Book Reviews

Review: The Jasmine Throne

The Jasmine Throne has been on everyone’s radar this year, I think, but for me, I think it was one of those books where the hype worked against it…

Book: The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri

Publication date: 8th June 2021

Ownership: Proof copy sent free of charge by Orbit Books. All opinions my own.

Content warnings (from author’s site): Explicit violence including immolation and self-immolation; gender-based violence (this does not include sexual assault); homophobia and internalised homophobia; suicidal ideation; self-mutilation; abusive family dynamics; child murder; body horror (plant-based, cosmic); forced drug use and depictions of addiction/withdrawal.

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’ve spent a long time thinking about this review and my thoughts on The Jasmine Throne, because all of the rave reviews are making me think that there’s something I missed, something wrong with me for not being totally immersed and emotionally wrecked by this book. Ultimately, I think it comes down to my hopes being raised too high by everyone’s hyperbole, and a certain feeling that this didn’t quite fit my genre expectations.

First, the good: This is a beautifully described world, and one that is easy to visualise, from the dangerous walls of the Hirana to the creepy plant-based rot that infects people. The Indian-inspired setting is so vivid; the atmosphere and world-building are really a strength of the book. I love a plot based on vanished magic, and people finding the truth about the “old ways”, so Priya’s mysterious past and the temple’s history was very interesting to me. I was desperate for her to reclaim her magic throughout so I could learn more about the temple children, and I hope we get a lot more answers in future books as I’m fascinated to see how it all works. The interrogation of the effects of power and empire on individuals and communities is at the forefront, and it deeply affects all the characters in very believable ways.

I really enjoyed the sheer quantity of powerful female characters – if you’re someone who enjoys seeing women be allowed to be strong in different ways, then this will definitely suit you. My favourite character was Bhumika, a woman who uses her marriage to the governor to do good work for her oppressed people; it may look like she’s capitulated to the empire, but she’s actually wonderfully subversive, and I always love women who are allowed to weaponise their femininity and softness. I loved the tensions between the female characters too; Priya in particular takes a long time to realise that strength and compassion don’t need to look the way that she performs them. It’s great to see such many-faceted women on the page – even when it makes them unlikeable, it’s still brilliant to have that depth of character!

Unfortunately, I think for me The Jasmine Throne ended up caught between two genres, unable to decide if it was epic fantasy or fantasy romance. The multiple viewpoints (at least five regular characters, and several more one-offs) and general plot shout epic fantasy, but the tight focus on the emotional journey and the general vibe say fantasy romance; I think I would have preferred this if it had picked a path, as what I ended up with was a fantasy romance made slightly unsatisfying by a lot of extraneous stuff getting in its way. I love both genres deeply, and value them equally, but their conventions are quite different and I’m not convinced the meld works here. It’s trying to be grand and far-reaching, but also very intimate and quiet, and the two didn’t quite feel balanced to me. I felt that the viewpoints other than Priya and Malini’s were almost intruding on their story, especially in Bhumika’s case – I thought she deserved a story of her own, rather than operating in the margins of theirs! It would have been much tighter as a dual-POV story – while the other viewpoints allowed us to see what was happening outside the Hirana, where Malini and Priya spend much of the book, it did feel a little as though this was all they were for, rather than being rounded stories in their own rights. I think it would have hit the epic feel I wanted if each of those viewpoint characters were allowed the same amount of detail, focus and growth as Priya and Malini – I know I often say I have one storyline I’m less interested in, in a multi-POV cast, but they still usually have a full arc that I am invested in to some extent, and there were too many characters here that came across as information vehicles rather than people. For this to be an epic fantasy, I needed more depth in everything, from the magic to the politics to the action; for it to be a successful fantasy romance, I needed more time with the two main characters. As it is, I enjoyed it, but I couldn’t fall in love, and I didn’t get fully immersed at any point. Even though it’s clear this plot is going to affect empires and nations, it felt too small-scale, only scraping the surface of what’s going on.

This could just be a first-book-in-a-series problem. I’ve seen several reviews saying that this felt a little bit like a prequel, and I have to agree. There’s a lot of set-up here, and not a lot of movement in terms of character growth or even characters’ actual plots. If this were stripped down to dual-POV, it probably could have been the first half of the first book! But while I can forgive a slower build if there’s a lot to explain in an intricate fantasy world, that didn’t seem to be the case here. All the main plot points are fairly easy to understand early on, but a lot of the time I felt like things were dragged out by hiding them deliberately from the reader, or by cutting away to a secondary viewpoint at crucial moments, rather than by surprises unfolding naturally. The chapters are so short I barely ever got time to settle into one line of thought! It does make it a fast-paced read, though, even though it’s a fairly chunky book.

I’m so sad not to have fallen in love with this. It’s definitely resonating with people, and I do hope it continues to win hearts! For me, it didn’t quite hit the mark, but please don’t take this as me saying it’s bad, or that I didn’t like it – I enjoyed it a lot, I just wanted to adore it. Three and a half cats, I think, and I’m intrigued to see where the rest of the series goes!

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