Imprisoned by her dictator brother, Malini spends her days in isolation in the Hirana: an ancient temple that was once the source of the powerful, magical deathless waters — but is now little more than a decaying ruin.
Priya is a maidservant, one among several who make the treacherous journey to the top of the Hirana every night to clean Malini’s chambers. She is happy to be an anonymous drudge, so long as it keeps anyone from guessing the dangerous secret she hides.
But when Malini accidentally bears witness to Priya’s true nature, their destinies become irrevocably tangled. One is a vengeful princess seeking to depose her brother from his throne. The other is a priestess seeking to find her family. Together, they will change the fate of an empire.
*I was given early access to this novel via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review – massive thank you to Orbit Books for sending me an arc*
The Jasmine Throne is a truly superb, excellently written adult fantasy which blew me away and transported me right into this rich world Tasha Suri has crafted. I loved the Books of Ambha duology; Empire of Sand and Realm of Ash so much so I knew going in that I would most likely enjoy this book but even so, this book blew. me. away. I’ll go into all the reasons why below and attempt to formulate my thoughts into some semblance of order because I pretty much just want to scream about how much I love this book!!!
I’ll start with the characters – when the author mentioned on Twitter that this book would feature ‘morally grey sapphics’ I was immediately sold but the reality is even better. Both main characters; Malini and Priya are so well realised, we get both their backstories revealed as well as the chance to read as they develop and come into their own. What strikes me most about them both, despite how different they are; is their agency and power. They both have such vital voices – Malini is a princess who has been cloistered away and suppressed at the hands of her cruel capricious brother, Priya is a maidservant with a mysterious past and burgeoning powers – and both women come such a long way from where they are at the start of the story. They wield their power and positions differently and go down different roads at times but at their core, they’re kindred spirits in some way which is why their dynamic works so well as they become closer.
As well as Malini and Priya, I adored the secondary cast of characters, especially Bhumika and Rao, the latter of the two who is pretty much the only ‘good’ or redeemable male character, because the rest of them? A big yikes. At the beginning I was unsure about Bhumika and her motivations but as the story progressed I started liking her more and more till she basically become my favourite character, barring Malini and Priya of course.
Bhumika is a character that so many people have underestimated within the story but she’s behind the scenes, making moves and plotting endlessly which I just adored. She was so strong, had so much conviction and subverted what a reader might expect of her as well as others in the book. Rao? basically the cinnamon roll prince, I’m excited to learn more about him in the next book and see how he fits into the narrative more. Even in this first book, I liked the part he had to play, prophesies are one of my favourite elements in fantasy so I liked how he played into this trope of sorts.
I also loved the sense of world building in the novel and how rich and intricate the customs and lore are. It’s really interesting actually and definitely a testament to Suri’s talent as a writer that a majority of the story takes place in one city across a few locations but it doesn’t ever feel repetitive or limited in any way. Suri takes these few locations and imbues them with so much history and makes them central to the story, I especially liked the Hirana, this foreboding temple which was once so full of life and energy which is now in disrepair and the site of a terrible act of violence. I also strangely or maybe not so strangely liked the whole ‘rot’ element – a disease which results in plants growing in someones body, with shoots, leaves and bark affecting the appearance. It sounded painful but also beautiful in an odd way?
I also really enjoyed how a lot of the book feels sort of insular and character driven, with Malini and Priya going on these incredible journeys of self but Suri never loses focus on the wider world and the political upheaval, tensions and turmoil brewing within the empire. Malini and Priya find themselves embroiled in it, both of them shaping the story and making decisions which will undoubtedly echo into the second and third books. I feel like Suri has managed to explore politics, empire and the impact of colonialism and fanaticism in such a great way from the point of view of so many different characters.
I was lucky enough to be invited to a special reviewer event with Tasha and it was amazing to hear about her inspiration behind the novel and how Hindu mythology, Mughal history and other elements of folklore provided such a heavy influence. This is apparent but she makes it her own too, much like in the Books of Ambha, she takes this existing familiarity we may have as readers but imbues it with new life with a unique magic system, a strangely beautiful illness – trust me on this and characters we love and others we love to hate as well.
Overall, The Jasmine Throne was truly an excellent book from start to finish. I can’t wait for the sequel to see what happens next – I have no doubt it will be full of twists, morally grey moments and heart wrenching tension!
Until next time,