Realm Of Ash by Tasha Suri (The Books Of Ambha #2)
Publisher: Orbit Books
Release Date: November 12, 2019
Available For Pre-Order Through The Book Depository: Realm Of Ash
Summary: 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.
*Received a finished copy from the publisher*
My Rating: ★★★★☆
My Thoughts: Realm Of Ash takes readers back to the Ambhan Empire, now following Arwa, Mehr’s younger sister! Filled with politics, intrigue, and rich world-building, Suri’s novel delivers a tale that explores grief and identity following 2 protagonists who attempt to figure out who they are, as the world around them has established their identities! A journey of grief, self, and hope, Suri’s return to her epic fantasy inspired by Mughal India is not one to miss!
Empire Of Sand was easily one of my favorite SFF/Epic Fantasy debuts of last year! I fell in love with the deeply rooted themes, brilliantly crafted story, alongside her wondrous writing, interwoven with her fantastic world building/characters!
Even though I was SO looking forward to diving back into the world and following Arwa’s journey, I actually put off reading it for about a week because I just couldn’t believe the book was an actual thing I could hold in my hands!!
Once I did pick it up, I quickly immersed myself back in the Ambhan Empire! However, it wasn’t until I made it further through the book that I realized Suri creates such an introspective and quiet journey for her protagonists in a way that always manages to captivate me― even to the point where I could reflect on the important messages she weaves throughout her novel and found them inspiring for my own life (for Realm I’ll get back to that more in a bit).
Set 10 years after Empire Of Sand, we follow Mehr’s younger sister Arwa, who’s now in her 20’s and a widow, establishing her identity as she reconciles with her grief.
Though, its also a journey about Arwa learning to embrace the Amrithi heritage she’s had to keep hidden for most of her life. As we learn in EOS, the Amrithi are oppressed and pushed towards the fringes of society. Due to that, she has been raised to focus more on her Ambhan heritage, casting deep down this other half of her, which could be the key to saving the empire.
The overarching plot thread that develops of the course of Realm Of Ash involves the Empire and how it slowly crumbles after the Maha’s death (who Mehr met in EOS). Though what stood out to me, compared to Mehr’s journey, was how both sisters viewed the empire in slightly different ways as well. All Arwa remembers are moments here & there where her sister would attempt to tell her more about her Amrithi blood, yet wasn’t allowed to become familiar with that part of herself growing up.
Where we see Mehr’s Amrithi roots guide her, we see with Arwa she’s grown up to feel like its a curse for her. Early on it ROA we see these two different paths converge as Arwa learns to embrace the Amrithi side of her as it plays an influential part in saving the empire.
At the start of the novel, Arwa takes time to reflect in the hermitage after the loss of her husband Kamran, who was also a commander at Darez Fort. Slowly the story unravels more about her personal emotional journey, but also that to unlock her Amrithi heritage. Much to her dismay, she befriends one of the widows there who offers her a chance on a new path, in the heart of the royal palace of the empire.
Arwa soon finds herself at the royal palace quickly immersing herself in the court politics and meets Zahir the studious illegitimate prince who’s invisible to the eyes of his other royal siblings (though not Princess Jihan).
Arwa is told to assist Zahir and he teaches her all about the mysterious realm of ash. As the story progresses, the two find ways to root themselves in this place (with the help of Arwa’s Amrithi blood) to find a way to cure the ills of the Empire’s curse, which has brought famine and uncertainty to the people.
The realm of ash is this metaphysical/literal realm where people can walk and dive deep into a world that roots them to their past and history (both familial and cultural). This realm is where Arwa and Zahir attempt to traverse to find the Maha’s ash and use it to bring balance back to their world.
Before going more into my review let me just say when I read about the curse inflicting the Empire I was internally fangirling so much because, it reminded of the conflict in one of my favorite comics Sera And The Royal Stars– it also features a fierce female lead who’s on a journey as her kingdom crumbles around her! (Highly recommend it, its amazing & is getting released as a graphic novel next year) I really need more people to talk about this comic, but back to the review 😂✨:
What Suri captures beautifully, are the incredibly important themes throughout the novel: Grief and Identity.
Through Arwa’s perspective we are taken on a journey not only of grief, but also healing. Suri brings up many questions in regards to how Arwa processes these complex emotions, rolled up with the fact that her Amrithi heritage is coming to light around her.
The process of grief and mourning, what happens after? What do we owe others in regards to our grief? Including the healing process both for ones self and the world around them…Arwa’s perspective captures all of these layered ideas, emotional responses, and reactions masterfully as we follow Arwa on her journey to set her own path.
