The Oleander Sword
(Burning Kingdoms Book 2)
By Tasha Suri
Orbit Books — 16th August 2022
ISBN: 9780316538565 — Paperback — 512 pp.
If you haven’t yet read The Jasmine Throne, the first book in Tasha Suri’s Burning Kingdoms series, go away. Read it. One of the best epic fantasies I’ve recently read, it succeeds with powerful themes, strong characters, and a propulsive plot.
If you have read the first novel in the series and enjoyed it, you will probably love this sequel just as much, if not more. Now, readers might get a bit angry at Suri and what she does with our emotions. But it’s a love/hate kinda thing that makes readers thirst for the next installment, holding onto hope.
If you read The Jasmine Throne, but didn’t really like it much… well… you’re a mystery to me. But, to be fair, no book is for everyone. The characters and themes of The Oleander Sword resemble the first novel, most clearly feminist themes of being seen and heard (respected) and having a freedom from control by a patriarchal society. I’m glad this didn’t change, and I enjoy how Suri takes these themes in new directions from where the plot of the series left off in the first novel’s end.
Malini has now been declared the rightful Empress of Parijatdvipa, but the opposition of her despotic brother Chandra remains, and the supporters of her elder brother Aditya (who has given up a throne as a Priest of the Nameless God) seem to only warily follow a female of the royal line. When the apparent use of Mother’s Fire by Emperor Chandra’s forces begins to cast doubts of the Mother’s blessings on Malini’s position, the Empress must make difficult choices to ensure her victory and Chandra’s defeat.
Meanwhile, Priya and Bhumika serve as co-rulers of Ahiranya, thrice-borne priestesses with the powers of the Yaska. With the fanatical Ashok lost to the waters, the former rebels under his command have now taken on the role of Mask Keepers within the new freedom the Ahiranyi people have achieved. However, the return of the worship-hungry and self-serving Yaska soon darken this vision of hope and freedom for the leaders.
Malini sends for Priya’s help, also seeking a reunion and continuation of their romance. However, the sacrifices that each must make for their own goals and people may make their partnership and love impossible.
The Oleander Sword is an excellent sequel to The Jasmine Throne, and a middle entry to trilogy that reminds me a bit of the feelings that The Empire Strikes Back evokes: dark and bittersweet, yet with some little bit of hope still remaining. Suri expands the world building of the first novel with a deeper dive into the deities of the Burning Kingdoms lands, most notably the Yaksa. But, she also expands details of the world with more political machinations among the representative lands of the Parijatdvipa Empire.
Though, I obviously enjoyed The Jasmine Throne, it didn’t really surprise me much in the plot development. It went exactly as I expected. (I may not have expected all the events to happen already in the first book.) What I loved even more about The Oleander Sword is that things became complicated in ways I didn’t necessarily foresee. The first novel is a bit of an underdog story, of three relatively powerless women defiantly seizing power. The Oleander Sword shows that this was decided not the end of their fight. Their defiance must continue, and worse threats to their freedom and agency than they ever imagined are coming.
Like its predecessor, this is a novel about surviving and sacrifice, but with increasing costs and difficulty, if not regret. Suri does interesting things with this that tie nicely into the building plot and epic fantasy world she’s created here, with its inspirations from Indian history and mythology.
This is a middle chapter that really made me curious and eager to see what happens, how it could possibly conclude, both for the characters and the themes Suri is tackling. I was fortunate to finish the first novel not long before I was able to get a copy of this sequel. Now the pain of the waiting game.