In a continuation of our series of micro-reviews, assistant editor Brandon Williams brings together a group of ardent readers to give their quick-hit impressions of recent novels which have won major awards from the literary world. Tasha Suri’s The Jasmine Throne, winner of the 2022 World Fantasy Award for Best Novel, is our next selection.
Quick Book Summary (from the official blurb): “Exiled by her despotic brother, princess Malini spends her days dreaming of vengeance while imprisoned in the Hirana: an ancient cliffside temple that was once the revered source of the magical deathless waters but is now little more than a decaying ruin. The secrets of the Hirana call to Priya. But in order to keep the truth of her past safely hidden, she works as a servant in the loathed regent’s household and cleaning Malini’s chambers. When Malini witnesses Priya’s true nature, their destinies become irrevocably tangled. One is a ruthless princess seeking to steal a throne. The other a powerful priestess desperate to save her family. Together, they will set an empire ablaze.”
Tasha Suri’s The Jasmine Throne is the first in a new trilogy. Gratifyingly, it can be read as a standalone novel, but the promise of this book—and its author—is hard to ignore. Anyone paying attention knows that until very recently, with a few notable exceptions, fantasy has been dominated by white men writing stories about Western Europe. Epic fantasy, specifically, has found it hard to shake its roots in broadswords, feudalism, stone castles, and male heroes. It’s been wonderful to see the new resurgence in creative fantasy, that pushes the envelope of the genre, and The Jasmine Throne is a great example. Both main heroes are young women of color (LGBT to boot), and the world has a distinct South Asian influence from top to bottom. Most importantly, though, the book is good.
Frustratingly few fantasy novels bother to look up from their worldbuilding and tell a compelling new story, but The Jasmine Throne manages to weave its fantastically fresh magic system and its tried-and-true plot together with small twists that reveal how deftly Suri can give us familiar tropes but still avoid cliché. One of the heroines is an imprisoned princess, and the other is a magic-user who doesn’t realize her true power. We’ve seen these things before. But there’s so much more to both these characters that reducing them to these descriptions is frankly insulting, to them and to Suri, who breathed such life into them. I could say more, but instead I’ll just say that if you value fantasy as a genre, and especially if you’d like to read epic fantasy that rejects the status quo and offers something new, The Jasmine Throne—and Tasha Suri’s other works—should be on your list. Near the top, probably. I hope that the inevitable success of this series (mark my words, it’ll be on TV screens soon) fosters even more innovation in this direction.
The third-person, omniscient narrator detailing this story is not only exemplified by descriptive, easy storytelling, but by the way the chapters flow into one another almost seamlessly. I was most impressed with how easily I was sucked into the beginning of the narrative. The characters all have their own motives and reasons for living as they do. Even the characters who offer a more insidious and villainous aspect to the story carry their thoughts and actions realistically, for the most part. This first book is an excellent introduction to Tasha Suri’s vast and colorful fantasy, which has been constructed deftly.
I love the South-Asian influences, and I appreciate how masterfully Suri portrayed her female leads. However, my mind did wander occasionally, as the prose had lost intrigue in some places. This isn’t an enormous issue, though. Just every so often, Suri spends a bit too much time reiterating information or describing sceneries, objects, etc. in deep length. I understand the need for detailed description, especially when there are no images to accompany the work. When all was said and done, I did find myself wanting to read the next installment. Anyone itching for a new fantasy novel will likely be pleasantly surprised by this. The worldbuilding here is also fairly solid.
S. N. Valadez
Tasha Suri’s The Jasmine Throne is a tale of power and those who wield it, have lost it, crave it, are brutalized by it and those who keep their own hidden. Suri sets this story in a world that is differentiated from the majority of fantasy settings by its Indian roots and inspiration, and readers should enjoy this change of scenery. I certainly did. To a western reader, The Jasmine Throne presents something markedly more fresh than the now all too familiar fantasy derived from Northern Europe. Everything down to the food characters eat is lifted from the Indian subcontinent, and the story is much more of an adventure for it. Tasha Suri beckons us to come and get just a small taste of what India has to offer the world of fantasy storytelling.
Inhabiting this richly detailed world that Suri has crafted are a host of passionate characters, mostly women, as the story is undeniably and unabashedly centered on women. As I said, The Jasmine Throne is a story of power, of a once mighty people brought low by an ascendant empire, and those who desperately seek to rekindle that past glory and break the grip of their oppressors, but also of power on a smaller scale. Suri’s female characters navigate a world much like our own in that they are often the victims of others’ power, and must keep their own hidden. Callous men on both sides, empire and rebel, use women to further their own ambitions and then discard them, only for them to come together and move the story of The Jasmine Throne forward.
That is not to say that male readers should feel that this story is not for them. The Jasmine Throne is a riveting piece of storytelling that will satisfy any fan of epic fantasy. From the first page of the prologue I was drawn in and filled with trepidation and curiosity. I needed to know what the fate of this deeply troubled world would be, and I am confident that you will as well.
Emiliano Cuadra Jones
In a genre dominated by Tolkien inspired ripoffs, Tasha Suri’s Jasmine Throne is a refreshingly authentic break from tradition. Unlike its peers that center around dragons and kings, this book explores the intricacies of Indian mythology and culture. This Indian-inspired novel hosts a vast, complex world whose details are meticulously explored at all levels; from the organizations of empires to the food that is consumed, the author leaves no part of the story on the table. With court of warring aristocrats, a rebelling lower class, and the bloody ties of family and friends, the story remains grounded in its narrative about power, and what people are willing to do to wield it, despite its fantastical setting.
Critically, while Suri does a fantastic job of creating a world within a span of a few hundred pages, there are times where that worldbuilding comes at the cost of characters themselves. Personally, the weakest aspects of the novel are its relationships between characters, both platonic and romantic. One of the defining aspects of this novel is the multitude of perspectives that the readers hop to and from, covering everyone from central protagonists to marginal side characters. Specifically, while these characters provide additional insight to the tangled politics and history of an empire, they also sometimes feel redundant, or worse, take away important screen time from the protagonists. For example, Prince Rao shares the same motivations as Prince Prem, and works in the same group. Having both in consecutive chapters felt like repeating a story beat. Conversely, there were times when the protagonists themselves didn’t have the development that was necessary to advance the plot. In the span of approximately one hundred pages, the readers learn of Priya’s preference for women, her infatuation turned love for Princess Malini, and the subsequent betrayal that occurred when she learned Princess Malini was using her. This plot point is supposed to introduce tension by questioning whether Priya’s personal anger will threaten Malini’s plan of escape, but because this thread felt rushed, I felt confused as to where this relationship sprouted from.
One particular element I enjoyed was the restraint in the use and portrayal of magic. Oftentimes, magic will be deployed as an excuse to cover for weak storytelling. How did our protagonists escape from that perilous cliff? Magic. What makes this weapon capable of slaying the beast? Magic. How did the hero find the strength to defeat the dragon? Friendship, of course. But also magic. However, Suri does an excellent job of ensuring that magic does not take over the pacing of the plot. While Priya’s supernatural abilities are used, they are a tool in her arsenal rather than a plot device to propel the story forward. Like a trained warrior, she wields her power sparingly and with discipline, careful not to reveal her nature and past to everyone around her. Instead, it is Priya herself, in her quick thinking and years of trained self-control, that takes charge of her own journey, not some grand prophecy or mythical blade of power.
Regardless of the lacking character moments, The Jasmine Throne succeeds in introducing a new, fresh fantasy series to fans looking for something distinct. It raises the bar for fantasy novels moving forward, with immersive world building and intimate focus to detail.
Curated by Brandon Williams