The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri
Orbit, pb, £7.91
Reviewed by John C. Adams
I enjoyed many happy months travelling and volunteering in India and Nepal when I was younger so when the chance to review this Asian-inspire fantasy novel arose I leapt to get my hands on it before any of the rest of the BFS team could.
Tasha Suri has been making waves in fantasy since the publication of her debut novel ‘Empire of Sand’. Her position as ‘one to watch’ was strengthened by its sequel ‘Realm of Ash’. ‘The Jasmine Throne’ begins a new trilogy, ‘The Burning Kingdoms’. It’s currently available for pre-order and will be published on 10 June 2021.
Priya is a maidservant in the home of Ahiranya’s regent, Vikram, and his pregnant wife Bhumika. Their mahal includes the Hirana, a temple atop a treacherous rocky outcrop with a life of its own. Priya previously lived there as a temple child, honing her skills as a sorceress before the current Parijat emperor, Chandra, had her kind burned alive on a pyre. Since then, survival has been the order of the day and the kindness of her mistress Bhumika makes Priya able to befriend and help those even less fortunate than herself.
Priya is sent back to work in the Hirana serving a royal prisoner, Emperor Chandra’s sister Malini. Princess Malini refused to join other royal women on the pyre and is now being slowly poisoned by her lady in waiting. Malini and Priya are united in their wish to see Chandra removed from power. Malini sees that her other brother, Aditya, would make a much better ruler for the Parijat Empire. Priya wants to see Ahiranya as an independent country free of the shackles of empire. They are also drawn to each other by their same-sex orientation, unusual in both their cultures.
I liked both Priya and Malini. Priya was a survivor whose childhood trauma was real and moving. In better times, when she wasn’t drugged and imprisoned, Malini also knew how to hold her own against the men in her family. The royal princes, especially Chandra, were cruel and thought of women are baby producers and playthings. Despite this pressure, Malini was her own person. The difficulties for married women were portrayed through the character of Bhumika, who is for at least part of the novel restrained by her marital status and heavy pregnancy. She embodies the woman who submits to her husband while trying to manage doing good for servants and orphans through charm and grace. Finally, that isn’t enough and she is forced to choose sides in the wars to come.
Since this the opening book in a trilogy much of ‘The Jasmine Throne’ is spent developing the vivid culture and history of the fictional universe and in establishing the multitudinous cast and their backstories. The action took over towards the end, when the pace picked up, but I liked the easy rhythm of the earlier chapters where character and worldbuilding were to the fore. This was quite a slow burn plot wise, but I liked that about it.
The element I enjoyed least was dialogue. I’m never much of a fan of dialogue, and there seemed to be quite a bit here. Sometimes it felt a little stilted, a little too explanatory for my taste. However, that was really the only downside for me and overall this was an amazing novel and one that I cannot recommend highly enough. The locations, culture and history were truly beautiful, and I can’t wait for the sequel.
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