The Jasad Heir
by Sara Hashem
528pp (Trade Paperback)
My Rating: 8.5/10
Amazon Rating: 4.3/5
LibraryThing Rating: 3.91/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.02/5

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The Jasad Heir, the first book in The Scorched Throne duology, is an Egyptian-inspired epic fantasy novel by debut author Sara Hashem. She began writing it to examine the following question: “what do you owe to a place and a people you’ve barely known but without whom you wouldn’t exist?” This concept is explored through the first-person perspective of Sylvia, the heir to a demolished kingdom hated for its magic, who has been presumed dead along with the rest of the royal family for the last decade. She’s done her best to hide her heritage and prepare to flee if her identity is discovered, and she does not have dreams of wreaking vengeance or rebuilding her homeland and reuniting her people. Sylvia just wants to remain in obscurity, to survive—though she does have moments of niggling guilt and shame over not aiding her people, who are still persecuted and killed for their magic, that she does her best to shove from her mind.

For the past five years, Sylvia has succeeded at being unremarkable, in part because she can’t actually use the magic that would reveal she’s from the Scorched Kingdom of Jasad. Her grandparents fitted her with invisible cuffs that suppressed her abilities when she was a child, and at twenty years old, she still has them since her family was murdered before they were able to remove them. Without being able to even accidentally unleash the power that would doom her, she has been living a quiet life as a chemist’s apprentice in a small village and has even made a couple of friends (in spite of herself and the prickly personality that keeps most from getting close to her).

Unsurprisingly, Sylvia’s peaceful existence does not last. Arin, the heir to the military kingdom that razed her homeland, comes to her village, presumably searching for a Champion to compete in the upcoming tournament celebrating the remaining lands’ magical founders. Unfortunately for Sylvia, she piques his interest since he’s convinced she has magic but cannot prove it, and Sylvia intends to keep him from being able to verify the truth.

Then a horrific event frees her magic for the first time in years, and Arin has the evidence he’s been seeking. But instead of putting her to death, he chooses her as his Champion and reveals he has another use for her that will buy her freedom if she succeeds—one that brings all of her complicated feelings about her identity as the Jasad heir into disarray and begins a dangerous game with Arin, who is determined to discover her true name and family.

The Jasad Heir is one of the most fun books I’ve read this year. It has banter, dark humor, and great character dynamics, and familiar elements like the protagonist having to hide her magic and her royal identity and the enemies-to-maybe-something-more arc are well executed, showcasing just why these are such beloved tropes for so many of us.

The two central characters and their relationship is a large part of why this works so well, but what most made this novel stand out to me was Sylvia herself: her rage, her loyalty to those who somehow made their way into her heart in spite of herself, and her struggle to figure out who she is and wants to be. She’s a character brimming with personality, and I knew I’d like her from the very first line: “Two things stood between me and a good night’s sleep, and I was allowed to kill only one of them.” Her narrative is full of vivid metaphors and comparisons, and though many of them reflect her stabby personality, I found they had enough variety in phrasing that they remained entertaining instead of getting repetitive after a while. (There are some brief third-person interludes from Arin’s perspective, and in the first of these, he describes her as having “the temperament of a deranged goose,” which seemed very fitting since I could instantly see it.)

I loved that this story delved into how Sylvia forged her hard exterior and dealt with her facing all the internal conflicts she’s ignored for the last few years, showing how she never had a chance to develop a sense of self as she had to set up a front for self-preservation. I loved that she was selfish but also intensely loyal to the few people she does care about, that she was someone aware of her own flaws and shortcomings as she grappled with the shame, guilt, and trauma that made her thoroughly cut herself off from who she used to be. Although I wouldn’t call Sylvia one of the best written characters I’ve ever read, I also think she’s more complex and alive than most, and Sara Hashem did an excellent job at portraying just how utterly lost she is deep inside and how she came to be that way.

This provides contrast that is a large part of what makes her relationship with Arin so compelling: he has the sense of self she lacks, and he’s calculating, manipulative, confident, and in control of his emotions, which Sylvia finds admirable, infuriating, and terrifying. It takes time for their relationship to evolve into something more than enemies (which I much prefer to the protagonist immediately thinking about how incredibly attractive their enemy is and how they shouldn’t be having such thoughts about them; although Sylvia does note that Arin is handsome earlier in the story, it’s also stated in the same way she’d observe that the sky is blue or the grass is green). Sylvia tries to kill Arin after she’s been discovered and feels she has nothing left to lose, and in turn, Arin is furious that it will best suit his purposes to keep her alive.

But as the two spend time together preparing for the trials, they both need to keep Sylvia’s magic a secret, putting them on the same team opposite the other royals. Though Sylvia is still hiding her true name and has a messy relationship with herself, she also gets to be more fully herself than she has in a long time when she no longer has to pretend to be someone completely different, a meek and mild person, all the time. And that is probably a large part of what draws Arin to her. As an heir, Arin’s grown up surrounded by danger and people hiding their ire behind smiles, and once Sylvia’s heritage is exposed, she wears her rage openly. What he calls her “attempts at humor” start to make him smile, and he becomes less and less stoic when he’s around her. I loved their dynamic and every single scene involving the two of them, and seeing Arin’s carefully curated facade fall apart just for Sylvia was delightful.

Although these two were the highlights for me, Sylvia’s friendships were also wonderful with fun dialogue and a great dynamic. Additionally, I enjoyed learning more about the past alongside our narrator as she discovered more about the politics and rivalries she hadn’t been aware of as a child. So far, the different lands and their people mostly have one or two defining traits that set them apart instead of being deeply fleshed out, but I still liked visiting them and meeting their rulers and each of their chosen Champions. (Of particular interest was Sultana Vaida, who appears friendly but is crafty and has a horrifying way of dealing with traitors.)

Even if it didn’t have the complexity that would have made it a 5-star experience for me, The Jasad Heir is a really well done, fun book—a fantastic debut with personality (a stabby one), a great enemies-to-love-interests arc, and a protagonist with a more complicated internal struggle than many. Before writing this review, I went back to reread parts of it, and I was so thoroughly hooked that I ended up reading the entire novel all over again. I can hardly wait to see what happens in the second half of the duology, especially after the exciting ending that changed the trajectory and made me want to read the next book NOW.

My Rating: 8.5/10

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

Read an Excerpt from The Jasad Heir