The author wrote in her Afterword that she wanted to create a fantasy reflecting aspects of the history of India as well as drawing upon Hindu mythology. Hindu legends pit good against evil and the compassionate against the cruel. In addition, Hindu belief holds that just as each soul can experience many lives (i.e., the idea of reincarnation), so too is the universe continually created and destroyed. As Wikipedia points out:
“In [Hindu] epics, everything is impermanent including matter, love and peace. Magic and miracles thrive, gods are defeated and fear for their existence, triggering wars or debates. Death threatens and re-threatens life, while life finds a way to creatively re-emerge thus conquering death. Eros persistently prevails over chaos.”
This pretty much sums up the major themes of this young adult fantasy.
Mehr, 19, and her 9-year-old sister Arwa live a sheltered life in the Ambhan city of Irinah. They are the illegitimate daughters of the Governor of Irinah, one of the Ambhan Emperor’s loyal servants. The girls’ mother was not Ambhan; she was from the Amrithi race. Thus, her daughters were of mixed heritage.
Amrithi are descendants of daiva, children of the gods who mated with humans and vowed to protect their descendants. The Ambhan people deny the daiva even exist, and they feel only contempt and loathing for the Amrithi.
Forces in the Empire have been rounding up any Amrithi they find in order to “drive heathens out of the Empire and force them to the edges of society, where they rightly belong . . . ” Thus the Amrithi clans were vanishing; Mehr and Arwa were protected only because of the status of their father.
Mehr continued to practice Amrithi rites in the privacy of her rooms. These were ancient dances to greet the dawn, the day, the dusk, and special occasions. One such occasion is coming up, in fact: a storm of dreamfire, the first to come to Ambhan in a decade.
Dreamfire was what Amrithi called “the manifestation of immortal dreams of the gods,” during which time the gods make and unmake the universe.
Mehr longed to dance the Rite of Dreaming to welcome the storm, and risked discovery by sneaking outside the palace walls to do so. She got lost, however, and prayed for the gods to help her. Amazingly, “dreamfire coiled softly around her wrist. And tugged. The dreamfire was guiding her, for good or ill. The gods were responding to her prayer.”
Alas, the Empire’s mystics noticed that the gods favored Mehr, and came to see the Governor of Irinah. The mystics were agents of the Emperor but also servants of Maha, leader of the faith. (The Empire was founded on law and faith: the Emperor and the Maha.) They insisted Mehr marry one of their number and come with them to serve the Empire. If she refused, her family would be killed. Mehr agreed in order to protect her family.
Mehr was surprised to discover that Amun, chosen to be her husband, was also Amrithi. Amun was bound to the Maha, so when they married – per the dictates of marriage as well as of magic – Mehr would be similarly bound, though not completely so until after the marriage was consummated. Until then, Mehr still had some control of her thought processes. In this way she came to realize that the Maha hoped to use the combined power of the two of them during dreamfire to make the gods grant him immortality and do anything he wanted.
Mehr felt hatred for the Maha but didn’t see how she could avoid becoming his tool. Amun, who was kind and generous underneath his harsh exterior, decided to help her by avoiding immediate consummation of the marriage with her. He knew what it was like to lose freedom; to lose the ability to choose. He wanted at least to give her time to get used to him.
Mehr thus came to know Amun, and to trust him. Meanwhile, after the next dreamfire storm, when the Maha didn’t get the results he expected, he figured out the two weren’t fully bound. He beat and threatened them.
Forced to consummate, they made their own vows to one another when they did. Mehr insisted those vows were stronger than the ones tying them to the Maha. She was determined to figure out a way for them to escape, and came up with a plan for the subsequent storm. But it would take tremendous strength and a huge sacrifice. If they failed, it would cost their lives, and even if they succeeded, it might as well. Was love enough to give them courage to choose, no matter what?
Evaluation: The author does a nice job with worldbuilding and with incorporating the premises of Hindu myth. The main characters are quite appealing. The story has good pacing and the growth of feelings between Mehr and Amun, while predictable, is well done. A good, diverting read.
Published by Orbit, an imprint of Hachette Book Group, 2018