Burning Kingdoms, #1: The Jasmine Throne
By: Tasha Suri
Published: June 8, 2021
Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fantasy
She had fought to have this opportunity,…All of it, in order to have this: a maidservant who was likely ‘not’ simply a maidservant, standing before her within the walls of this blighted prison, (13: Malini).
Readers love when authors release new books. Further excitement comes about when they are for a new series. Tasha Suri’s first series—The Books of Ambha—is an epic fantasy romance duology about 2 sisters and the “power” they have to “influence” the empire (based on Ancient India). Her latest series—Burning Kingdoms—there are 2 female protagonists who fight for their status in the empire and their feelings for each other. That is correct; this is an epic fantasy sapphic romance trilogy! And, the first book in the trilogy is The Jasmine Throne.
There are 2 protagonists in this novel, and they represent 2 sides of many within the Parijatdvipan Empire. First is Princess Malini; and, to say she is in a dangerous situation would be an understatement. After a failed coup, and after refusing to her brother’s—Emperor Chandra—punishment of burning on a pyre, Malini is transported for imprisonment inside a ruined temple—the Hirana. The Emperor decrees his sister will remain there in isolation until she decides “to purge herself of her sins and become immortal” as the other women who burned before her did. Malini is “accompanied” by Pramila—one of her brother’s agents—who drugs and repeats the Princess’ “failed duties” on a daily basis. There are servants who attend to the basic needs of the princess. One of these servants is the second protagonist, Priya. Priya works for Lady Bhumika—the wife of General Vikram, the regent of Ahiranya. Priya does not mind being a maidservant as long as she is able to blend in with the other denizens in Ahiranya. This is because Priya spent her early childhood living in the Hirana, where priests taught her and the other children there how to use their “magic.” However, years after the tragedy that occurred there, Priya keeps her past life to herself, for the most part. During her free time, Priya helps the orphans and the sick. The first group is straightforward, but the second group is suffering from a mysterious ailment known as the “Rot” in which plants grow inside human bodies and transforming them slowly and painfully. When Priya learns the Princess is coming to Ahiranya to serve her sentence inside the Hirana, she decides the additional pay is worth being inside the source of her magic. Unfortunately, when an assassin attacks the Princess, she uses her magic subconsciously in front of the Princess. Yet, Malini believes she has found an ally to help her escape from imprisonment. Meanwhile, one of Malini’s other allies, Rao, has been searching for her since her exile was announced. He is part of the group of nobles who seek to remove Emperor Chandra and replace him with Aditya—the eldest royal sibling who abdicated the throne. There is another reason Rao seeks Malini and he cannot reveal it until he finds her. At the same time, there is another hostile force and Ashok is their leader. He is one of the survivors of the tragedy that happened at the Hirana, which means he knows Priya. In fact, Ashok has been searching for her because he needs her help in locating the source of their magic—the Deathless Waters—not only to reclaim the power that was denied to them, but also to restore Ahiranya’s former glory. Another potential ally is Lady Bhumika who has the magic, too. But, she is the wife of the Regent. Whose side is she on? What is her agenda? All of these characters are in position to start rebellion(s) and reclaim the power and the glory of their Empire’s past. The protagonists’ interactions with each other and the other characters cause them to develop into the power players they must become.
