The Jasmine Throne is the opening volume of a new epic fantasy trilogy by Tasha Suri. I’m not sure I know how to express my feelings about it. I enjoyed Suri’s “Books of Ambha” duology, Empire of Sand and Realm of Ash, and admired them as well-constructed epic fantasy with a strong romantic component, but they never made me feel like this—gobsmacked, a little awestruck, violently satisfied, painfully engaged.
Perhaps I do know how to express my feelings after all.
Parijatdvipa is an empire of city-states. One of those city-states, Ahiranya—conquered and brought unwillingly into the empire—is where, for the most part, The Jasmine Throne sets itself. Ahiranya is not in outright revolt against the empire, but there are layers of resistance to its subjugation. With poetry and performance as well as violence: in the inner chambers of the Parijati regent as well as in the streets.
Malini is sister to the emperor, a cruel, zealous man who holds his position because his elder brother chose to become a priest rather than take up the throne. She refused to die when he bid her, and in consequence he has had her imprisoned in the Hirana in Ahiranya: a temple that was once home to powerful magic and those who could use it, but which, now, ever since the temple children and temple elders burned, is little more than a haunted ruin. Watched over by guards, drugged into docility, she will be allowed leave only when she is willing to choose to mount her own pyre. But Malini—forceful, unbending, willing to use every tool she can lay hands on to survive her brother and see him fall—is deeply unwilling to lie down and die.
Priya is a servant in Ahiranya, attached to the household of the regent’s wife. Malini’s imprisonment sees her sent to attend the princess’s chambers, making the dangerous climb to the top of the Hirana nightly. Her anonymous servitude protects her, because she hides a secret that might see her killed: she’s one of the last surviving temple children, one of the few to have passed through the deathless waters. But the Hirana itself is waking Priya’s long-buried memories, as well as her power. And when Malini accidentally witnesses Priya’s capabilities—in a fight with an intruder who holds secrets from Priya’s past—the two find themselves yoked together in a reluctance and at times combative alliance that slowly evolves into mutual empathy and—not without setbacks—something like a partnership.
While Malini and Priya are at the centre of The Jasmine Throne—the push-pull of their relationship, their circumstances, their trust and their complicated, unapologetic, powerful selves—this isn’t a book that’s narrowly focused on two people. Bhumika, the Ahiranyi wife of the Parijati regent, is one of the other major characters: once Priya’s temple sister, she’s now directing her own form of resistance to Parijati domination. So too is Rao, an Alori prince, and one of Malini’s partisans, who has come to Ahiranya to try to get Malini free—or at least find more allies.
Running through the heart of The Jasmine Throne, like sap through a tree, is its concern with power and power’s costs. With the nature of empire, and its consequences for the subjected. With what is done to you and what you do to others: the choices that you make and the choices you are denied. What you are willing to become and what you are willing to give up, what you are willing to destroy and what you are willing to protect—what you will give up almost anything to protect. And along with this concern with power goes a concern with trust, with love—in all its painful, complicated glory—and with family.
And undergirding its concern with human power, The Jasmine Throne owns a striking sense of the numinous. There’s magic in Suri’s world: a bigger, slippery thing than any one person can understand, bleeding in at the edges and out through the cracks: a world wider and stranger than anyone can know.
This is a powerful and intense opening to an epic trilogy. Glorious. Honestly, I don’t think I have enough superlatives for it. Lush, evocative, richly characterised, emotionally dense, with a scope that at first seems intimate and turns out to be much, much larger. Suri’s skill—never minor—here seems to have taken a step or three up: there are few epic fantasies I have enjoyed, or admired, as greatly.
It made me feel so very much, and I’ll be a while sitting with these feelings. But damn, it’s an amazing book.
The Jasmine Throne is available from Orbit.
Liz Bourke is a cranky queer person who reads books. She holds a Ph.D in Classics from Trinity College, Dublin. Her first book, Sleeping With Monsters, a collection of reviews and criticism, was published in 2017 by Aqueduct Press. It was a finalist for the 2018 Locus Awards and was nominated for a 2018 Hugo Award in Best Related Work. She was a finalist for the inaugural 2020 Ignyte Critic Award, and has also been a finalist for the BSFA nonfiction award. Find her on Twitter. She supports the work of the Irish Refugee Council, the Transgender Equality Network Ireland, and the Abortion Rights Campaign.