The Oleander Sword
- Author: Tasha Suri
- Genre: Fantasy
- Publication Date: August 16, 2022
- Publisher: Orbit
- Series: Burning Kingdoms #2
Thank you to Orbit for sending me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
CONTENT WARNING: violence, gore, blood, death, misogyny
“Alluring, action-packed, and gut-wrenching,” (Publishers Weekly, starred review), The Oleander Sword continues Tasha Suri’s acclaimed Burning Kingdoms trilogy,in which a powerful priestess and a vengeful princess will change the fate of an empire.
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 the strength of the 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. Thrice born priestess, Elder of Ahiranya, Priya’s dream is to see her country rid of the rot that plagues it: both Parijatdvipa’s poisonous rule, and the blooming sickness that is slowly 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 they soon realize that coming together is the only way to save their kingdom from those who would rather see it burn—even if it will cost them.
I only recently jumped on the bandwagon of this series, and I’m glad I waited, because I was able to start this ARC shortly after finishing the mind-blowing masterpiece that was The Jasmine Throne. (You can find my review of that book here).
In this book, we’re thrown right back into the Indian-inspired world of the Empire of Parijatdvipa, where Malini is claiming herself to be the rightful Empress and waging war against her brother, Emperor Chandra, and Priya is settling into her role as Elder of Ahiranya, alongside Bhumika. But I already know it isn’t going to be an easy road for any of them.
Priya and Malini are separated, but still dreaming of each other. They’re the definition of star-crossed lovers, especially since Ahiranya is struggling to regain their independence from the oppressive thumb of the Parijatdvipan Empire. The resurrection of magic in the region has helped, and now that Priya and Bhumika are temple elders, they’re reinstating their traditional religion and working to get things back to normal as best they can, while fighting the rot that’s pervading their region. They have absorbed what remains of the rebels into the temple, but there’s a push and pull between the rebels wanting to pass through the deathless waters, and Priya and Bhumika not really trusting them enough with the powers, as well as worrying about the cost of passing through the waters.
“‘The kind of strength you need to pass through the waters and survive—it’s a hard kind. A scarring kind. The kind of scars that sit inside your soul, under the skin.’”
Malini has her own struggles to face, even as she is missing Priya. She’s amassed her own army, based on the prophecy that supports her claim to the throne. But their support feels conditional a lot of the time, and there’s always an undercurrent of misogyny. The presence of her other brother, Aditya, throws another wrench into the works, and the war often feels like a losing proposition. But I love a good underdog story as much as the next person, and this is one of the best I’ve read in a long time. Malini also has to fight against the priesthood, who want to keep her fixed in a role that she has no intention of staying in—that of being righteous and following her destiny:
“Righteousness, rightfulness—oh, how she hated those words. Their sole purpose seemed to be to keep her in her place: a life with narrow walls and standards of purity that pressed her thin, erased her to nothing but her blood and her good bones and the worth of a pleasing face. A life here she would never contemplate ruling; a life where she would obediently bare her neck for a knife, or gladly embrace the pyre.”
Through all of this, it was inevitable that Malini would call on Priya to come to her. Priya is an unknown weapon in Malini’s army, but her presence brings up all of the sexual tension between the two of them. I loved every moment of it between them, and how it brings out Malini’s soft side, especially since she’s required to be hard and tough in every other situation. There’s so many poetic moments when Malini thinks about Priya, and the sapphic romance subplot kept me up late reading well past when I intended to.
“The ash had streaked across her face like misapplied kajal. Her hair was wild darkness all across her shoulders, unspooled. You are like ink, Malini thought helplessly. Ink, and all I want is to make poetry of you.”
The romance between these two women felt like it was destined, even though there were so many factors working against it. It began when Priya was a servant, and Malini was a deposed princess, but in this book, they’re both in positions of power. Malini is now an empress, and Priya is a leader of her own territory, and the stakes are even higher. Despite their own conflicting interests, they’re working together for the greater good, and the survival of the subcontinent. While Priya’s first priority is Ahiranya, she’s smart enough to know that Malini is the lesser of two evils—having her in power allows Ahiranya the freedom to do their own thing, while having Chandra in power means oppression and the crushing of her region and freedom, as well as that of all women in general. And Malini isn’t just working to gain power, she knows that her brother needs to go because he’s not a good ruler, and she can do better for her country. But she is also aware of her flaws, and that Priya knows about them but still loves her:
“There were two truths inside Malini’s heart. It was the colder one she spoke. But the other was this. Because I need her. Because she saw me once, for everything I was and could be, and wanted me anyway. And she sees me and wants me still, over the chasm that should make enemies of us. And yet it does not. Cannot.”
There’s so much going on in this story, but it all flows together beautifully and cohesively. I loved everything about the story, and how each of the damaged people in it are working together to make the world a better place. It often felt like things were impossible to fix, but no one was giving up. This often brought out the best in people, and there was even a bit of dry humor worked into the story. When this book ended, I was left with a feeling of being wrung out yet fully satisfied, and immediately went to add the next book to my TBR. Even though it doesn’t even have a name, I already know that I need it immediately. This type of diverse fantasy, in this case, an Indian-inspired fantasy world dominated by two very different, yet similarly strong and focused lesbian women, is exactly what I needed.
“‘I will keep the thought alight in my heart, like a candle. And when our lives darken, I will use it to guide me through. I will remember that we are not what is done to us. We are, and always have been, more than that.’”
People who have sat around with me while I’m reading, especially when there’s a surprising reveal, a shocking plot twist, or an unexpected event often look up in alarm when I gasp audibly. The gasp factor is directly related to the number of times I audibly gasp during a reading, and there isn’t an upper limit.
Gasp Factor: 14
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