with so much intensity. UGH!!

The themes surrounding identity are strong and layered in this story as we see how that topic gets explored with both Arwa and Zahir. Their pasts are tragic and we see them at the end of their rope after a lifetime of hiding their true selves and rejecting their heritage.

We also get such an impactful ending to the long journey back to each other made by our central sisters. The tears were flowing.

This duology is everything.

CW: death, grief, blood, murder, violence, themes surrounding systemic discrimination + oppression, references to familial verbal abuse
Profile Image for Kate.
391 reviews231 followers
October 10, 2020
“She wore her heart, fierce and changeable as it was, right on her skin.”

Second book syndrome? Tasha Suri definitely doesn’t know her.

Realm of Ash is a sequel to Empire of Sand (read my review here), picking up about ten or so years after the first book ends. The protagonist of this one is Arwa, the younger sister of the Mehr, the protagonist from the first book. Only she’s no longer the innocent child Mehr was determined to protect. Reeling from the loss of her sister, her husband’s death, and a power she must keep hidden if she doesn’t want to be ruined, Arwa finds herself at the mercy of a crumbling Empire struggling to discover who she is and determine what is the right thing to do.

If you’ve read Empire of Sand, then you’ll remember that Mehr – and consequently, Arwa – are descended from a tribe of people called the Amrithi, who have the ability to wield magic that allows them to communicate with the gods though special dances. Mehr was able to use this ability to wake the gods, who have been kept asleep by a mysterious priest known as the Maha in order to lead the Empire to greatness and prosperity – at the expense of the Amrithi, of course, who are captured, enslaved, or killed by the Empire for their powers. With the gods now awake and the Maha dead, no one can use Amrithi blood and magic to keep the Empire safe.

The royal family, determined to save the Empire, force Arwa into their service, working with an illegitimate prince who thinks journeying to the mystical Realm of Ashes, where dreams and histories and thoughts dwell, will provide them the answer. Through this forbidden magic, they hope to make contact with the Maha’s earliest memories and discover how he kept the Empire safe. But Arwa, slowly but surely, comes to the conclusion that maybe the return of the Empire to its former greatness was never meant to happen.

This book was immensely different from Realm of Ash, but I loved it just as much. It’s very much the story of someone reconnecting with a past they had forgotten, and learning to accept its place in one’s life. We have a saying in Tagalog – “Ang hindi marunong lumingon sa pinangalingan ay hindi makakarating sa paroroonan.” The closest English translation I can make is, those who don’t look to where they came from will never get to where they’re going, and I believe this phrase perfectly encapsulates Arwa’s journey in rediscovering her Amrithi roots and a reunion with her people.

The romance of this book was also incredible. You all know I am the biggest fan of slow-burn romance, and this was slow-burn in the best way. Getting to see Arwa and Zahir slowly become comfortable with each other, eventually coming to rely on each other in a court full of spies, assassins, and ambitious politicians made me alternately squeal with joy and cry out of fear. When they eventually escape and try to make things right, their vows to care for each other and make things right is the one thing they each can hold on to. Certainty in an uncertain world, if you will.

The tension (both sexual and otherwise) between Arwa and Zahir is coupled so deliciously with what turns out to be a deep, unabiding devotion to one another and absolutely took my breath away. Their love story is a gift given to us through the use of the most heart-achingly beautiful and vivid prose, which we all know Tasha Suri is excellent at crafting.

Reading this book tore my heart into a million pieces and then put it back together again. I can’t recommend it enough.

Read my full review here.

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Profile Image for Bethany (Beautifully Bookish Bethany).
1,893 reviews3,111 followers
December 22, 2019
Actual Rating: 3.5-3.75 stars

Realm of Ash is a companion novel to Empire of Sand, which is one of my favorite books read this year. (Seriously, I'm obsessed!) While I didn't love it in the same way, Realm of Ash is still a solid follow up with beautiful writing, great world-building, and thought-provoking thematic content. Set 10+ years after the events of Empire, this book follows the story of Mehr's younger sister, Arwa.

Mehr and Arwa are both mixed with Amrithi blood, but while Mehr looks like their mother, Arwa can pass as Ambhan (the dominant and ruling race). The book begins as Arwa journeys to a house of widows after losing her (much older) husband in a brutal and traumatizing attack by supernatural creatures. As the plot progresses, Arwa is drawn into dangerous court politics, and encounters an opportunity to find the love that is culturally forbidden to her as a widow.

Arwa is a much quieter and more compliant character than Mehr, and I had a harder time connecting with her. However, I kind of love that Tasha Suri is writing the stories of women who often go unnoticed in history despite their significance. I would have liked to see more of her earlier life with marrying the general, because so much felt missing, but that might have been too long a book?

In terms of plot, this felt much more meandering than Empire of Sand and involves a lot of people traveling together from place to place which I tend not to love in my fantasy. (Traveling band stories are kind of a hard sell for me, but that is definitely a personal preference.) I was more interested in the widows house and palace and would have been happy to get more there. I also kind of wish that the romantic relationship had just stayed a friendship because I never really bought into the chemistry between the characters but found their friendship to be compelling.

That said, it was still interesting and this author does a great job of writing deeply character-driven stores. There is also a really interesting theme here that examines what it means for an Empire to build their strength on the backs of an oppressed people group. It felt very reminiscent of the treatment of African Americans in the United States and I appreciated that as a thought-provoking sub-plot. I will definitely be picking up whatever she writes in the future. I was sent a copy of this book for review from the publisher. All opinions are my own.
Profile Image for Andi.
1,127 reviews
January 26, 2020
Ah! What a glorious treat to find an author who writes such gorgeous stories featuring women who shine like a thousand diamonds from the broken husks they once were.

