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.
I have been pretty upset for many days now because I kept seeing everyone receiving the ARC of this much awaited fantasy novel but I wasn’t. But I finally won it in a giveaway and I couldn’t waste another moment before I got to it. And wow this was worth all the angst.
I really loved Tasha’s Ambha duology but I found it very difficult to review them, because I didn’t know how to say anything except wow. And this beginning of a new fantasy trilogy is no different. But I can also see how different this story is from her previous works. While both Empire of Sand and Realm of Ash were slow burn romances with themes of colonialism and oppression and these themes exist in this book as well, The Jasmine Throne is much more fast paced and exquisitely crafted which will literally leave you breathless with awe at many moments. The writing is quite evocative, particularly when the author describes the rot destroying the land as well the horrifying conditions of the people – it really hit me hard to see the atrocities committed in the name of faith and empire.
This world is also very deftly built – we get to know a bit of the history of the various kingdoms which make up the empire, the major power players, the differences in faiths of people across the kingdoms and most importantly, how colonization destroys cultures and cuts off people from their roots, while also imposing their rigid religious bigotry and misogyny on everybody. Tasha handles with a lot of depth and sensitivity this aspect of oppression and how it eats away at the conscience and will of the people who are constantly pushed down and mistreated and made to feel less than. The underlying theme of this story is also power – what will anyone do when they are in a position of power, what price will they pay, who will they sacrifice at the altar of faith and justice and empire, and who actually deserves the power to reshape lives and kingdoms. It’s a fine balance how the author explores these different ideas of power and very thought provoking for us readers as well.
And we see this excellent story play out though the eyes of an excellent ensemble – a diverse group of characters each with their own motivations and beliefs, each one on their own path of fulfilling their fate and finding justice for what they have been denied. Malini is a princess in exile who knows her emperor brother is sadistic, and wants to do whatever she can to make sure he is deposed and replaced by a better person. She is formidable and cunning, a strategist who knows all the cards she needs to play to achieve her goals, but in her heart is someone who wants a better ruler for the empire. Whether she wants it as revenge for all the trauma she has been subjected to by her brother, or out of the benevolence of her heart for the sake of the people, is something we have to discern for ourselves.
Priya on the other hand is living as a maid servant, trying whatever she can within her modest means to help the children who are starving and ill in her kingdom. This is the story of her discovering her powers, and realizing how she can use them to better the lives of her people who have suffered for too long. At every turn, she has to weigh what she wants to do with her power and the author really succeeds in showing us her true heart and what kind of a person she would be when having to choose between lives and vengeance.
The romance between these two is a delicious slow burn, navigating the line between how a relationship can develop between a Princess who has to completely depend on the maid to save her life, and how it progresses when the princess has something more to offer on account of her station. Their relationship is filled with yearning and angst, with a bit of a forbidden element to give it more gravitas, and we are always on our toes wondering if they will make it together or sacrifice the other to achieve their ambitions.
Rounding out this excellent duo and their love story is a whole host of supporting characters, a high born lady with her own forbidden magic who wants to save her land and people, an irrelevant prince of a kingdom who wants to see his destiny fulfilled, a rebel leader who would pay any price for power and liberation, an abdicated prince who is not sure if he wants to take up his title and responsibility again for the sake of his people, and a sadistic emperor in the background who wants to build his empire on the pyres of women and in the name of his depraved faith. Despite so many characters and POVs, the author manages to keep us hooked to the story and it only feels like something we wanna get lost in, not ever overwhelming.
In conclusion, this is a great beginning to a new fantasy world. You will obviously not give this a miss if you are already a fan of the author. But if haven’t read her previous books, and are looking for an epic fantasy full of strong female characters trying to right the wrongs of their world, an exploration of the depravities of colonization and the corruption of power and faith, and a beautiful sapphic romance borne out of adversity; then you don’t have to look further than this.