By: Tasha Suri
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Publisher: Orbit Books
THERE WILL BE SPOILERS FOR THE JASMINE THRONE
“Malini should not write it, she knew.
But she wanted to.
I have looked upon the ocean, she wrote. And it made me recall the tale of a river. And of fish, searching for a new world on its bank.
And I remember a tale of garlands. And ill stars. And two people who found their way to one another.
Tell me, do you remember it too?” Tasha Suri, The Oleander Sword
The Oleander Sword, the second book in Tasha Suri’s The Burning Kingdom Series, once again surrounds the reader in the beautiful Indian inspired fantasy world she has created with her gorgeous poetic prose. The tone is quite different from the Jasmine throne, but still carries the incredible world building, exceptionally strong female protagonists, and the unique, and often harsh magic system. Priya and Malini heartbreakingly part, as Malini begins her war to unseat her brother, Chandra, as emperor of Paritjatdvipa, and Priya goes back to help Ahrianya to help it become independent from the empire. She is also needed to combat the rot that is still pervasive in the trees, and infecting the people of Ahrianya. The strength and bond of the female characters was a high point in the Jasmine Throne, and becomes stronger in the Oleander Sword. However, all of Ms. Suri’s characters are deep and complex. Bhumika takes on a more prominent role as she is the default leader of Ahrianya now that her husband is dead. With its immersive world, female characters that drive the story, LBGTQ+ representation, magic, and the fight for the throne, The Oleander Sword is as beautifully told as the first book.
One of the strengths of this series is the female characters, their growth, and bond. I single out the female characters because they, quite simply, are the main protagonists driving the story. This is certainly a high point for me, not only in a female driven fantasy, but also LGBTIQ+ representation, which I often look for in books. I am very appreciative of authors who write what reflects the “real” world. Priya and Malini’s relationship is not forced, but grew over time as they could not deny the attraction that was built up in the Jasmine Throne. While they part to take care of their people, Priya, with her strong magic, vows to Malini that she will be there if she needs her. Malini does, and Priya leaves Ahrianya to help her lover:
“She doesn’t want an elder,” said Bhumika. “She wants you”
You don’t know that, Priya thought. But of course Bhumika did. It was Priya she had written to; Priya she had remembered, even when she stopped being a princess and took up a greater crown.” Tasha Suri, The Oleander Sword
Bhumika’s growth in this book was exceptional. Left to lead and repair Ahrianya, she has to deal with squabbling nobles, the war that ultimately affects trade with the empire, dwindling resources, caring for a child, and the worst part, the return Yaska. She is cunning, strong, and clever, and how she juggles all she faces, is both extraordinary and tragic. Seeing more of Bhumika’s character was a highlight for me as once again, Ms. Suri is putting forward so many brilliantly written female characters who bind this series together.
Of course, Priya, Malini, and Bhumika are not the only characters. We get to see more of the other characters develop as well. Rao, Prince of Alor, whose true named revealed that Malini would be empress, is more prominent, and through him, we learn more of Aditya, Malini’s brother who gave up the throne to become a priest. Rao and Aditya are very close, having grown up together. Aditya is a gentle soul, perhaps by his calling to the priesthood, but he still follows her sister into battle against Chandra. He trusts that Rao revealed what was meant to be. I found their relationship to be quite special.
“Why are you here?” Aditya asked, finally. With a start, Rao realized he had been silent for some time, staring blankly at Aditya, wanting to do-something…I wish you could be more than this. I wish you would grieve as I grieve, and hate as I hate, and be the person you were when you and Prem and I were boys. I wish, I wish.” Tasha Suri, The Oleander Sword
Chandra’s anger at his sister is still palpable and he will see her burn on the pyre, or simply killed outright. To burn on the pyre, she must go willingly, and Malini, as we know from the first book, will not. Some very minor characters add to the story as well, which give us insight into what is going on outside of the battle. They provide details of palace intrigue, the rot that continues to infect Ahrianya, but is spreading, and the priests who are beginning to pick sides for their own religious and power-grabbing reasons. These character snippets provide very important information, which all ties together throughout the novel.
