Book name: The Oleander Sword
Author: Tasha Suri
Format: Print, ebook, audiobook
Genre: Fantasy, LGBTQIA
Publication Date: 2022
Star Rating: 5/5
The Oleander Sword is the second book in the ‘Burning Kingdoms’ trilogy, the first being The Jasmine Throne.
I reviewed The Jasmine Throne when it came out for the British Fantasy Society, where I used to be a reviewer.
When The Oleander Sword opens, Malini is busy asserting her right to be empress against her two brothers, Aditya and Chandra.
Aditya, the true heir, has given up his place in the line of succession in order to become a priest. Yet others still yearn for him to take his place on the throne.
Chandra, who is getting married, is currently emperor. However, his cruelty and his hostility mean that few owe him genuine loyalty.
Malini has put together an army and they are ready to fight her brother’s forces.
Meanwhile, Priya is far away in Ahiranya acting as elder. This involves using her magic to stop ‘rot’, a disease which spreads easily and leads to people turning into fauna.
They sprout leaves and turn into bark and wood.
Malini asks Priya to come to her when the proposed siege of the fort at Saketa goes badly. The soldiers of the high prince ride out to attack her men using mothers’ fire.
This is holy fire obtained by burning women (allegedly voluntarily) to give greater power to the empire.
Malini is uncertain about how to respond to the mothers’ fire, but she knows that Priya’s magic will help her to take Saketa.
Chandra attempted to burn Malini, to give his position as emperor greater strength, only to have her resist him and claim the throne for herself.
Malini is sceptical about whether the fire is genuine. She tests it, finds that it is not truly mothers’ fire and then knows that Chandra’s claim to the throne is not as blessed as he claims.
When Priya joins Malini their love for each other is as strong as ever. They hide their feelings, but increasingly people in their camp guess that the elder and the empress are in love with each other.
The vivid fictional universe of the ‘Burning Kingdoms’ is based upon medieval Indian culture. It is a wonderful, evocative setting for epic fantasy.
Priya and Malini both embrace their heritage and fight against it, most particularly in respect of their love for each other.
I liked Priya and Malini very much. Malini’s position was complicated by her unwillingness to marry and have a child to be her heir. There was also her elder brother Aditya’s superior claim.
Priya’s path led through the temple as a maidservant to recognising her magic and becoming elder. During The Oleander Sword, Priya is a powerful young woman in her own right, regardless of her modest birth.
The story led on nicely from The Jasmine Throne. Given that it starts on the eve of battle and with Malini and Priya in their new positions as empress and elder, it was easy to follow the story even if you haven’t read the first book.
The plot felt a lot more self-contained than most fantasy trilogies. This was cleverly managed.
I also appreciated just how the story moved on during this second book in the trilogy. Tasha Suri wasn’t afraid to keep the plot driving forward, and I suspect that the concerns of the final book in the trilogy will also be fresh and different to those of the first two books.
I enjoyed every page of The Oleander Sword, and I can’t wait for the final book to emerge.
Thank you for reading my review.
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If you’ve enjoyed this review, you might be interested reading in my review of Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri.
Or you might like to take a look at other fantasy reviews on my blog.
If you fancy something different, you might like to take a chance on my review of The Power of the Dog