I absolutely was thrilled that we would see what became of Mehr's sister, Arwa. Not only that, see how she grew up under the care of her nasty step-mother.

The first 40% of the book was getting to know Arwa. She had grown up burying the heritage that her birth-mother was and pretending to be a noble girl. Unfortunately, after her marriage she becomes a widow and tries to figure out if she is cursed or is there something she just does not know about herself.

We meet Zahir who my goodness is the perfect goth boy. Born a bastard, he was taken in by his half sister and hidden away deep in the recesses of the kingdom. He is to find a cure for the now nightmare fueled Empire (as we saw what happened by the end of the first book).

Again, Suri gives us the most glorious slow burn and inner weaving of two people whose lives are full of hurt, pain, and confusion. To watch them learn what their place is and their path, ugh, so many moments that gutted me.

The reason I knock the book down a star is that I feel the last 15% of the book was rushed beyond belief.

I wanted to give this book three and a half stars, but I gave it four because I love the characters and the writing/overall story was lovely. It just fell flat in the end but I am hoping that we get a third book one day!
Profile Image for  Dianthaa .
205 reviews26 followers
March 31, 2020
This was so beautiful, must more beautiful than I can put into words, especially after accidentally deleting my notes for it. It's very rich and magical.

It took me about half a book to get over it not being with Mehr, but I eventually let it go and enjoyed the book. I really loved the protagonist from book 1, and was very upset for a long time, maybe 1/3 of the book, that we follow her sister, years after the events of that book.

There's deep mystery throughout the book, in figuring out court life, the curious young man and of course, the Realm of Ash.

The romance is so slow burn that my oblivious ass took almost as long as the characters to figure out what was going on.
Profile Image for Athena of Velaris.
455 reviews123 followers
May 3, 2022
It is rare to discover a sequel that surpasses the initial novel, especially in the case of duologies. Such stories are so hard to get right, and so become even more precious when they are found. This is such a book that is even better than the one before it. Full of heart, intrigue, internal conflict, history, and culture, Realm of Ash is not a story I will soon forget. From the lyrical prose to the perfectly captured feeling of cultural dysphoria, the conflict came not from some greater evil (though there was plenty of that) but from the shadows in Arwa's past. It is not an exaggeration or a metaphor to say that she had to walk the darkened road of her ancestors to discover herself. There is no way I could truly describe to you all the reasons to love this book, so I will instead ask you to consider picking it up for yourself. The quotes below are a mere fraction of the reason why:

"I think you are a furious idealist, so passionate you’ll splinter yourself on your idealism, so hungry for purpose you would die for it.”

“You are not a weapon made of your blood. You are a scholar and a solider who has not broken herself upon her cause--only grown stronger and stronger with every blow the world has dealt her.”

“I am afraid for you!” His voice was vicious. His pulse burned beneath her hand. “If anything happens to you here and I live, I will read every book, every tome, I will trick death itself to bring you back. I will become something terrible, not for your sake, but mine, because I cannot live in a world without you in it.”

“She had been molded and erased and silenced for safety. She had been denied the truth for safety. Her history had been cleaved almost in two, for safety. They had almost broken her, for the sake of making her safe, for the sake of their love for her, and she would carry the wound of it all her life.”

“I have never heard that story," Arwa said. "Not once. I would remember it."
"And yet, it has not truly been forgotten. Its ghost squats within us. We place it in grief, our walls. We seed it in our women. There is nothing finer, after all, than being a sacrifice. Stories have great power. Give a story blood, let its roots settle, and any tale can bear fruit.”
Profile Image for Marie Alhinho.
Author 9 books188 followers
December 20, 2021
I am grief, and I speak for the dead.

Ce roman, mais ce roman... C'est un coup de coeur, évidemment. Comment pourrait-il en être autrement ? A mes yeux, c'est l'une des sagas de fantasy les plus magnifiques. Elle est tout en haut de ma liste de séries préférées, et d'ailleurs il est possible de lire les deux tomes séparément.

Dans le premier tome, on suit Mehr, et, dans le deuxième, on suit sa jeune soeur Arwa dix ans plus tard. Les deux soeurs sont les filles d'un gouverneur Ambhan, tribu qui dirige leur région, mais leur mère était une courtisane Amriti, tribu avec des pouvoirs jugés hérétiques, ce qui fait d'elles des marginales. Si Mehr embrasse d'emblée sa double-culture, c'est un vrai chemin initiatique pour Arwa, qui apprend peu à peu à aimer et respecter la part Amriti en elle.

Lorsque son mari meurt dans d'étranges circonstances, lors du massacre de la forteresse qu'il commandait, elle est envoyée dans un couvent pour veuves. C'est là qu'elle va commencer à se demander quel était le monstre qui a causé le massacre. Grâce à ses dons Amriti, qu'elle apprend à accepter, et à l'aide d'un mystique pas dégueu à regarder (*wink*), elle va arpenter le royaume de cendres, où les souvenirs des morts forment un monde à la lisière du rêve et de la réalité.

Un univers sublime, des personnages attachants, de la répartie et de l'action, une mythologie soignée et des retournements de situation, avec une romance émouvante et puissante... Si vous avez aimé The City of Brass et Strange the Dreamer, ce roman est fait pour vous.

P.S. : Je veux plus de soft boi scholars comme Zahir et Ali de la trilogie Daevabad !!! Que quelqu'un me donne des reco avec des chercheurs mystiques brillants et doux, c'est tout ce qui manque à ma vie actuellement !
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