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Would I Recommend All of The Sapphic Trifecta?
2021 was the birth of the sapphic trifecta, The Unbroken by C. L. Clark, The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri and She Who Became The Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan. I have finally read them and I am telling you all my thoughts on each book.
The Unbroken by C. L. Clark
On the far outreaches of a crumbling desert empire, two women–a princess and a soldier–will haggle over the price of a nation in this richly imagined, breath-taking sapphic epic fantasy filled with rebellion, espionage, and assassinations.
Touraine is a soldier. Stolen as a child and raised to kill and die for the empire, her only loyalty is to her fellow conscripts. But now, her company has been sent back to her homeland to stop a rebellion, and the ties of blood may be stronger than she thought.
Luca needs a turncoat. Someone desperate enough to tiptoe the bayonet’s edge between treason and orders. Someone who can sway the rebels toward peace, while Luca focuses on what really matters: getting her uncle off her throne. Through assassinations and massacres, in bedrooms and war rooms, Touraine and Luca will haggle over the price of a nation. But some things aren’t for sale.
I loved this book. It completely exceeded my expectations. It was so much more than the synopsis.
“A fighter. She didn’t know anything else, and she was good at it…It would be the death of her, but she’d always expected that.”
Inspired by the deserts of North Africa. You can easily picture and find your footing in this land, with a strong presence of culture and history. It only takes a mild interest in the scenery but what you get is more than enough to build the landscape and appreciate its beauty. But the focus on politics and its massive influence on shaping the land made the world immersive.
It gave rich insight into the devastating cost of colonisation, from violence to emotional abuse. The dual perspective follows the dethroned princess of the empire and a soldier who was kidnapped as a child. Each viewpoint has very different experiences with the empire. One gave insights into the political decisions and control, whilst the other showed the struggle and emotional toll.
Touraine is a solider. As promised, you get a fighter, but her complexities brought her to life. A stolen child ripped away from her home but conditioned to serve her kidnappers. Her loyalties are spilt humanly, struggling to understand her feelings and finding little solace from the two sides. From the start, you see her lose a lot. Her home, friends, her sense of familiarity and belonging. In particular, her ambition. It felt like such a crucial part of her identity, but her road to success, and hope, was snatched from her. To see Touraine adapt to the loss of hope was a tangle of emotions, especially as she is thrown into the middle between the leaders and the rebels. Touraine’s internal struggles and growth made this book a compelling read.
“Touraine was starting to think it was impossible to come from one land and learn to live in another and feel whole. That you would always stand on shaky, hole-ridden ground, half of your identity dug out of you and tossed away.”
Luca, the princess. She wants to restore peace amongst the rebels for personal gain, to prove her right to the throne. You can feel the good intentions of her actions alongside her blindness towards the rebels. It is that way she makes a dangerously realistic yet empathetic ruler. She is ambitious, and the precarious balance of her coldness and gentleness is a compelling journey to follow.
“Know a person’s desires, and you have leverage. Give a person their desires, and you have an extension of your own will”
These two characters had a shared goal and a complex relationship… full of wariness, tenderness and aching desire. But what else do they share? You can see their differences pull them towards and away from each other in a masterful dance. It was a relationship that could have been all love or all hate, but instead, it decides to be both. I adored it for the complexity that made you gasp, stare and cherish. Only enhanced by the devastating politics surrounding them. Understanding their choices even when they make you want to scream in frustration. This is a relationship to watch so you can appreciate the human nature captured by these two characters.
“She wanted Touraine to giggle at her, to smirk and smile and tease her. She hated to want it.”
Whilst these two characters enhanced the book in many ways, the plot was extremely captivating in itself. The heart of the book is the fight of the rebels against politicians. So many parts of the book feel dangerous, and I loved the suspense. It kept me wondering and on the edge of my seat as I read until the early hours. It took sacrifices and fleshed out everyones’ motivations, adding plenty of believability and emotion to these characters’ journey. Whilst I have gone on about the politics, it was also the family ties, hard decisions, celebration of people, the losses, the struggle, the determination, and the emotions that made it such a memorable read.
The fantasy element was flirted with, but it was not a big element in this first book. I think it will become a more dominant aspect later in the series, and I’m intrigued to explore that side of this story.
Do I recommend this book?
Heck yeah! The rich complex human nature of The Unbroken was a real standout quality. It made the already intriguing plot very entertaining and emotional. I cannot shout about how good this book was enough. Please people read it!
“Who needs a god of oceans when I could drown inside your eyes?”
The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri
Tasha Suri’s The Jasmine Throne begins the powerful Burning Kingdoms trilogy, in which two women—a long-imprisoned princess and a maidservant in possession of forbidden magic—come together to rewrite the fate of an empire.
Exiled by her despotic brother when he claimed their father’s kingdom, Malini spends her days trapped in the Hirana: an ancient, cliffside temple that was once the source of the magical deathless waters, but is now little more than a decaying ruin.
A servant in the regent’s household, Priya makes the treacherous climb to the top of the Hirana every night to clean Malini’s chambers. She is happy to play the role of a drudge so long as it keeps anyone from discovering her ties to the temple and the dark secret of her past.
