Book Review : The Jasmine Throne

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review : The Jasmine ThroneThe Jasmine Throne (Burning Kingdoms, #1) by Tasha Suri
Published by Orbit on June 10th 2021
Genres: Fantasy, LGBTQ, Romance
Pages: 480
Buy on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Bookshop.org
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three-half-stars
Source: NetGalley

Author of Empire of Sand and Realm of Ash Tasha Suri's The Jasmine Throne, beginning a new trilogy set in a world inspired by the history and epics of India, in which a captive princess and a maidservant in possession of forbidden magic become unlikely allies on a dark journey to save their empire from the princess's traitor brother.
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.

When I found out that Tashi Suri, the author of Realm of Ash and Empire of Sand, had written a new book, I just had to read it! The Jasmine Throne did not disappoint, taking me right out of a continued reading slump with its lush and interesting world-building, powerful female characters, and political strife. Though I found I didn’t like the romance between the two leads as much in The Jasmine Throne as in the author’s other books, I still really enjoyed the female characters outside of their relationship. 

 

“What would be enough justice–enough blood, enough death, enough suffering—for an emperor who sought to burn his own sister to death?”

 

I was immediately drawn into the world where the sister of the emperor, Malini, is imprisoned and mistreated for her refusal to burn to death at the orders of her younger brother, Emperor Chandra. Malini may be locked up, drugged, and constantly tormented with religious ideations, but she never stops plotting to free herself, using any tool at her disposal to secure her freedom and to depose her despot brother from the throne. I instantly loved her determination and grit, and she honestly gave me Daenerys vibes with her strong will. One of these tools Malini decides to use is her newest handmaiden, Priya, who is anything but a typical servant girl, and in fact, hides quite the secret of her own. Malini and Priya develop a rapport, and eventually a romantic relationship, as they escape not only their present situation, but the chains of their pasts.

 

“Use what you have, Malini reminded herself. Use anything and everything you have. What can you do? What do you have here that may save you?” 

 

What I really liked about the romantic relationship between Malini and Priya was how quickly The Jasmine Throne made the inequality of power a moot point in their romance. In other stories, like The Unbroken, I was uncomfortable with the main relationship, as it developed in spite of the power one person held over the other, with one person in the relationship even having power over the other person’s life. But The Jasmine Throne quickly makes the princess and her handmaiden equal, so I was able to enjoy their relationship without any moral qualms. That being said, I found I did not enjoy this relationship between the handmaiden and the royal as much as I did in, say, The Priory of the Orange Tree.

 

I didn’t really understand Malini and Priya’s attraction to each other, as most of the time, Malini and Priya didn’t seem to like each other or were just plain more concerned with their ambitions and goals and how they could use one another to accomplish them. It seemed more like a relationship that was formed out of convenience than actual chemistry to me. Both Malini and Priya are attracted to women, they both are trapped together, and both hope to use each other to get what they wanted to the point that were willing to manipulate, like to, and otherwise hurt one another. I admired each woman’s dedication, but it didn’t really make for a loving relationship.

 

“‘If I do this—if I help you—then we’re not going to be mistress and servant,” Priya said slowly. ‘Outside of here you may be the imperial princess and I may be nothing, but here I’m something useful. I have something you need. And I will not be your tool or your weapon. I will be your equal. Do we have an agreement?'”

 

Though I liked the idea of the whole star-crossed lovers thing the two had going, with Priya being a victim of the conquest of Ahiranya by Malini’s family’s Parijatdvipa empire, I just couldn’t feel the attraction, chemistry, and feelings between these two women. I kind of wish The Jasmine Throne had taken more time to develop the two as friends and allies before establishing a relationship. Even though I wouldn’t quite classify their relationship as instalove, as the two didn’t actually act on their feelings right away, they both instantly knew there was a mutual attraction—with Malini determining she could use Priya’s attraction to her to her benefit right away. I just didn’t think the romance was as strong as in Suri’s other books, which featured heterosexual relationships. In the author’s acknowledgements at the end of the book, Suri mentions that someone had to convince her to write the sapphic romance she always wanted to, so I can’t help but wonder if the author was hesitant or out of her comfort zone in writing this sapphic romance, and that it might have unintentionally reflected in her work. 

