Realm of Ash by Tasha Suri picks up years after Empire of Sand with Meher’s sister Arwa, set in the same world. While there are pieces that readers of Empire of Sand will recognize in Realm of Ash, it is not a sequel, just set in the same world. Those that have not read Empire of Sand will not have any issue following or lapping up every moment of Realm of Ash.
It is quite clear from the start that Arwa is troubled, as is the entirety of the Ambha empire. Riddled with “madness,” lack of resources and rumors of a curse since the death of the Maha, an over 400 year-old God said to have protected, and provided for all people.
Despite these conflicts among the people and the lands, it is not this conflict and destitution that drives Realm of Ashes. Make no mistake. At its core, Realm of Ashes is a story of self-discovery and reconciliation between what is expected of you, that which you are raised and expected to be vs. that which is in your blood.
Arwa, being from a family disgraced by the Empire, was raised to be a noblewoman and reclaim their good name. However, that plan goes awry at the death of her husband. Now widowed, she goes to live at the hermitage with other widows, where she must suppress and hide the magic that flows throughout her blood, the half of herself she was raised to belief cursed- the same magic carried by her older sister, Mehr.
Thank you to Orbit Books for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Initially Arwa joined the hermitage for safety, continuing the suppression of the magic that flows through her veins, desperately holding onto the mask she was raised to wear, of who she was meant to be.
As the empire continues its descent into ruin, Arwa realizes that she cannot just standby and do nothing. Without giving away too many spoilers, Arwa encounters a disgraced prince, Zahir that is also trying to reconcile who he was supposed to be with who he is, and what his path actually is.
Together they embark on a journey trying to say an Empire that has caused both of them nothing but pain and anguish. It has ripped them in two because the Empire never would accept them as who they were, but only as they were molded to suit the Empire’s purposes. They were oppressed because the Empire deemed them lesser than by ancestry, “cursed by magic.”
However, through their determination to journey through the Realm of Ashes, Arwa and Zahir believe that salvation of an Empire through the ancestors and magic it held in contempt will also bestow the ability of Arwa and Zahir to find their personage and own their true selves.
Suri’s prose is breath-taking with a poetic feel that seamlessly lulls you into a beautifully built landscape and immersive depth of character. Moments of aching character determination, pain and empowerment are all told with vivid tone, defiance and absolution that keeps you rooting for their arcs throughout the story. All absolute necessity with such a character driven story.
Her true talent, like Empire of Sand, is how that is sharply utilized for terrifying moments of conflict between mortal and otherworldly dimensions. The Realm of Ash is built with the dread and fear that will stay with you for as long as the beauty of the prose laid out through the rest of the story.
Suri is a master at creating an equally developed magic system, world and characters that bring the reader right into the beating heart, palpitating fear and powerful moments of each part of a character’s story.