Author: Tasha Suri
Release date: 8 June 2021 (US); 10 June 2021 (UK)
Publisher: Orbit Books
Genre: Epic Fantasy, Political
Exiled by her despotic brother, Malini spends her days dreaming of vengeance, while trapped in the Hirana, an ancient cliffside temple that was once the revered source of the magical deathless waters but is now little more than a decaying ruin.
The secrets of the Hirana call to Priya. But in order to keep the truth of her past safely hidden, she works as a servant in the loathed regent’s household, biting her tongue and cleaning Malini’s chambers.
But when Malini witnesses Priya’s true nature, their destines become irrevocably tangled. One is a ruthless princess seeking to steal a throne. The other a powerful priestess seeking to save her family. Apart, they are dangerous.
Together, they will set an empire ablaze.
I seriously cannot believe my reading luck this year. Believe it or not, I tore through The Jasmine Throne in a day (after deciding to hit the hard reset button and starting my read from scratch). With such kinetic charge and blistering narrative, how on earth could I help myself?
The Jasmine Throne is first in Tasha Suri’s new The Burning Kingdoms trilogy, an Indian-inspired epic fantasy series entrenched with political turmoil, an enthralling cast of morally ambiguous characters, sapphic yearning, lush worldbuilding, and an appropriately gripping turn of events sure to keep readers on edge of their seat (or bed, depending on where one chooses to read).
Suri transports us to a lush, evocative Indian-inspired world pulled into empires, shaped by religions and tales, and the independent cultures left to wither under their fist. The Jasmine Throne is set in Ahiranya, a nation conquered by Parijatdvipa ruled by a psychotic, women-burning emperor violently obsessed with his twisted vision of religion. Between Parijatdvipa’s tyrannical rule and a mysterious plague known as the rot, Ahiranya is a nation on the verge of both collapse and bloodshed as its rebels make their move before they are out of time.
After refusing to burn in a pyre to be “purified,” Princess Malini is exiled by her brother (who shall not be named for the rest of this review) to Hirana, a temple left abandoned after an unspeakable massacre occurred on its grounds. There, she is left to be drugged and broken so that she would beg for “purification.” Cunning, charming, and ruthless Malini, however, has other plans.
Priya, a maidservant at a regent’s household with a terrible past, is happy to keep her head down to keep what good lot she has in her station. She soon finds herself appointed as Malini’s handmaiden after a turn of events expose a glimpse of her true self and power to Malini.
The two leading women find themselves drawn to each other, but at the face of impossible situations, their desires do not always align and this makes way for a rich, nuanced dynamic between the two. They have plenty reason to not trust each other, they even end up using one another at one point or another. There’s even slivers of hate amongst the yearning and the understanding. Their relationship is entirely captivating, a prime example of the excellent character work Suri does in The Jasmine Throne.
The Jasmine Throne mainly pushes Priya and Malini as the main leads, but it is also supported by a diverse, equally engaging array of other main characters from Bhumika (the regent’s wife), Rao (an Aloran prince), and Ashok (an Ahiranyi rebel) that further layer the politics and grander scope of the trilogy. The tension between each and every one of the characters were delirious, and each betrayal and revelation along the way serve to ensnare readers in the pages. At times these people do terrible things, monstrous things driven by their own purpose and circumstances. Suri’s cast is multifaceted, flawed, tantalising in their tenacity, and deliciously twisted.
The narrative ultimately champions the three women driving its story each harbouring a secret of their own: Malini, a princess with a steel knife cloaked in silk; Priya, a handmaiden whose kindness is not a weakness at the cusp of discovering an unspeakably dangerous power she’d tasted before; Bhumika, level-headed and wise protector of the unfortunate with another life growing inside her to protect. In a world where women are beaten down, crushed, burnt, and erased in service to men with superfluous ego and dangerous zealotry, these women refuse their fate and sharpen themselves to fight for survival. I know the whole “they who fight monsters must prepare to be monsters” spiel, but screw that — it is gloriously satisfying to see the three women strike back with a force equally as monstrous as the men believed them to be in order to justify their own actions. I cannot wait to see these women, emboldened by the events of this book, their purpose and their resolve, to come face to face with what may come next.
The Jasmine Throne is also a book about how a colonised nation is stripped of its art, history, culture, and most importantly, hope. The rapid rate of this systemic erasure on top of the cruel nature of their oppressors truly communicates the desperation of the rebels, shown by their horrific and borderline self-destructive decisions — adding to the novel’s overarching moral ambiguity. We may not always agree with their choices, but we come to understand, even sympathise with them (more so if the decisions are made with characters we’ve been invested with).
Make no mistake, Suri will spoil you rotten with just how much she’d beautifully written this book. The prose searing with so much fury, yearning, and tenderness at the same time; the dialogues, rich with dynamic chemistry; and there’s just too many beautiful lines to count. I promise you, o lovely reader, that when you nab a physical copy, you will be liberally sprinkling annotations and/or tabs across this book. The scenery Suri describes are also captivating to read, its cinematic thrall infused in every inch of magic, action, and horror. Of course, this also means chillingly vivid moments of terror in the face of threats both human and cosmic (specifically plant-based).
The Jasmine Throne is a truly enrapturing tale of survival, reclaiming power, identity, and agency lost, and making the best out of one’s options; filled with flawed characters one cannot help but be enthralled with. Between the blistering fury that burns through the pages, exceptional characterization and rich politics, the kinetic pacing in which the story moves, beautiful and haunting lines, and cinematic wonder, I’d found no reason to put down this novel during my run at all. In short, this gutsy, imaginative novel is a complete package and a testament to high fantasy at its finest.
Tasha Suri’s trailblazing The Jasmine Throne—first in a new epic, nuanced, and wonderfully complex story—is a perfectly-timed breakout moment sure to make her presence in the SFF genre a memorable one.
It’s blistering, it’s gutsy, and it’s kinetic. I’ve no doubt at all: The Jasmine Throne is definitely one of the best SFF books I’ve read in 2021. Reading this book has been an amazing experience for me, and I look forward to the rest of The Burning Kingdoms trilogy!
My many thanks to Orbit for giving me a galley of The Jasmine Throne to read! I received a review copy in exchange for an honest review.