Monday, May 31, 2021

Book Review: The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri (fantasy)

The Jasmine Throne
Author: Tasha Suri
Publication Date: June 10, 2021
Genres: Epic Fantasy
Protagonist Gender: Female
Sexualities: Straight, Lesbian

The Jasmine Throne is one of those books that hooked me from the first page, drawing me in with the horrors of sacrificial immolation, infectious rot, violent conquest, and the erasure of an entire culture, with three women - Malini, Priya, and Bhumika - standing alone against it all. Even if I had a few struggles with the text, Tasha Suri has written a fabulous fantasy that deserves all the accolades it gets.

Let me get those struggles out of the way first so we can talk to the good stuff. I struggled with the pacing of the story, which is mostly talk for the first half, without a lot of action. Compounding that struggle are the (in my opinion) unnecessary POV chapters from the men responsible for the conflict, which added little to the story. By the end, I was mostly skimming those chapters to get back to the women. That brings me to my last struggle, and that is with the romance between Malini and Priya, a mostly physical affair that I had trouble buying into. There's an interesting dynamic between them, don't get me wrong, with interesting commentary on agency and agenda, but while I admired the complexities of their slowly evolving partnership, I never felt the romantic tension.

Okay, so onto the good stuff, and there's a lot of it. The world-building is absolutely fantastic, built around the legends and settings of Indian and South-Asian culture. It all feels authentic and alive, dynamic and majestic in ways so many other authors over the past few years have failed to capture. The magic and mythology are equally fantastic, from the eerily beautiful infection of the rot, which sort of calls its victims back to nature, to the shifting stones of the fire-scoured Hirana temple, with its mystical currents hidden deep beneath. I loved this world, I welcomed its immersion, and I constantly wanted to know more about it.

In terms of characters, Malini, Priya, and Bhumika are beautifully rendered women of strength and power, cast aside and trampled beneath patriarchal politics, but always working to escape their fates and fight for those around them. The Jasmine Throne is not some trope-ridden tale of war between the sexes, but it is fiercely feminist, and if you don't share in their triumphs, then you're likely the wrong reader for this. Malini is a little hard to warm up to, spending so much of the book drugged and isolated, but Priya earned my affection and admiration from the first page, and I loved the slow reveal of Bhumika's true character as a woman trapped between worlds. 

Once it got going, the plot was enough to keep me reading, not overly complex or original, but significant enough to make me care. I've seen other reviewers talk about this as being a prequel or introduction to a larger story, and I agree with that - this could easily be condensed by a hundred pages without losing any of the story - but I also recognize that this is more a story of characters than events, and I can't necessarily fault Suri for delving deeper into the former at the expense of the latter. That said, I did struggle to maintain my interest during the last quarter or so, but I still came away from the book wanting to know more, eager to see if a sequel can tighten things up.

Rating: ♀ ♀ ♀ 1/2

My sincere thanks to the publisher for sending me an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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