This is my first introduction to Tasha Suri's work, and after reading it, I immediately bought Empire of Sand (which has rave reviews). The Jasmine Throne is a fantastic read. Thanks to Orbit (who have published my two favorite reads so far this year... they are on a roll!) and Netgalley for this ARC.
It follows the story of Priya, a maidservant with a complex past, and Malini, a princess in exile. From the very first pages of this book, the characters come alive. Malini refuses her brother's, the Emperor, command to submit herself to be burned. He then places her in exile at a holy temple, the Hirana. The Hirana was once a place of magic, and pilgrims would often visit. Now, it's mostly derelict. Something once took place there, something horrible, and now it serves as Malini's prison, set atop a cliff and a relic of a dark history. Priya volunteers to clean the Hirana, and it's clear she has a story there, something she has blocked from her memory. When Priya and Malini meet, quite by accident since Malini was allowed no visitors, it's clear that their paths will be intertwined. Priya manages to convince Malini's jailor that the Princess needs someone to protect her. She is granted unfettered access to the Princess. What begins is a tale of a complicated friendship, which turns into love, which turns into loyalty. Priya and Malini were brought together by happenstance, but they are bound together by an inextricable tie.
The worldbuilding in this story is phenomenal. The world feels real, and the setting is much like India. There are flowers (lots of flowers!), rich color, and a culture that is steeped in religion and lore. The nation has been overcome by Parijat, a vast Empire spanning across the world. There are rebels fighting for independence, and nobles trying to maintain the status quo with the Empire. The politics is straightforward enough, without being too dull. The magic is utterly unique, with a river as the centerpiece that can be accessed only by those with a unique ability to pass through said waters without being consumed. They grow in their magic each time they pass through, so that those who can survive three times are powerful, nearly unstoppable.
Priya finds herself in a struggle - the rebels want to use her. Malini has her own motivations to use her, primarily to escape. And Bhumika, who Priya works for, is more than what she seems. With ties that bind her, Priya must strive to maintain her own identity. Malini must overcome physical and mental illness to try to unseat her deranged brother from the throne. Together, perhaps they can meet their own goals without sacrificing the core of who they are.
This is a story of identity, and finding who they really are, when all is said and done. Their romance was done quite well, without being overbearing. And my goodness, the waterfall scene... well, you just need to read it yourself.
This book checked a lot of boxes for me. My one complaint was that the ending was dragged on too long. There were a few chapters I felt could have been condensed and more cohesive. And there is one huge plot point that I found very disturbing - but I don't want to spoil it for anyone. If you read this book, you'll know.
4/5 stars. Fans of fantasy with unique settings, engaging characters, beautiful prose, and lesbian romance are sure to devour this incredible tale.