Review: THE OLEANDER SWORD by Tasha Suri

Publisher: Orbit Books
Page Count: 480
Release Date: August 16th, 2022
Series: THE BURNING KINGDOMS, Book 2
Rating: 4.5/5 Stars – Really liked it!

Warning: Possible light spoilers ahead for earlier books in the series. You can read reviews for those books here: THE JASMINE THRONE

The Oleander Sword

A year has passed in Malini’s war against her brother, the despotic emperor Chandra. She’s closing in on the capital city, but when faced on the battlefield with a powerful new weapon, the male generals begin to question if this woman leader has the strength to carry them to final victory. Against her better judgement, Malini reaches out to an ally who is also her one true weakness: Priya, the handmaid who helped her escape her imprisonment, who is now a leader of her own people. Priya’s magic might be the one thing to save Malini’s campaign, if the empress can convince her former handmaid to use it on her behalf. But unbeknownst to both of them, a new force is rising in Priya’s homeland, an ancient power that will threaten not just Priya’s people, but everyone on the continent.

THE OLEANDER SWORD is a punishing sequel that has all the tension of a noose tightening around a neck. I’ll admit, it took me a bit to get back into the rhythm of the story, with a year long time jump and the characters scattered about the world. It wasn’t too long, though, before I was happy to be back with these fierce women who are ready to make bloody sacrifices to get what they need or to protect the ones they love. And they’ll need every scrap of determination they have, as the forces working against them are slowly penning them in, until the options left to our various heroines are almost all bad.

At the heart of it, THE OLEANDER SWORD is about sacrifices, both willing and unwilling, and the power they can have in the right circumstances. Chandra’s forced sacrifices of women, for instance, will never carry the same power as a woman who willingly goes to her fate for her people. But the real agony in this book comes from choosing which thing you’re willing to sacrifice to protect something else. There are some impossible choices made, and while the decisions made seem inevitable, it makes them no less heart-wrenching to watch.

(Behind it all, there’s also a lingering question of fate and destiny. Were these characters always destined to make these specific choices, or are they really choosing their own path? I suspect book three might shed some light on that matter.)

As the stage for conflict in this series grows, so does the number of POV characters. Many of the ones from THE JASMINE THRONE return, but this time, we also get smaller side characters, some of whom only get the spotlight for a chapter or two. But those small chapters serve to show shifting alliances, changing sentiments in war camps, and dominos that are beginning to fall to shift the fates of certain characters. The number of POVs isn’t daunting, but instead deepens the stakes and lets you see some background currents the main characters aren’t aware of.

As always, an extra shout out to Bhumika. Malini and Priya get a lot of limelight as the doomed love interests, but Bhumika is working quietly, efficiently, and desperately to keep things together in the face of increasingly insurmountable odds. Her storyline is most directly tied to the new power rising in this world, so while Priya and Malini are dealing with the men and pining over each other, Bhumika is back home making sacrifice after sacrifice to keep her people alive.

THE OLEANDER SWORD is a read for people who like characters boxed into corners, pushed to make choices they’d never make otherwise. It comes for the jugular in the last 50 pages, as multiple people go past the point of no return, leaving the world in a precarious place heading into the final installment of this trilogy. THE BURNING KINGDOMS series is easily a must-read of epic fantasy, particularly for those looking for female characters fighting tooth and claw to control their own destinies.

Note: I was provided a free ARC by the publisher in exchange for my fair and honest review.

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