Book Review : The Oleander Sword

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 Oleander SwordThe Oleander Sword by Tasha Suri
Published by Orbit on 2022
Genres: Fiction, Fantasy, Epic, Historical, Lesbian
Pages: 512
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Source: NetGalley

The Jasmine Throne has been hailed as a series opener that will "undoubtedly reshape the landscape of epic fantasy for years to come" (Booklist, starred). Now, award-winning author Tasha Suri's provocative and powerful Burning Kingdoms trilogy continues with The Oleander Sword.
The prophecy of the nameless god--the words that declared Malini the rightful empress of Parijatdvipa--has proven a blessing and curse. She is determined to claim the throne that fate offered her. But even with the strength of the rage in her heart and the army of loyal men by her side, deposing her brother is going to be a brutal and bloody fight.
The power of the deathless waters flows through Priya's blood. Thrice born priestess, Elder of Ahiranya, Priya's dream is to see her country rid of the rot that plagues it: both Parijatdvipa's poisonous rule, and the blooming sickness that is slowly spreading through all living things. But she doesn't yet understand the truth of the magic she carries.
Their chosen paths once pulled them apart. But Malini and Priya's souls remain as entwined as their destinies. And they soon realize that coming together is the only way to save their kingdom from those who would rather see it burn--even if it will cost them.

The Oleander Sword is the much anticipated follow-up to Tasha Suri’s 2021 release The Jasmine Throne. I probably should have reread The Jasmine Throne before starting The Oleander Sword, but I was too excited to jump in, so I picked up the sequel as soon as I had the time. Unfortunately, there was no recap of the previous entry in the series and I found myself regretting this decision almost immediately.


There is a large cast of characters in The Oleander Sword, and all with different motivations,  alliances, and religious affiliations. Though at first I was a bit overwhelmed with trying to remember everyone, I soon was able to just focus on the key players of the story that I cared about, which, for me, were Priya, Malini, and Bhumika. In fact, I found that I thought a few of the new characters’ perspectives were even a bit unnecessary to the story at large.  For instance, the brother of the new wife of Emperor Chandra offers his own perspective, but I found myself wishing that the novel had focused on his sister, the actual one marrying the tyrant. Not only would this have been more interesting to me, but also surely it would make more sense to focus on the woman marrying a monster in a novel that markets itself as feminist.


Luckily, three other women in The Oleander Sword are in positions of power. Bhumika and Priya now lead their newly freed country of Ahiranya as Temple Elders, and Malini, as Empress, struggles to wrest her rightful kingdom of Parijatdvipa from her tyrannical brother. Just as in the The Jasmine Throne, I really enjoyed reading from both Bhumika and Malini’s perspectives. Both women are master strategists and it’s amazing to watch them work. I especially felt attached to Bhumika in The Oleander Sword, as she feels the more caring of these two ruling women.


“‘The Parijati worship the mothers and their fire,’ Bhumika said. ‘A person who controls that fire is, surely, the rightful ruler of the empire. And if it is not Empress Malini, then she will not cling to that title of empress for long.'”


Priya’s characterization once again felt like a walking conundrum to me, and even to herself, as she struggles with her love for Malini, and how it is often in contrast to what she must do for her own country and belief system. This time around, I found the romantic relationship between Malini and Priya to be less forced. Author Suri does a great job showing the complexity of their leadership roles and the impossibility of their desires in the face of the former.


By far my favorite parts of The Oleander Sword involved the world of Ahiranya. As the magical rot continues to spread and the yaksa walk the earth again, the stakes are higher than ever in this entry of The Burning Kingdom. Suri does an absolutely phenomenal job capturing the otherworldliness of these spooky beings and honestly reading the author’s descriptions of the yaksa made me wish she would also write a horror series. The Oleander Sword effortlessly poses the question of what could be more horrific than encountering one’s own formerly dead gods?


“You know what I know. You know our ancient enemy comes. That is the war that lies upon the horizon…..The yaksa will return. The rot heralded them. They will come, and there will be war again.”


Despite things ramping up both supernaturally and politically in The Oleander Sword, I found I just didn’t care for this sequel as much as I did The Jasmine Throne. I don’t know if I am to blame for this, for not rereading the previous entry and allowing myself to fully remember all of the characters and their arcs, or if the novelty of the world and its magic systems had just worn off by this entry, but I just wasn’t as compelled to read The Oleander Sword. I found that this novel just didn’t have the same tension and heightened suspense of The Jasmine Throne, where Priya and Malini were trapped together in the Hirana, temple of the Yaksa, and forced to form an uneasy alliance to escape the control of Malini’s brother Emperor Chandra, while Priya struggled with her developing magical powers.


Though The Oleander Sword tries to mimic the moral dilemma of Priya in The Jasmine Throne when she is forced to choose between the ideologies of Malini, her sister Bhumika, who is playing the long con of being loyal to Parijatdvipa, and her brother Ahsok, the leader of the rebellion of Ahiranya, the quandaries of The Oleander Sword never quite reach the same level of urgency and desperation. Instead, Priya once again stumbles along after Malini, figuring things out as she goes, with very little of her own agency, and I found myself taking much the same attitude as this protagonist—”whatever happens, happens.” I simply wasn’t able to get as invested in The Oleander Sword, despite the many tragedies brewing in the series.


“Does a sacrifice have the same power if you don’t know what you are sacrificing? If you cut out your heart so flowers could grow, so magic could wind its roots in your yielding lungs, without understanding that you would end up here, kneeling before a thorn-mouthed god, being told you must kill what you love? Surely not. Surely the way of things couldn’t be this cruel.”


It also didn’t help matters much that The Oleander Sword felt like mere setup for the third and final entry of the series.  The large confrontation for the Parijatdvipa throne doesn’t happen until the end of novel, meaning much of The Oleander Sword is spent with characters sitting around in tents arguing strategies, scheming, and politically challenging those already in positions of powers. Though it was entertaining at times watching Malini plan to keep her followers loyal to her, it grew tedious for me rather quickly. Though Bhumika’s storyline creates tension, which helps to break up some of this monotony, these breaks were too brief to maintain the mounting feel of suspense and of foreboding.


I certainly hope that next entry in the series regains some of its momentum. Though The Oleander Sword leaves off on a cliffhanger, I sadly don’t feel any desperation to read the next entry in the trilogy as soon as possible. I can easily wait for the final entry of the trilogy to release to find out what happens to all of the characters and their embattled kingdoms, which is probably not what was intended. However, I can say with certainty that I want to see how this series comes to a close and I will be reading the conclusion.



Book Review : The Oleander Sword - Blogging with Dragons

Posted May 27, 2022 in Book Reviews, Fantasy

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