Pardesi Book Reviews: The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri
"Fate had not named her. But the choices men had made, and the choices she had made—when her brother had pressed a knife to her neck, when her brother had tried to see her burn—had shaped her and given her a purpose.”
In an effort to get myself out of a two-year reading slump, I’ve recently become obsessed looking for (and eventually reading) recent books and stories with South Asian representation. The Jasmine Throne was too enticing for me to ignore, and something my younger self would’ve loved to read. With its promises of an Indian- inspired fantasy story with great world building and a mix of politics and religion, it had both me and my inner 14-year-old- self excited at the thought of reading it.
Starting off with the burning of a group of women in a sacrificial ceremony, the story is centred around two female leads from very different backgrounds. Malini is a traitor and vengeful princess who is banished to a ruined temple to die. But once the maidservant Priya’s forbidden secret is exposed to her, both women learn they can use each other to rebel and achieve freedom from this patriarchal empire that burns women alive for being ‘‘impure’’. The heart of this story lies in its feminist themes, which above all else encompasses these two women and their strengths. I love the way Tasha Suri portrays how calculating and manipulative each female character must be to ensure their survival, they must use their strengths to carve spaces for themselves in the patriarchal world that is ultimately out to get them. And all in completely different ways: Priya searches for safety from the world in her anonymity as a maid servant and Malini assumes her respected royal blood is enough to protect her from any danger.
“She could make herself something monstrous. She could be a creature born of poison and pyre, flame and blood.”
Regarding the desi representation, being the thing that initially drew me to the book, I wasn’t disappointed with in the slightest. The women in saris, the food, the architecture, and temples–- they were all portrayed so realistically and vividly. Coupled with Taha Suri’s gorgeous, lush, and colourful language- it made it one of the best things about the book for me. Suri expertly weaving different cultural aspects into the character’s speech, dialogue, and prose meant the building blocks of this world rested on inspiration from South Asian culture, and this was something so refreshing to read. To be able to relate and understand the things characters would reference was a pleasure and something I felt was so new, especially because representation in this genre is so rare.
It would also be wrong of me to discuss representation without talking about this book from a Sapphic-LGBTQ point of view too, which I loved. And again, was something I thought was so wonderful and refreshing to see in a fantasy story, let alone a South Asian inspired fantasy story. Malini and Pryia’s relationship is fierce and filled with so much passion–- mainly due to how these two characters are so defiant and brutal on their own that they dynamic together is so intensely powerful. Suri also beautifully portrays the passion they feel for each other, but also reminds us throughout the story how strong and loyal they are to themselves and their own (opposing) values.
I didn’t expect to be this taken by this book (or be able to relate to it as much) but in the same way I was taken by it now, I’m sure my 14-year-old self would’ve been just as captivated. I will say, I found the first half of this story a little tricky to get my head around. With the first half introducing a lot of different names and intricate historical context, it can mean the book can start a little slow, but it doesn’t stop you from getting completely immersed in the story (and it all satisfyingly clicks into place eventually). I ended up listening to this story during my commute to work in the mornings and I was so enthralled by it that it was hard to not gasp out loud in public or mutter words of encouragement to the leads under my breath, and it’s been a really long time since a story has got me that engaged before.
I want to briefly comment on Suri’s writing and prose which are beautifully written and (along with the Desi representation) was standout for me. I really loved it. The language is gorgeous- especially with Suri using flowers as a symbolic reference throughout the novel (starting with the title)- and the language both somehow glaringly stands out against the harshness and violence of the world it resides in, as well beautifully complementing it.
“You think being called a whore shames me? You think you haven't bartered your body for your own ends? What do you think pouring death down your throat is?”
Imagery and symbolism surrounding fire and burning areis used in the same way. Suri’s beautiful language describes the putrid burnings and ranging fires one second, and then offsets with the delicate and softness of her flowery imagery:
“She thought of her fellow princess Alori, and of highborn Narina, and how they had screamed when the flames had touched them. How they smelled as they burned, as their crowns of stars splintered around their skulls, as even the sweetness of perfume and flowers could not block out the acrid scent of burnt hair and silk, or the smell of flesh, fat, marrow burning and burning and burning.”
I’ve already mentioned it (though I still don’t feel I’ve talked enough about it), but the desi representation was the other part of the story I really loved. The setting of an ancient, medieval India is described so well by Suri, fleshed out so much that never once did it feel undeveloped or as if it were carelessly decided. Suri take care to engage every sense of the reader to really transport you straight into the pages and into the action, danger and hustle of the city. And what I love about this too is that the Indian inspired world is developed so cleverly by Suri, there is no info-dumping from her. She’s a talented author and knows exactly how and when the right time to reveal information about the world of her characters is: whether that be within the main plot, in the miniscule details about the characters, or the mundane smells and food they eat. And I think it’s this, along with her beautiful writing, that accumulates to create such a rich and real world.
I would recommend The Jasmine Throne to anyone itching for a terrific and engaging story with South Asian representation at its core. And with a cover that beautiful, it’s no surprise how great it is.
Anam is a British-Indian recently graduated History student and content creator with Pardesi. Noticing the lack of South Asian representation growing up, Anam is hugely interested in bringing awareness to South Asian history and stories that are overlooked in mainstream media and society. Her interests include advocating for the mandatory teaching of Britain’s colonial past in school curriculums and exploring complicated conversations around cultural identity.