Sometimes I try to be fancy with my reviews but I’m just gonna cut straight to the chase with this one: The Oleander Sword was absolutely incredible–not just a stellar novel in its own right, but also a sequel that improves upon its (already excellent) predecessor in almost every way.

I don’t even know how to review this because I honestly don’t have a single bad thing to say about it. Everything about The Oleander Sword worked for me. It’s such an ambitious novel; it takes big leaps–with its characters, its plot, its worldbuilding–and it sticks the landing with every single one of them. The world feels so much more expansive in this installment, which is exactly what you want out of a sequel. Because Suri has already adeptly laid out a solid foundation for her world and characters in the first book, the sequel allows us to delve more into that world, and to get a broader view at how its pieces fit together. What’s more, The Oleander Sword takes seriously the ramifications of the events of its predecessor; where The Jasmine Throne planted some important seeds for us, The Oleander Sword allows us to see them grow. Maybe this doesn’t seem all that praiseworthy–aren’t all second books of a series expected to follow up on the events of the first?–but it isThe Oleander Sword is impressive not just because its excellent as its own self-contained story, but because it delivers on what its predecessor sets up. Suri’s writing promises, and then follows through.

Onto the characters, who are the beating heart of this book, and whom I ADORED. Of course, I have to start with Priya and Malini, whose dynamic just blew me away. The Oleander Sword is a much more romantic book than The Jasmine Throne, and it is so much the better for it. I say this not just because I love reading romance, but also because the romance adds a real sense of stakes and gravity to the story. Priya and Malini’s romance is tender and heartfelt, extremely personal to both them, but at the same time it’s inextricable from the political power dynamics that they find themselves instrumental to. Their relationship cannot exist outside their political circumstances precisely because it is very much part of shaping those circumstances. And let me tell you, it is just SO damn compelling to read about!!!!!! The intimacy! The honesty! The angst! More than anything, I found it all to be incredibly moving. Suri has such a deft hand when it comes to writing about these characters’ feelings and vulnerabilities; they never feel anything more, or less, than human.

I’ve talked a lot about Priya and Malini, but I also want to spotlight some of the other character dynamics that we get here. One of my favourite dynamics–one that was a real pleasant surprise for me–was the relationship between Rao and Aditya. We got to see a bit of these two in the first book, but the way their dynamic evolves in this one was so interesting. Aditya is very much still his elusive self, a little aloof and a lot inwardly focused; what changes here is the way Rao relates to him, and the way that the events of the plot alter their dynamics. And I loved getting to hear more from Rao, too. I felt much closer to him this time around, and could really sympathize with how adrift he felt amongst all the political machinations he’s caught up in. I also want to mention Bhumika, who is an absolute standout, as per usual; we’ve always known her to be ever competent and resourceful, but this book sees her challenged to her core. I don’t want to give too much away, but her POV was easily one of the most poignant ones of the book.

Finally, I want to mention the writing, because Suri’s prose is just luminous. I don’t know how she does it, but there is something about Tasha Suri’s work that is always so extremely readable. Her prose is easy to read but never plain or boring. It has a real sense of grace and economy to it; it says what it needs to say and says it well.

The Oleander Sword was a lot of things–emotional, engaging, well-paced and -plotted–but what stood out to me most after finishing it was how epic it felt. The story of this series has grown so much more expansive with this second installment, and I cannot tell you how unbelievably excited I am for the final book. Like, if the second book has already done this much, then I can’t even begin to imagine what the third one will do.

Thanks so much to Orbit for providing me with an e-ARC of this via NetGalley!

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