this is one of those “shrug – not for me” books.
which i suspected going into it. as much as we are cautioned against judging books by their covers, the whole reason covers exist* is in order to attract the desired audience, and in general, i am neither the audience desired by fantasy authors nor the audience attracted by the “weapon floating on textured background” cover trend.
but i’m nothing if not complaisant, so i agreed to give it a go. sometimes i surprise myself – i liked the “weapon floating on textured background” Graceling, after all, and i thought Empire of Sand‘s south asian setting might be novel enough to conquer my historically lukewarm response to high fantasy.
the setting does add a lot of appeal – the arid heat, the shifting sands, the miles of desert to cross, the descriptive backdrops for both the nomadic and the palatial lifestyles, and the daivas; the shadowy supernatural creatures who can only be kept in check by the blood of an amrithi.
see, and this is why i hate reviewing fantasy books, because now i gotta define all these terms, and lay out an entire world’s innerworkings in order to even mention any of the book’s central conflicts and it doesn’t take long before that turns into a quagmire of boring for you and me both.
so i’m not gonna do it. this is going to be a superficial reader-response from a reader with no authoritative claims because this genre is not my wheelhouse. as a human reader of books, i have some general responses. you can choose to read ’em or you can find a review from someone with more cred.
this is another book that puzzles me with “why aren’t you YA?” the age of the protagonist fits, the whole “one special girl with abilities to save the world” theme is a YA standard, and the trajectory of the romantic element is shaped for YA fans – big, messy, complicated, passionate. it’s a crossover book that to me seems more YA than adult in all ways except for the pacing, which is much slower than YA.
there’s a long, slow build in this one, stretches of space during which not very much happens, although when things do happen, they are significant punctuation marks. there’s a lot of training, a lot of prep-time for the big thing, a lot of “getting to know you” time, while it seems like more interesting stuff is happening elsewhere. because although we do get brief chapters checking out the action away from mehr and her time among the maha and the mystics (yeah, i’m not slowing down to explain), i’m so much more intrigued by what’s going on in the farther reaches of the desert.
quite simply, i just could not get into this one. and whether it was the genre or the book or some fundamental flaw in the reader NO ONE WILL EVER KNOW. i’m glad i read it, because i think it will be popular and successful and i’ll need to know what all the cool kids are talking about, but i’m just cool in a different way.
oh, but i did like the scene featuring the first appearance of a daiva and its truth about birds:
”It still looks like it wants to bite me,” Arwa said warily.
”It’s a bird-spirit,” Mehr said. “That’s what birds do.”
yeah. that is exactly what birds do. never trust them.
* or, more precisely, the reason cover art exists. covers exist to hold the books together.