 

Though I found this romance to be lacking, I loved all of the female characters. Each one is so strong and determined in their own unique ways. In contrast to the almost feral Priya and Malini, the wife of the regent of Ahiranya, Bhumika, plays meek and small, but secretly gathers strengths and followers around her as she makes nice with the members of Parijatdvipa empire, even convincing her husband of her loyalty. I loved The Jasmine Throne’s theme of seeking justice in different means and methods, and how the novel manages to show it through every single character in the novel, including its antagonists and side characters. And the novel does a great job of distinguishing the gray area in its characters, making some of them vile and clearly evil, like Malini’s twisted younger brother, Emperor Chandra, but others treading the line between the moral areas. I liked how the characters continually had to grapple with their own moral high grounds and to decide whether to cast off their past beliefs or other moral reservations in their quests. It was a really compelling message to watch play out. 

 

And on top of the already intensely interesting political scheming, many of which is based in complex religious ideology, and the constant struggles of the characters with their own beliefs and morals, The Jasmine Throne was set in a really magical world. In this world, people are stricken with a disease known as the rot, which causes them to erupt in growths of greenery, weakening them and sickening them until they die. The only thing that slows the progression of this disease with unknown origins is the rare sacred wood from the trees in Ahiranya and no one knows why. They believe it is something to do with powerful ancient beings known as the Yaksa. Princess Malini is imprisoned in a temple, called the Hirana, that used to be dedicated to the worship of the Yaksa and is carved with its likeness. There is so much more interesting lore to the Hirana, as well as the ex-followers of it, but I don’t want to give anything away! Just know that it’s incredibly interesting. 

 

The only other things—besides what I thought was not the strongest romantic relationship—which made me knock down a star off of my review, was a lot of the background involving Priya. I felt like her past wasn’t as well planned or developed as that of other characters, or was at least confusing. I wish The Jasmine Throne had spent more time showing us her childhood. At the very beginning of the novel, Priya always says she was trained to be more, and often wishes to resort to violence to defend herself or to get herself out of bad situations due to her upbringing. But at the same time we also learn she doesn’t have many memories of her childhood, so I don’t really understand how she remembered that past training at all before she regained her memories throughout the progression of the novel. I don’t think The Jasmine Throne truly reconciled her childhood or even her memories with the beginning of the book and even where it wanted her to go. I often found Priya’s background, memories, and her plans inconsistent. 

 

“‘We can save our culture, our history. Perhaps even end the rot entirely.’

‘By becoming monsters’ Priya whispered. ‘By turning into weapons?’ Yes.

‘You’ve killed too,’ he said. ‘There’s no shame in being strong enough to take what is rightfully yours.’”

 

I also found Priya’s relationship with her brother very erratic. I quickly grew tired of Priya’s impulsive decision making and almost immediate undoing of those very decisions whenever it came to him. It also annoyed me that there didn’t seem to be very many consequences for her choices or her changing of mind. Bhumika herself pretty much seems to write Priya off as an untamable creature, practically saying “Priya is just Priya” and would do whatever she wanted, consequences be damned. I understand, however, that there was a lot on the line for Priya—a literal rebellion and an entire culture, in fact—but for someone so fierce and determined as Priya, I found her indecisiveness when it came to her brother’s trustworthiness very out of character for someone who supposedly knows what she wants and will do whatever it takes to acquire it. 

 

I was also very surprised at the reveal of what actually happened in  the siblings’ childhoods,View Spoiler » as everyone else seemed to have different knowledge of what happened for most of The Jasmine Throne. I hope the future novels in this series makes it clearer why the entirety of the empire believes one thing View Spoiler » I could just use some clarification as to why everyone believed what they did. Most of this belief was at least initially a strong facet of why Malini resists her brother, his religious zealotry, and why she is determined to overthrow them, so I was surprised to see that this belief was wrong. 

 

Though I did not think facets of The Jasmine Throne were quite as strong as author Suri’s other books, I really enjoyed the world-building and the characters so much. Undoubtedly, I will be reading future entries in the series and cannot wait to see where the series goes, as it pretty much leaves off on a cliffhanger after setting up world, characters, and their plans for major political upheaval. I definitely feel like this series is only getting started and now that everything has been set up, I am excited to see where it goes. I am especially interested to see how characters Malini, Priya, and Bhumika handle their new positions of power and how they will fight Emperor Chandra. If you love strong female characters, complex themes, and truly unique world-building look no further than The Jasmine Throne. 

three-half-stars
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Book Review : The Jasmine Throne - Blogging with Dragons

Posted May 24, 2021 in Book Reviews, Fantasy

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