A woman confronts the evil at the source of a powerful empire in this fantasy debut that draws from the history and culture of India's Mughal Empire.
Mehr is the illegitimate daughter of the governor of Irinah in the Ambhan Empire and an Amrithi woman, a member of a feared and despised race of nomads descended from spirits. She lives a sheltered and privileged existence despite her ongoing conflict with her stepmother, until she performs an unwitting act of magic. That draws the attention of the Maha, the apparently immortal and infinitely cruel man who founded the empire, and his worshipful disciples, the mystics. They coerce Mehr into marrying Amun, their Amrithi mystic. Although the other mystics loathe the Amrithi and Amun in particular, they need an Amrithi couple to dance the Rite of the Bound, a magical act that warps the dreams of the sleeping Gods to fulfill the prayers of the mystics, maintaining and expanding the empire, and extending the Maha’s life. Is there any way for these two to escape the vows that bind them and find their own way toward freedom, love, and the possibility of honoring their own traditions? One must hope that this book is a harbinger of a coming flood of other fantasies that draw on traditions and cultures outside the confines of Northern Europe. Certainly, a post-colonial narrative in which a minority is both exploited and forced to assimilate has painful relevance in our own world and time. And there is something undoubtedly refreshing about a form of magic that is expressed in gesture instead of words. Those accustomed to the usual run of epic fantasy will find familiar elements: an obviously evil villain set against a heroine who has an unpleasant stepmother and who, despite being the chosen one, is struggling against overwhelming odds. But Suri’s deft and textured characterization breathes new life into these elements; she even takes a tired and often cloying trope—the triumph of the power of love—and makes it seem genuine, painful, and beautiful.
A very strong start for a new voice.