2019’s Realm of Ash is the second volume in Tasha Suri’s series, Books of Ambha.
Arwa’s family hoped that her marriage would raise the family’s diminished status. But a brutal massacre at Darez Fort left her a widow. Widowhood means loss of position, of status, of any chance of remarriage. She is banished to a secluded retreat for upper class widows.
Arwa has a secret. She believes the massacre was her fault and that she is cursed. She is, after all, not the proper Ambhan lady she appears to be.
Arwa’s mother was Amrithi, born with magical talent. Amrithis are feared, despised, and banished or killed. Arwa’s stepmother taught Arwa to hide her heritage and pretend to normalcy. But talent will out …
All is not well outside the retreat. The Ambhan Empire is crumbling. The Emperor is dying. Princes Akhtar and Parviz are poised to fight for the throne.
There is a third son, but he’s the bastard son of a concubine sentenced to death years ago. Zahir can never inherit the throne. Indeed, he was lucky not to be executed with his disgraced mother. Nevertheless, he has a role to play in the crisis of Empire. He’s a scholar of the occult and as such, may be able to save the Empire from the curse that is destroying it.
If Zahir and Arwa can combine their talents (his knowledge and her abilities) they might save the Empire. That is, if they can avoid execution. And if they are willing to pay the painful price required to lift the curse.
Some of you may not have read Empire of Sand, the previous volume in the series. The author tells readers what they need to know if they are to understand what is happening in this book, but without spoiling the previous volume. Skillfully done!
Arwa’s stepmother meant well but her efforts to protect her stepchild left Arwa fearful and self-loathing, blaming herself when she should be paying attention to what is going on around her. She, and Zahir as well, spend much of the book seeing through mistaken beliefs, then wrestling with the implications. This is difficult for Arwa, since she’s not just Amrithi but a woman. Racial prejudice and misogyny have crippled her.
Arwa throws herself into the quest to save the Empire from the natural consequences of its actions without ever asking if the Empire is worth saving. The author takes wider viewpoint. Suri shows us Arwa’s view of the Empire (it is right and good) while also making it clear that the Empire is based on oppression and genocide. I’ve often peeved about the tendency of fantasy authors to exalt aristocracy and monarchy. This author doesn’t.
Realm of Ashis a worthy successor to Empire of Sand. Suri’s prose is as skilled as ever, her characters as engaging. Recommended.