The magic that Priya has is very powerful. She has gone through the deathless waters three times (thrice-born), which gives her the ability to manipulate trees, water, roots, soil; all that comes from the earth. This power comes with a price each time she uses it. The Yaksa, her gods, demand payment from her. While she helps Malini, what will be the cost and what is she willing to sacrifice? I love magic systems that come with some type of condition for it’s use. In fantasy, the nature of the genre calls upon us to suspend belief and embrace the story. Many fantasies use magic in different way. I certainly read many with magic that doesn’t exact a toll on the user. However, when it does, there are so many interesting ways it is used. For Priya, the Yaksa can be very cruel.
The pacing and prose were perfect. Ms. Suri writes excellent and exciting battle scenes as Malini battles her brother’s forces. Interspersed there were scenes of incredible character development. The story is told from the third person perspective of many characters, but most notably Malini and Priya. We get to know more of Rao, and his relationship with Aditya, Chandra’s cruelty, and Bhumika navigating the troubles plaguing Ahrianya. The story was completely engrossing, and Ms. Suri’s prose is pure beauty. She is a masterful storyteller, and, as with The Jasmine Throne, I was drawn right back into the story from the very first page. You can feel Milani enveloping Priya with her love in the letters she writes to her. They are cathartic, for she does not send them. They are her private thoughts, hoping she will see Priya again. The softness of her words belies her role as empress and the tough, hard choices she makes. I will leave you with this, and know that this series is brilliant and I highly recommend not only The Oleander Sword, but The Jasmine Throne as well.
“I am always thinking of you. I think of you in battle. I think of you in the dark of night. When my mind is silent or full, you wait there for me.
It galls me that I want you as much as this. That my heart so thoroughly belongs to you. The power you have over me, Priya. Why does it refuse to fade…
Do you think of me, in the quiet? I wonder” Tasha Suri, The Oleander Sword
The Oleander Sword is an excellent second book in the Burning Kingdom series. I was once again swept away into this lush Indian-inspired world, with its vibrant colors, beautiful cities, and unique magic. The story is driven by strong female protagonists, which I loved from the first book. They have each grown in the roles that have been thrust upon them, and make hard and often heartbreaking choices. The battle scenes are excellent and on par with the best of fantasy. They combine both magic and “traditional” fight scenes. They were exciting and paced the story very well as they were woven into the character development. The multiple points of view that the novel is a perfect narrative choice. The reader can see the motivations of the characters, and the small chapters with very minor characters actually reveal a great deal. Malini and Priya’s love is beautifully told and, despite Malini’s position as empress and Priya an Ahrianya that is not trusted, their stolen moments to be together are at once exciting, sensual, and loving. Representing the LBGTQIA+ community is so important. It includes a marginalized group that can finally see characters they can relate too. We should all be able to relate to love. The Oleander Sword is an engrossing and exquisitely fantasy novel. I highly recommend not only this book, The Jasmine Throne as well. You will not be disappointed.
Summary (from NetGalley)
The prophecy of the nameless god—the words that declared Malini the rightful empress of Parijatdvipa—has proven a blessing and curse. She is determined to claim the throne that fate offered her. But even with rage in her heart and the army of loyal men by her side, deposing her brother is going to be a brutal and bloody fight.
The power of the deathless waters flows through Priya’s blood. Now a thrice born priestess and an Elder of Ahiranya, she dreams of seeing her country rid of the rot that plagues it: both Parijatdvipa’s poisonous rule, and the blooming sickness that is spreading through all living things. But she doesn’t yet understand the truth of the magic she carries.
Their chosen paths once pulled them apart. But Malini and Priya’s souls remain as entwined as their destinies. And saving their kingdom from those who would rather see it burn will come at a terrible price.
My sincere thanks to Orbit Books for providing me with an ARC for The Oleander Sword
To find out more about Tasha Suri’s books, please visit her website at https://tashasuri.com/
Purchase The Oleander Sword on Amazon
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tasha Suri is an award-winning author, a writing tutor, an occasional librarian and a cat owner. She has won the Best Newcomer (Sydney J. Bounds) Award from the British Fantasy Society, the Starburst Brave New Words Award, and has been nominated for the Astounding Award and Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel. Her debut novel Empire of Sand was named one of the 100 best fantasy books of all time by TIME magazine. When she isn’t writing, Tasha likes to cry over TV shows, buy too many notebooks, and indulge her geeky passion for reading about South Asian history. She lives with her family in a mildly haunted house in London.