There may not be a book with more hype in my online circles this year than Tasha Suri’s epic series-opener The Jasmine Throne. It promised pretty much everything I like in a book, with a character-focused slow build and layers of intrigue in a non-Western setting. The only question–depending mostly on my library–was whether I’d read it this year or wait until the inevitable Hugo nomination next spring. As it turns out, this year it was.
The Jasmine Throne centers two women living in a sort of exile following narrow escapes from fiery deaths. Malini has refused her emperor brother’s command to purify herself in the ritual flames of the pyre, and has been sentenced to exile in an abandoned temple in a rebellious territory once feared for their plant magic. Caring for her is Priya, once a dedicant to that temple who escaped the purge of a burgeoning generation of mages and is hiding as an anonymous servant in the house of the territorial regent. But Priya’s people have not given up on independence, nor has Malini’s exile disabused her of the notion of revolution against her despotic brother. Isolated in the temple, Priya and Malini have only each other to love, to aid, and to use.
The Jasmine Throne is one of those books that leaves me wondering why I didn’t like it more than I did. Vivid description, myriad characters with well-realized motivations, and a plot that pulls them all together in the only way that felt possible certainly seems like the sort of book I should adore. Instead? I appreciated it more than I really loved it. I could see the skill in the writing, and in the way the character actions all well into place, but I never maintained an emotional connection, and I’m not 100% sure why.
I’m not convinced the book was well-served by having quite as many point-of-view characters as it did, with two main characters, three secondary characters with significant page time, and four or five one-off perspectives. That’s not unusual in epic fantasy, but a lot of the bigger names in the subgenre ease the reader into a smaller number of initial POVs before expanding as time goes on, and The Jasmine Throne seems to do the opposite. I also found one of the side characters—who made herself a leader despite gendered expectations of submission, balancing obligations to her people, her land, and her family, and not shying from hard decisions—to be more interesting than either of the leads, who felt more straightforwardly ruthless. There’s nothing wrong with a darker lead, but I just wasn’t grabbed to the same extent as I might’ve been had the story centered on a different character. And while the one-dimensional zealot of a villain is certainly dark enough to contrast with the not-totally-evil protagonists, his motivations are too flat to add a lot to the story.
These are not major complaints. There have been many excellent books with flat antagonists, and having a side character that could’ve been the lead is a pretty good problem, as problems go. And, while I didn’t find myself loving Malini as a character, it’s hard not to appreciate a climax that so perfectly encapsulated her development to that point. Both hers and Priya’s endings closed significant plot arcs while leaving significant threads dangling for the sequel—the way an epic fantasy series-starter should go, but not always the way they do go.
All in all, there’s a lot to like about The Jasmine Throne. I didn’t connect to the leads well enough to really fall in love—and to rate highly on my personal scale—but it’s absolutely worth a look for fans of epic fantasy, especially ones looking for non-Western settings.
Recommended if you like: morally ambiguous leads, political schemes, Indian-inspired settings, creepy trees.
Can I use it for Bingo? It’s certainly hard mode for Found Family, Set in Asia, and Revenge-Seeking Character, and it’s also a 2021 Release, a Book Club book, and 500+ Pages.
Overall rating: 14 of Tar Vol’s 20. Four stars on Goodreads.