Genre: Adult Fantasy
Year Release: 2021
Listened to the audiobook
Content warnings: Immolation, suicide, drug abuse and recovery, sibling abuse, gaslighting, execution by elephant, homophobia (both internal and external)
Malini’s tyrant of a brother locked her up in the Hirana, a decaying temple, and Priya is one of the many servants employed to take care of her. But when Malini witnesses the secret Priya tries to hide, the two form a tense alliance which can change the structure of an empire forever.
This book has so many things: swoony writing, intricate politics, kind people at the end of their rope, thorough depictions of the different political and social strata. There’s also plant magic, waters with mystical regenerative properties, mythologies that contradict, a magical plague, and then some. It’s a treat for any fantasy lover.
While Malini and Priya are our main characters, we don’t see the world through just their eyes. Suri sprinkles several point of view sections throughout, from estranged siblings to rebels to neutral folk trying to see the next day amid the madness. It’s masterful and paints a full picture of the greater implications of both characters getting what they want. This tension provides such fantastic angst to the romance between Malini and Priya. Is it fate? Is it something else? Those answers are left up to the reader to decide, especially given how much is coming in the rest of the series.
What really makes this book stand out is that the presentation of strength is definitely quieter. There is an epic battle towards the end, but the pace and build-up is careful and much more character-driven. Most of the characters are warriors of different kinds. Priya, especially, has such a big heart for the people in her community and those affected by the burning of temple children several years prior. She butts heads with Bhumika often because of the different paths the two have taken, though they have a common end goal. With so much violence happening in the recent past, the conversations around what “better” might look like are fraught and tense and permeate every aspect of the story. The world-building here is intricate, so the book really needs the space at the beginning to lay that ground work. But once the story gets going, it really grabs you by the wrist and doesn’t let go.