Publisher: Orbit Books
Page Count: 533
Release Date: June 8th, 2021
Series: BURNING KINGDOMS, Book 1
Rating: 5/5 Stars – Loved it!
When Priya volunteers to be one of the maid servants for the newly arrived Princess Malini, she has no idea her quiet unassuming life is going to be shattered. Malini, arrested for attempting to depose her brother the emperor, has been sentenced to be imprisoned in a temple whose followers were brutally murdered years prior when they were deemed too much of a threat to the empire. Priya attempts to simply do her chores every night and leave, but her past ties make such a quiet existence impossible. Priya is one of a handful of children who escaped that deadly night at the temple, and other survivors are hoping Priya’s connection to the magic of building will gain them access to a holy site they’ve been cut off from ever since. When Malini discovers Priya’s powers, the two end up charting a path forward that will forever affect the empire.
THE JASMINE THRONE is an absolutely gripping tale of empire, rebellion, and tearing down the patriarchy one subversive act a time. Malini, Priya, and Bhumika (more on her in a moment) all wield power in different ways. Sometimes they try to work within the system, as Malini does when she uses court politics and etiquette to manipulate a situation; other times these women decide that if the men aren’t going to step up and solve the problems, they’re going to do it themselves, propriety and tradition be damned. Watching the different ways each character uses their spheres of influence to accomplish their goals or guide a situation is utterly fascinating, and is a study in the many ways women can wield power in a society that officially tells them they have none.
That’s particularly true for Bhumika, one of several POV characters in THE JASMINE THRONE. The (pregant) wife of the regent who rules the region on behalf of the emperor and a native citizen of the region (married for her connections to a prominent family), Bhumika does what she can to try and protect her people by influencing her husband and his policies with her unofficial advice. But when Bhumika sees a crisis ahead and her advice is dismissed, she takes matters into her own hands to make sure that those who are loyal to her survive. Bhumika is shrewd, ruthless, and navigates all kinds of turbulent waters while nine-months pregnant, and is one of my favorite characters I’ve read in recent times.
But of course, the main event in THE JASMINE THRONE is the evolving relationship between Priya and Malini. These are two women who are strong in their own ways, a complementary pairing who are an absolute threat when united in their plans. The scene where the two first officially meet had me absolutely pinned; the tension could have been cut with one of the many daggers lying around the pages. It’s a slow-burn romance, but one that is absolutely fraught with divided loyalties and differing goals. At one point, I found myself borderline uncomfortable with the power dynamics at play, and literally the next page that power dynamic was called out for the problem it was by the character it affected the most. The author fully reassured me in that moment she understood the dynamics at play and wasn’t glossing over the uncomfortable truths.
THE JASMINE THRONE is mostly (mostly) a fantasy of subtle magic. I particularly liked the religion of the nameless god, whose followers receive a prophecy name at birth. Those followers hide their names until they instinctually know when they must be shared, and let me tell you, the sharing of one of those names is one of the most powerful moments in the book. Priya’s own abilities grow and evolve over the course of the tale, mostly coming from the ability to control plant life, but also from the ability to converse with other temple survivors in a spiritual realm known as the sangram. Priya’s powers slowly unfold throughout the story, but it’s clear that there are still more secrets to be unraveled in the books ahead.
THE JASMINE THRONE is one of the most cut-throat books I’ve read in a while, whose characters accept that wielding power means making decisions that will come at a cost to someone. There rarely, if ever, are solutions where everyone emerges unharmed. Priya, Malini, and Bhmuika are practical about the fact that they can’t afford to be “nice,” they have to seize whatever opportunities they can because those opportunities will almost never simply be offered to them. THE JASMINE THRONE is only the first step in a story of empire and rebellion that has already had deadly consequences, and the journey ahead promises to be just as bloody.
Note: I was provided a free ARC by the publisher in exchange for my fair and honest review.