by Tasha Suri
Series: Burning Kingdoms #1
Publication Date: June 8, 2021
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
Author of Empire of Sand and Realm of Ash Tasha Suri's The Jasmine Throne, beginning a new trilogy set in a world inspired by the history and epics of India, in which a captive princess and a maidservant in possession of forbidden magic become unlikely allies on a dark journey to save their empire from the princess's traitor brother.
Imprisoned by her dictator brother, Malini spends her days in isolation in the Hirana: an ancient temple that was once the source of the powerful, magical deathless waters — but is now little more than a decaying ruin.
Priya is a maidservant, one among several who make the treacherous journey to the top of the Hirana every night to clean Malini’s chambers. She is happy to be an anonymous drudge, so long as it keeps anyone from guessing the dangerous secret she hides.
But when Malini accidentally bears witness to Priya’s true nature, their destinies become irrevocably tangled. One is a vengeful princess seeking to depose her brother from his throne. The other is a priestess seeking to find her family. Together, they will change the fate of an empire.
Content warnings: View Spoiler »graphic violence (including death, including child death), multiple women burned on ritual pyres, imprisonment, misogyny, ableism, homophobia, colonialism, colorism, poverty, alcohol and drug use « Hide Spoiler
I adored Tasha Suri’s Ambha books and there was no doubt that I was going to pick up this book, and then they released the cover and I practically died from joy. Look, the only reason it took me several days to read this book is because I had to keep putting it down to stop it from ripping my heart out completely. This book is truly an epic, spanning an empire’s worth of political machinations, but it also doesn’t neglect the emotional impacts on its main characters.
“Power doesn’t have to be the way the regent and your rebels make it be,” Priya said eventually, making do with her own artless words, her own simple knowledge of the way the world worked. “Power can be looking after people. Keeping them safe, instead of putting them into danger.”
He gave her a suspicious look. “Are you saying you’re powerful?”
She laughed reflexively. “No[.]”
While it’s told from multiple POVs, it’s mainly the story of three women: Malini, a princess of Parijatdvipa exiled by her brother to the conquered kingdom of Ahiranya; Bhumika, the wife of the Ahiranyi regent; and Priya, a kindhearted maidservant. Those descriptions, though, like the women themselves, are deceptive. They all have secrets that, if revealed, would lead to their deaths – or in the case of one, have them waiting for their inevitable death to reach them. The stories of each of them, and how they deal with with the complexities of love, trauma and family, are masterfully intertwined. But it’s also a story of power, whether it’s trying to save what you can of your country by marrying the occupier, or working to overthrow one brother for another, or the denial, again and again, that you have no power at all. What you use that power for – felling empires, protecting your family, or healing the sick – is another question entirely. Malini’s cunning has no bounds, Bhumika’s pragmatic, and Priya… well, Priya just kept ripping my heart out over and over.
“You’ll see me again. I know it. No matter where you go or what you do, I’ll find you eventually, because you’re taking a piece of my heart with you. You carved it out, after all.”
There’s an absolutely sweet and swoon-worthy slow burn romance between two of the women, but what I really loved about this book was the focus on families, both those made by blood and those made by choice. From Malini’s brothers – the mad emperor and the man who would chose not to be emperor – to the family made by the temple children to Priya’s practical adoption of Rukh, an orphaned boy, the tangled emotions around family – love and duty and grief and fear – drive the characters, and shape how they’re willing to use the power that they have. They live in a society that tells women that they’re powerless, that the only worth they have is through the men related to them or in they way they die (ritual immolation, oof), but that doesn’t stop Malini, Bhumika or Priya from exercising the power they have, whether it’s political or magical.
“She was meant to be so much more, once.
She couldn’t be the person she’d been reared to be. But maybe, just maybe, she could allow herself to want just a little more than what she had. Just a little.”
The author doesn’t hesitate to set the stakes high and then raise them continuously, and the pacing was excellent. The beginning of the book is a bit slow as all the pieces are set in motion, but from there it’s a twisty, nail-biting ride to the finish. The world-building is engrossing and immersive. The scenery alone is magnificent, from the mahals of Ahiranya to the bone bowers of its forest to a remote monastery, but there’s also the twisted political structure between Parijatdvipa and its various vassal states, the multitude of religious traditions, and the magic system.
“Are we fighting a war right now, Malini?”
“Yes,” Malini said. “We always are.”
Overall, this is one of my favorite books I’ve read this year, and I cannot wait for the next book in the trilogy!