This sequel to The Jasmine Throne impressed me much more than book one!
Book: The Oleander Sword by Tasha Suri
Publication date: 18th August 2022
Ownership: Review copy sent free of charge by Orbit Books. All opinions my own.
Content warnings: violence, injury, and death; fantasy plague/terminal illness; body horror.
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.
If you cast your mind back to last year, you’ll know I was kind of underwhelmed by The Jasmine Throne, the first book in the series, because it felt awkwardly caught between epic fantasy and fantasy romance, but I was intrigued enough by the plot to read on (my review is here). I’m pleased to report that The Oleander Sword settled down much more neatly into an epic fantasy line, and as a result I enjoyed it much more! It’s not that I don’t love fantasy romance – I do! – or that I didn’t like this particular romance, but I think that The Oleander Sword just has a much better idea of what it’s doing, so it doesn’t have a romance tone in epic scenes, and vice versa. It’s just about genre expectations, I think. The multiple POVs work much better here, where there’s more going on in general than just the interactions between Priya and Malini – it feels much more expansive and as if each character has a life and goals of their own.
Middle books in trilogy are hard to talk about from a plot point of view, because everything is in motion and you’re either spoiling something from book one or speculating on something from book three! What I will say is that the world feels much bigger here, and it’s easier to get a sense of exactly how the actions of the main characters are changing the world – they’re not just trapped in one place as pieces of the story start to form, but they’re actually interacting with the world around them, and you can see their impact. The chapters are really short, and the viewpoint switches often, so this feels really fast-paced despite being quite a chunky book – I wouldn’t say that it’s action-packed, exactly, but there’s always something happening. Fans of the Malini and Priya relationship are in for some real treats, too, as their relationship develops in very interesting and satisfying ways.
What I do really think works beautifully here is Tasha Suri’s skill with creating an evocative environment for her characters to live in. The settings are beautifully described, and you can tell there’s a lot of thought and history in the world-building and the way that societies function – the religion and politics are so intricate! I really liked that there was a bit of a deeper exploration into some of the more extremist characters this time around – lots of aspects of this world are terrifying, and it’s a toss up whether the human or the divine are scarier.
I’m really pleased that this seemed to address a lot of the issues I had with book one, and I’m very much looking forward to seeing how the trilogy finishes up in the as-yet-untitled book three! Four out of five cats.