Sapphic Asian fantasy remains superior as always.
It will always feel special to me as a sapphic Asian, but something about these books truly just hit in a way like no other, and that’s no exception with The Jasmine Throne. The f/f romance (especially with morally grey characters) certainly does not disappoint, but the book also holds so much more than just romance: It’s a complex story about women and empire and every way those two things can intersect.
Since it releases today (in the US), I’m bringing you a review of The Jasmine Throne, where I can hopefully convince you to pick it up and wait in eager anticipation for the next book with me!!
TASHA SURI || JUNE 8, 2021
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.
Thank you to Orbit for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This did not affect my opinion in any way.
All quotes are from an advance copy and may differ in final publication.
I had a feeling that I would love The Jasmine Throne from the very first time I’d heard about it. Promising a morally grey lesbian romance and a focus on empire and family, I thought this would hit on some of my favorite things to see in fantasy, and though it wasn’t quite the new favorite I was hoping it would be, I was still utterly enchanted by it. If you’re looking for a fantasy burning with intensity, from its vengeful characters to its feminist themes, you should absolutely pick this up.
The Jasmine Throne follows many perspectives, but mainly those of Priya and Malini, two women who come from vastly different backgrounds but can benefit from working with each other. Malini grows weaker every day in the magical prison her brother forced her into, but when Priya’s forbidden power comes to light, they realize how they can use each other to achieve their own goals of rebellion and freedom.
Some men dream of times long dead, and times that never existed, and they’re willing to tear the present apart entirely to get it.
The Jasmine Throne delves into several themes, influenced by its India-inspired world where imperialism and misogyny thrive. I especially loved its exploration of empire as a tool for oppression and how it stands for an all-consuming force that seeks to stamp out “impurities,” of how extremists can twist religion and faith to justify oppression, and of what monstrosity truly means in a world that demonizes women who don’t conform. These are all active influences in the characters’ arcs and daily lives, a display of the intricate connections between the characters and their environment.
Priya is a maidservant whose veins sing with both magic and tragedy, one of the few survivors of a fire that stole her temple family. She seeks the power that she was denied, the power that the empire vilifies her for, and the power her brother wants to use and weaponize. Malini is the princess of Parijat, sister to the emperor who exiled and imprisoned her for refusing to die for the sake of “purification.” She is vengeful and cunning, unafraid to manipulate others for her own gains, and I loved her for it. While both characters are morally grey, Malini was more so in my opinion (which is why she’s my favorite).
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t quite invested in Priya and Malini’s relationship in the beginning, but as more time passed, I found myself absolutely obsessed with their dynamic. It is fierce and tender at once, burning with passion for not only each other but for themselves and their own values: They hold their love for each other gently and carefully, especially because of what it means for two women to love each other in a misogynistic homophobic world, but they are also cautious in the sense that their loyalty to themselves and their motives never wavers in the face of their relationship. (And yes, that waterfall scene is as good as everyone says.)
There was no void in her any longer. Whatever she was—weapon, monster, cursed or gifted—she was whole.
Along with Priya and Malini are other side characters who get their own POVs, most notably Bhumika and Ashok, Priya’s temple siblings, and Rao, a prince allied with Malini. Suri handles these with skill, using their perspectives to provide more intrigue and insight into the plot but keeping them balanced so as not to drown out Priya and Malini’s main storylines. What I loved the most about these added POVs was the glimpse into the complicated relationship Priya has with her temple siblings. They are united in their trauma of being the only survivors of a disaster that killed the rest of their family, but they are also a source of pain for each other as well, particularly Priya and Ashok. This complex dynamic made my heart ache, for where they found destruction in each other they also found healing, tinging each of their interactions with bittersweetness.
While all of these relationships, romantic and familial, were entrancing, I would argue that The Jasmine Throne is truly first and foremost a book about women and their strengths. In all of the female characters’ arcs, the idea of monstrosity as it applies to women in a patriarchal society is explored. Priya, Malini, and Bhumika all carve spaces for themselves where their power can thrive, in a world that would rather see such power crushed, and they are deemed monstrous, weak. But what makes them “monstrous,” when their desire for agency is seen as a threat? When they are hated for refusing to bow to the demands of men and instead forging their own paths? When their very existence is demonized?
She could make herself into something monstrous. She could be a creature born of poison and pyre, flame and blood.
Though the book is quite lengthy, I flew through it and was thoroughly engrossed from the first page. Suri’s writing is laced with a certain loveliness and deadliness that complements the world of the novel, and though it was slow-moving in the beginning, Suri’s masterful way of building up tension kept me engaged. However, there was something that prevented me from fully loving this book—I think as the first book of the series, there was a lot of buildup (and I didn’t get all the exciting payoff I was hoping for) that resulted in a lack of some spark that would’ve allowed me to become wholly obsessed with this.
But while I didn’t love it as much as I’d hoped to, it is undeniable that The Jasmine Throne is a gorgeously written book, its characters intense and its writing gripping. The world Suri creates is somewhat terrifying, especially in how it mirrors our own world at times, and it is thus thrilling to see the characters at the heart of it react and move through it. I suspect the rest of the series will be even more of a delight to read, and I can’t wait to see what Suri manages to weave together in the next book.
:: representation :: Indian-coded cast, lesbian MCs
:: content warnings :: murder, death, violence, homophobia (including internalized), suicidal ideation, immolation, self-mutilation, familial abuse, body horror, drug use, fire [more details]
are you planning to read The Jasmine Throne? what are your thoughts if you’ve already read it? what are your favorite fantasies featuring morally grey characters?