Start: January 10, 2022
Finish: January 23, 2022
Synopsis: Trapped by her despotic brother within the crumbling walls of an ancient temple, Princess Malini dreams of vengeance.
Forced to disavow her birthright and her power because of her past, maidservant Priya dreams of freedom.
In a world beset by wild magic and turbulent uprising, their destinies will become irrevocably tangled.
And together, they will set an empire ablaze. (via back cover)
The Jasmine Throne, book one in ‘The Burning Empire’ series, is an epic fantasy set in a world beset with a violent empire, a strange illness called ‘the rot’ where a person’s body is slowly overtaken by foliage, and an ancient temple that holds both the memories of the deceased and the deathless waters, a source of magic that is both a blessing and a curse. The Jasmine Throne is part of the ‘Sapphic Trinity,’ three fantasy novels released in 2021 that feature queer women and narratives. (The other two novels in the trinity include She Who Became the Sun and The Unbroken. Both titles are currently on my TBR and I plan to read them later this year. Stay tuned for their reviews!)
2022 is the year of the fantasy novel for me. I grew up reading epic fantasies (though I never made it to the Lord of the Rings series) and those stories were the catalyst for me becoming a writer. One of my major projects this year is to draft and complete the first round of revisions for my own epic fantasy novel (that may or may not become a longer series). My reading diet this year will consist of several fantasies and The Jasmine Throne was a great way for me to re-connect to this genre. It does everything a first novel in a series should do: introduce us to a wide cast of characters, give us a problem that will be solved over the course of the series and give us reasons to care about the characters. Though is novel was over 500 pages long, I blew through it in a few days; it’s a fast read, particularly after the first one hundred pages. The sequel, The Oleander Sword is slated for a summer release of this year and I pre-ordered my copy before I finished this novel! Let’s dig into what I liked and what kept me from giving this a perfect, 5-star rating.
There are lots of characters from different parts of the empire, each with their own motivations and weapons at their disposal. The story closely follows Princess Malini of the Parijatdvipa Empire and Priya, former Hirana temple child turned mahal maidservant. These two women receive most of the chapters, with a few side characters having their moments in the spotlight from time to time. And it is one of these side characters that shined brighter than everyone else.
Bhumika is the pregnant wife of the regent of Ahiranya, Vikram. And like others in the narrative, Bhumika carries her own secrets that will greatly impact the people in the country and the empire. There’s an awesome scene towards the latter half of the story where Bhumika displays her abilities and it’s clear so many overlooked her true strength. She’s often described as kind-hearted and willing to help others, but so many overlook her true nature. She and Priya have a complex, almost strained relationship that’s explored during the story. They end the story in an interesting position, slightly closer but there are fractures that could shatter their connection. Bhumika is a character I will be eager to see again in subsequent novels.
There are a lot of relationships and connections woven through the narrative. Many were established before the start of the story; a few begin as the events of the story unfold. The story is mainly driven by Malini and Priya’s relationship, but Malini’s relationship with her brothers, Emperor Chandra and the “true heir” Aditya, and Priya’s relationship with her recently resurfaced brother, the Ahiranyi rebel Ashok, are also major driving forces for the progression of events. I mentioned my appreciation for the dynamic between Priya and Bhumika, but the dynamic between these two women and Ashok is fascinating as well as they continuously clash against each other.
It’s easy to believe that the fantasy genre is filled with worlds heavily inspired by a medieval European aesthetic. Luckily, more and more novels are looking towards other parts of history and other civilizations to build their fantasy worlds. I believe the world of The Jasmine Throne is inspired by Hindu myths and stories. (Though I’m struggling to find an exact source for this.) Regardless, it’s a world vastly different from Tolkien-inspired fantasy. The main magic in this first book is plant magic, though we can glimpses of fire magic which I’m sure will be explored in future novels. There are supernatural beings called the ‘yaksa’ who also make brief glimpses in the story. One of the more interesting places in the story is the ancient temple called the Hirana:
The carvings upon the stone were uneven to walk on and distressingly lifelike…Snakes coiled, their teeth bared, mouths vast enough to act as a neat trap for an ankle; mortal bodies, etched out of stone, with hands upturned, fingers curled; yaksa, those ancient spirits that were part mortal and part nature, with eyes that oozed greenery, profuse vegetations escaping their mouths, their forms humanlike, but broken at the stomach, the heart, by thick, violent surges of leaves.
Speaking of the Hirana and the yaksa, the latter half of this book introduces some of the deeper magic, history and pending prophecies that will appear in later books. As someone who loves mysteries and puzzles in fantasy novels, I’m deeply interested in how these prophecies will impact the characters and the larger story.
There’s a lot to enjoy about this novel, but I had one minor grip that prevented me from giving this a perfect score. The major romance revolves around Malini and Priya and unfortunately, I wasn’t heavily invested in their romantic connection, particularly in the beginning. They grew on me towards the end, but even then I felt lukewarm about them. I think it mostly comes down to personal preference. It’s not poorly written at all. I just didn’t connect with it. And my feelings towards them may shift after the next books in the series. For now, I’m more interested in their individual journeys than their shared growth.
If you like fantasy series, read The Jasmine Throne. If you like stories with badass women wielding powerful magic and other weapons, read The Jasmine Throne. If you want a complex romance between two women, read The Jasmine Throne. There’s plenty of time to read it before the release of The Oleander Sword!