Has there ever been a better time to be both a reader of fantasy and a lover of history? With greater and greater frequency, real history is inspiring new yet familiar fantasy worlds. The best authors of such fantasies faithfully harness the richness of the past and make it their own, and in The Jasmine Throne, author Tasha Suri does just that.
Inspired by the lush and shimmering epics of India, The Jasmine Throne is the story of two women: Princess Malini, the sister to an emperor who has been imprisoned for heresy, and Priya, a maidservant with a hidden past. Malini and Priya would never have met if it weren't for the Hirana. The massive temple-turned-prison is, for Malini, a structure of ancient, magical power. Even as Priya ascends its steps to wait on Malini for the first time, she can feel the Hirana’s magic calling to her. After Priya defends the princess from an assassin and reveals to Malini Priya's own magical abilities, the two women find their lives intertwined. Together, they’ll either overthrow Malini’s zealot brother and save Priya’s family, or die trying.
I couldn’t help but think of R.F. Kuang’s The Poppy War while reading Suri’s work. I immediately sank into The Jasmine Throne just as I did with Kuang’s dark military fantasy inspired by 20th-century China. Both authors use real places as the foundations for their fictional worlds, which grants the reader a rich sense of place from the first page. The Jasmine Throne is sumptuous and heady, mystical and intricate, with Suri’s natural, precise prose deftly shifting as she alternates among multiple charcters' perspectives.
But Malini and Priya's connection is what will have fans raving about this book. Their relationship evolves slowly and carefully, and one never gets the sense that the rest of the story is being artificially slowed down or altered in order for them to interact. A recurring theme of the narrative is fire, both cleansing and destructive, and without spoiling anything, that theme is embodied perfectly by these two characters. There are some moments between them that are absolutely electric on the page.
Both protagonists have to make some tough choices as the story unfolds, and neither one’s hands are clean by the end. Their moments of righteous vengeance will satisfy fans of other great writers of political intrigue, such as George R.R. Martin and Pierce Brown, but Suri maintains her hold on the reader’s affections even as Malini and Priya find themselves morally compromised in their journey.
The Jasmine Throne more than lives up to the hype with its rich and expansive world, compelling characters, cool magic system and Suri’s excellent writing, which holds it all together. But wait, there’s more good news! This book is the first of a trilogy, so if you’re already hooked, there’s more of Priya and Malini coming soon. I can’t wait to see where they take each other next.