One of my favorite scenes was between Arwa and Gulshera, one of the widows, who reminds her of the “noblewoman’s art” and history through archery. However, it’s not just about learning to use a bow and arrow, Suri cleverly uses this scene as a metaphor to showcase how Arwa can use her grief and direct it towards a new path! I kept that scene close to heart throughout the entirety of this book and long after I finished it. It represents a turning point for Arwa as she learns to channel her grief and not let it take control of her!
Additionally, as Arwa (and us as readers) learn more about soft prince Zahir, we then begin to see this is really his story too. Their journey both as they develop their relationship and head to the realm of ash, allows them to question/better understand who they are in a world that has established their identities.
The further along I got into the story, the more I appreciated how central the theme of identity was! How we define ourselves and how the world around us influences that, these were the thoughts turning in my mind as I read…in one of my university classes we actually delved into this topic of identity and how the world shapes it. Additionally, its something I’ve personally been giving more thought as I continue to learn more in school, etc. and it felt so validating to have that theme explored in many different layers and just–be something that really resonated with me at this moment in my life!
Arwa believes her only role after her husband’s death is to be a mourning widow, Zahir feels he is meant to always remain in shadow.
However, its also about how the 2 of them grapple with the identities they are assigned, but how they also use them to their advantage!
Similar to EoS, the world-building in Realm Of Ash is fantastic! There’s so much traveling in this book, so if you love journey stories, I recommend it!
In addition, I absolutely ADORED the layered politics of this novel. Often times it can seem like they slow the pacing of fantasy world, because they can influence and encompass many different facets of a society. However, Suri masterfully examines court politics, their influence on the world, and the layered castes of society that are each trying to find their footing as the world crumbles around them.
That’s also explored through the layered background as to how the Maha’s death influenced the balance of the world and how it impacts so many groups of people within the world.
Now onto the plot! There are many different layers to the story that are explored and I don’t want to spoil them all, but its a slow/steady progress from the hermitage, palace, realm of ash, and additional threads that force Arwa & Zahir to journey together to hopefully save their empire.
Now onto the cast of characters which were..fantastic!?! I loved the cast so much even the characters you aren’t supposed to love they are written with so much depth, emotion, and impact, you sense their presence long after they’ve left a scene. As Arwa & Zahir continue their journeys it was great to get so much background to a lot of characters throughout the story : Gulshera, princes Akhtar, Nasir, Parviz, princess Jihan, the widows, the commander, & many more!
I felt there was so much background given to Zahir, the royal family, and those connected to it, especially when it comes to how they are influenced by their world. For example, Jihan and Gulshera are determined a certain role in society (Jihan has to rely on her cunning politics to ensure her pick for the throne & Gulshera not only has her role as Arwa’s confidant of sorts, but is also still loyal to Jihan). When it comes to Zahir, he has such an influential place in the palace but is left to be hidden in its depths.
Now I wanted to discuss some minor critiques that lowered my rating (though I absolutely loved this book with all my heart) 😭💖!! (*honestly, ratings just make things complicated 😂✨)
As Arwa and Zahir work together in the tomb enclosure reading and learning more about the Realm Of Ash, while also attending political meetings, I found that I really wanted more from the royal/court politics. Again, Suri weaves them in such a way where they not only influence that particular scene, but the characters and world and its just masterfully done!
I just really wanted a bit more of it explored because in some fantasy books I’ve read with court politics they often showcase them as incredibly cunning or deceptive…but they don’t always have to be! Suri portrays the politics in a realistic and impactful way when the world itself is crumbling, it still shows all these different facets and layers to it!
Though I absolutely loved the introspective journey of Arwa, I would have loved more plot threads here & there because again, I just love this world and these characters SO much!
Also more Arwa + Zahir moments because I just adore them! I also felt there could have been more expansion and plot threads on the royals because they were wonderfully introduced and developed that I wanted more page time with them!
I don’t want to spoil, but I will say that there is 1 character though they were a lot of fun to read about, I personally didn’t feel too impacted by them in the story and felt they could have had less page time. Aside from those however:
Once I reached the final page of Realm Of Ash I’m literally in tears right now because Arwa, Zahir, their journeys they will forever remain a part of my heart!
I am definitely looking forward to Suri’s next adventure in the Ambhan Empire! ♥♥*･✧ﾟ*
Realm Of Ash is a deeply character-driven journey that delves even more into the immersive world established in Empire Of Sand! A tale of grief, embracing ones identity, and the journeys one seeks to find the truth to better understand themselves & their world! A phenomenal sequel that unlocks more to the Ambhan Empire than ever before!