The Jasmine Throne
by Tasha Suri
576pp (Trade Paperback)
My Rating: 10/10
Amazon Rating: 4.6/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4.5/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.35/5

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Description of The Jasmine Throne:

A ruthless princess and a powerful priestess come together to rewrite the fate of an empire in this “fiercely and unapologetically feminist tale of endurance and revolution set against a gorgeous, unique magical world” (S. A. Chakraborty).

Exiled by her despotic brother, princess Malini spends her days dreaming of vengeance while imprisoned 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. Together, they will set an empire ablaze.

The Jasmine Throne, the first book in The Burning Kingdoms trilogy, was one of my most anticipated books of this year. Although I imagine I’d have wanted to read it based on the description alone, the biggest reason I was so excited for this book was that it was written by the author of Empire of Sand and Realm of Ash, Tasha Suri. Her first two novels were both beautifully written, emotional stories, and I wrote that she’s “a master of crafting poetic, quietly sharp introspection that cuts deep” in my review of her second book.

And The Jasmine Throne only made me feel even more strongly that this is the case—because as much as I loved her other books, I somehow loved her latest even more.

The Jasmine Throne is a bit different from her previous books since it explores the epic fantasy world from multiple perspectives, and it doesn’t have the same feel of hope shining through the darkness with its morally ambiguous main characters. Yet, The Jasmine Throne also has a lot in common with Tasha Suri’s earlier works. It’s a story about people who have had pieces of themselves stolen by an empire, and it has exquisite worldbuilding, both in the construction of society and the fantastic, magical aspects. It explores characters and a variety of interpersonal relationships with depth and nuance, and it has some of the most piercing, gorgeous prose I’ve ever read.

It’s epic fantasy at its very best, so devastatingly excellent and complex that it’s difficult to sum up in a mere book review. But I’ll do what I can…

Inspired in part by Indian epics like the Mahabharata and a conflict for a throne during the Mughal period, The Jasmine Throne is largely about different characters surviving and influencing their world despite the perils of the Empire, with a heavy emphasis on the additional obstacles of patriarchy for the women who are the heart of this story. It’s about the dangers of underestimating these women, even—or maybe especially—when they appear to have been stripped of their power. It’s about the different, subtler ways they navigate their world and how they can use being underestimated to their advantage: whether they are a maidservant, an imprisoned princess, or a wife and mother-to-be with a reputation for being gentle.

Priya, who works in the regent’s household, is a trained badass with a soft heart. She does what she can to help local children who have the rot, a plant-based disease that would be lovely with its sprouting leaves and flowers—at least, if not for the fact that this causes problems for human bodies, interfering with functions like breathing and eventually causing death. Priya was raised at the temple but has to keep this part of her past hidden, since she and the others like her were growing too powerful and were supposedly all burned for their abilities, and she usually avoids facing these memories. Yet, she ends up deciding to become a maidservant at the temple when the chance arises since she’ll be able to earn more money to buy sacred wood for the orphans.

Malini, the Emperor’s sister, has mastered manipulation. She constantly evaluates people, looking for how she can use them, and she shows each person whichever side of herself she believes will make them act as she wants. She’s ruthless and scheming, she can convincingly cry at will, and she is enraged that her brother banished her to a temple for refusing to walk into a fire and burn to death. She spends her days isolated and drugged, unable to wield her clever tongue or clear her foggy mind, but she remains determined to find a way to escape. When she realizes one of the maidservants at the temple is more than she appears, Malini sees an opportunity to use her to do just that—and evokes enough sympathy to be allowed one companion, Priya.

Although Priya and Malini are the two most prominent characters, there are other notable viewpoints, including that of the regent’s wife, Bhumika. She has a reputation for gentleness since she often takes in orphans, and though she does use her status to save people, her meekness is a guise. Her goal is to save as many as possible, but she also has a harder heart than her sister Priya and puts the survival of her and hers first: she does not believe that saving a life is worth the risk of exposing their shared history as temple children. Bhumika is calculating with her own spy network of loyal maidservants, and she has the wisdom to know when she should keep fighting and when it’s time to move on to the next plan. It’s difficult to pick one favorite character since there are four I really loved, but if I were forced to pick just one, it would be Bhumika.

Each character’s motivations make sense when viewed from their own perspectives, and all of them have enough dimension to be at least somewhat sympathetic, even if they end up doing some dark things by the end. I really appreciated this aspect, and I also found seeing these characters through each other’s eyes deeply compelling. Their relationships are complex, and I especially loved Priya and Bhumika’s sisterly bond. They care about one another, but they’re not close and there is tension that simmers between them due to their personal history.

Many of these relationships are not static, including theirs, and the evolution of theirs is wonderfully done—as is the romance that develops between Priya and Malini as they bond over stories, wants and wishes, and (eventually) the definition of “monstrous.” Priya is drawn to the elegant princess from the start, and being Priya, she of course wants to help her. Malini thinks Priya is unusually interesting, someone who is overlooked by most people but is so much more than she seems. But, being Malini, she also resents having actual feelings for someone that give her pause about using them the way she thinks she should.

The way Tasha Suri brings these characters to life is phenomenal, and she also makes the sense of place and the fantastic elements exceptionally vivid. She made me feel the terror of the dangerous climb up the “mountain of the dead” to the temple, and she made me see the intermingling beauty and horror of the rot. She made me fear the eerily quiet forest, the home of the sacred wood that slowed the plant disease but also an area where time did not flow the usual way.

This is a novel that seems to be setting up larger events for the next two books in the series, and it really escalates toward the end (which is filled with memorable scenes!). Regardless of pace, I found the entire book completely immersive, and I think that those later events were all the more impactful for the foundation so carefully laid before them.

The Jasmine Throne comes with my highest recommendation to those who share my taste for beautifully written, character-driven epic fantasy. Although I tend to come across several books a year that are exceptional, it’s rare that I come across one like this—a book that seems perfect to me in every way, one that is not only technically wonderful but also one that has my whole heart.

My Rating: 10/10

Where I got my reading copy: ARC from the publisher.

Read an Excerpt from The Jasmine Throne