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Some believe the Ambhan Empire is cursed. But Arwa doesn't simply believe it - she knows it's true.
Widowed by the infamous, unnatural massacre at Darez Fort, Arwa was saved only by the strangeness of her blood - a strangeness she had been taught all her life to suppress. She offers up her blood and service to the imperial family and makes common cause with a disgraced, illegitimate prince who has turned to forbidden occult arts to find a cure to the darkness hanging over the Empire.
Using the power in Arwa's blood, they seek answers in the realm of ash: a land where mortals can seek the ghostly echoes of their ancestors' dreams. But the Emperor's health is failing, and a terrible war of succession hovers on the horizon, not just for the imperial throne, but for the magic underpinning Empire itself.
To save the Empire, Arwa and the prince must walk the bloody path of their shared past, through the realm of ash and into the desert, where the cause of the Empire's suffering-and its only chance of salvation - lie in wait. But what they find there calls into question everything they've ever valued . . . and whether they want to save the Empire at all.
Suri's sumptuous second fantasy in the Books of Ambha series (after Realm of Sand) returns to the Mughal, India inspired Ambhan Empire. Arwa, a widowed noblewoman, does all she can to hide the fact that she is descended from an Amrithi barbarian mother and has feared but powerful Amrithi blood in her veins. The sole survivor of a massacre, Arwa retreats to a hermitage to grieve. But when she discovers that her blood may be the key to saving the crumbling Ambhan Empire from a curse, Arwa agrees to travel to the Imperial palace. There, she must navigate politics, the intricacies of courtly manners, and the whims of the emperor's family. With help from the emperor's illegitimate son, Zahir, Arwa peels back the layers of her mother's culture and learns more about the forbidden magic of her blood. Meandering passages exploring Arwa's mental state occasionally go on too long, pulling the reader out of the rich, sensuous culture of Ambha. Suri's exquisitely detailed world and complex plotting make up for any shortcomings.