There are 2 plots in this novel; and, both of them focus on rebellions. Princess Malini was gathering allies in order to overthrow her brother, Emperor Chandra, and put their eldest brother, Aditya, on the throne. The reason for this is due to the Emperor’s religious fanaticism and cruelty. His chosen faith demands “obedience” and “purity” from all females. In fact, it is a known fact Emperor Chandra has an obsession for burning women. While the Emperor has his agents and allies, Malini is able to form a party of those who oppose his rule, including generals and governors. The second rebellion involves the remaining survivors and the untrained disciples of the Hirana. Even though the denizens all know what happened in the Hirana and why; many people are afraid of what remains inside of it. Ashok and Bhumika have their beliefs on what needs to happen, but their viewpoints and their reasons differ from each other. Not to mention, Priya is caught in the middle of this conflict. Priya wants to continue living her life, but she knows that can no longer happen. Ashok demands Priya see things from his perspective, while Bhumika warns Priya that any action she takes will have consequences. Meanwhile, Lady Bhumika has to look at this rebellion from the dualities of her identity—the Regent’s wife and the disciple of the Hirana. Will Bhumika have to make a choice? There are 2 subplots which are linked to the plots and help them develop at an appropriate rate. The first subplot focuses on the conflict of religion. Emperor Chandra’s religion permits the punishment of insubordinate women (by burning them); however, Aditya abdicated the throne due to the emergence of his new faith. Malini and the entire empire have suffered because of the religious “whims” of the royal brothers. In addition, the era known as “the Age of Flowers” keeps getting mentioned; and, it seems to have ties to those who have the magic of the Deathless Waters. The second subplot involves the ailment of the Rot. It is not clear when, how and why the Rot started, but over the years, it has continued to spread affecting both the vegetation and the people. It has been around long enough for everyone to know how it gets passed from plant to human, and from human to human, but no one knows how to stop it. These subplots are essential to both the plot and the characters, and all of these devices develop at an appropriate rate.
The narrative is presented in the present from the points-of-view of Malini, Priya, Ashok, Rao and Bhumika. Each P.O.V. is presented in the 3rd person limited, which means the audience learns about everything that is going on—whether or not they are simultaneous to other occurrences—but from the perspectives of those characters. We learn about them and their thoughts through their streams-of-consciousness, but each character does not know what the other one is thinking unless they are told by them. And, while the memories and the flashbacks don’t justify all of the actions the characters take, it does make them reliable narrators because we have a better understanding of them.
The style Tasha Suri uses for The Jasmine Throne is similar to what she did for The Books of Ambha—from the “outside.” Yes, both series are about young women who possess “forbidden magic” who must decide whether or not their empire—based on Ancient Indian culture—is worth saving. Yet, the author’s first series has the opposite tone to this one. In this series, the female characters are trying to save the empire, but they refuse to allow it to maintain its current societal practices. The women want the status of the past restored to them, and most of them are willing to fight their male counterparts (i.e. brothers, husbands, etc.) for it. They do NOT hide the fact that they are NOT submissive, they embrace everything they have, and they use it to gain what they want. And, many male characters support their actions. The mood in this novel is tension. One rebellion failed and another one is about to erupt; and, there are not too many citizens who are shocked by these occurrences. The tone in this novel is inspiration, but in a different sense. Religion is a motivator for the story, but the characters have expressed how life was in the Parijatdvipan Empire (before it was the Empire) in the past. On the surface, this sounds like nostalgia; but, it is revealed the characters grasp this notion for inspiration to carry on their fight for change. The question is, will the past have all of the answers to what they seek?
The appeal for The Jasmine Throne have been mostly positive with a majority of the ratings receiving 4- and 5-stars. A few book critics named this book as one of the Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Books of 2021. It is one of the “Sapphic Trifecta” books (The Unbroken and She Who Became the Sun), too. This book belongs in the fantasy canon, especially in the historical and the (sapphic) romance subgenres. Fans of the author’s first series as well as The Priory of the Orange Tree, The Light of the Midnight Stars and Black Sun will enjoy this book the most. And, fans can expect the sequel—The Oleander Sword—to be released in the near future.
The Jasmine Throne is a dominant start to a new series in which the actions of most of these gray characters are justified. Tasha Suri presents her female characters as ruthless and as willful as their male counterparts in order to achieve their goals and to obtain their desires. The rebellions are waiting for these women to lead the way, and they do so fiercely and gracefully.
My Rating: MUST READ IT NOW (5 out of 5)!!!