One is a vengeful princess seeking to steal a throne. The other is a powerful priestess seeking to save her family. Their destinies will become irrevocably tangled.
And together, they will set an empire ablaze.
The Jasmine Throne was described as morally grey sapphics fighting the empire. With enemies to lovers, a trapped princess, hidden magic and feminist themes. It was all of this to a T.
“You shouldn’t be so rude to women holding knives, it isn’t wise”
The story had a relatively slow start. In some ways, this is only natural in fantasy as authors establish the world, themes and relations. The world was an Indian-inspired fantasy where magic was forbidden and a cruel, zealous dictator rules. We follow a maidservant who keeps her magic secret, and the princess, brother to the Emperor, who is trapped, abused and drugged.
It is a multi-perspective novel, but these two characters are definitely the main ones… and rightly so. A theme that runs throughout this book is feminism. This was one of my favourite aspects. Whilst I love any book with feminism, I really like how it was handled in this book. This is a world where women are overlooked, so it makes a point to focus on female voice and power. Even when their voices are dismissed, their presence ignored, and they are subjugated to obey weak men, women find ways. In this invisibility, they could plan without boundaries, enter spaces unseen and change the world. This book is about the triumph and tragedy of the path women are forced to take and where it leads. The subtle commentary and sweeping action made an effective display.
“But he would not understand. He has never understood. Her hurts and her terrors, which has consumed her all her life, had always been small to him. He had either never truly seen them or simply, easily forgotten them.”
As I said, there were other POVs too. I loved how it enabled us to navigate the world through different people’s motivations, seeing how they slowly came together. It gave the book an epic feeling of all coming together at the end. It felt so satisfying. It is one of my favourite tropes, and it did it well.
The focus of the book was still Priya. Priya was an excellent lead for the first book. We learnt about her magic and the history surrounding it. It was fascinating to discover; the rituals, power and beauty. Priya was also outstanding because she was a knife gal and inherently good too.
“A knife, used right, never has to draw blood.”
Priya’s goodness paired excellently with Malini. Ah… Malini. I have a real soft spot for her. She is imprisoned but determined to find her way out and dethrone her brother. Her determination is powerful. It feels razor-sharp and dangerous. She is willing to do cruel things, even flirts with enjoying it, and it scares her. It makes her all the more interesting. The darkness of Malini and the goodness of Priya makes a perfect ship combo.
“I have a high opinion of myself, I promise you, but I’m hardly capable of making my way through a burning city without dying.”
A good thing as their journey is central in the novel. It was beautiful as they made deals with each other to help each other. It started with reluctance to secret tenderness to trust to sharing histories. The slow-burn feel was delicious as they explored new areas together. I really appreciated the darkness of their relationship too. Knives, threats, using each other, pacts, and, most dreadful of them all, feelings. What a ride!
I loved many of the side characters too. Bhumika!! If you like characters in the mess of royal politics, you will like Bhumika. This strong cast will make you invest in this story, for sure.
Whilst the budding relationship was the main plot, it focused on overthrowing schemes, politics, religion, discrimination, betrayal, magic and more. It truly hooked your attention with all that was going on. Oh, and the world. The clothes, jewels, food, and history. It built a rich, immersive world full of lore, religious themes and culture. You could dissolve from your reality in this book through the beautiful prose.
DO I RECOMMEND THIS BOOK?
Definitely, The Jasmine Throne was an effective first book in a series. It built the stage with a blossoming romance, understanding motives and establishing sides in the oncoming battle. I really enjoyed this book, but it was only the beginning. I feel like the sequel has the potential to be stronger. More darkness. More politics. More action. And, of course, more Malini.
“special love and thanks to my sapphic desi readers. I hope this book made you feel seen, at least a little.”
She Who Became The Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan
She Who Became the Sun reimagines the rise to power of the Ming Dynasty’s founding emperor.
To possess the Mandate of Heaven, the female monk Zhu will do anything
“I refuse to be nothing…”
In a famine-stricken village on a dusty yellow plain, two children are given two fates. A boy, greatness. A girl, nothingness…
In 1345, China lies under harsh Mongol rule. For the starving peasants of the Central Plains, greatness is something found only in stories. When the Zhu family’s eighth-born son, Zhu Chongba, is given a fate of greatness, everyone is mystified as to how it will come to pass. The fate of nothingness received by the family’s clever and capable second daughter, on the other hand, is only as expected.
When a bandit attack orphans the two children, though, it is Zhu Chongba who succumbs to despair and dies. Desperate to escape her own fated death, the girl uses her brother’s identity to enter a monastery as a young male novice. There, propelled by her burning desire to survive, Zhu learns she is capable of doing whatever it takes, no matter how callous, to stay hidden from her fate.
After her sanctuary is destroyed for supporting the rebellion against Mongol rule, Zhu takes the chance to claim another future altogether: her brother’s abandoned greatness.
When I first picked this book up, I struggled with it. Part one felt like a drag, but I think if I hadn’t read the synopsis, I would have enjoyed it more. You were already told Zhu’s journey, so I felt no danger or intrigue in witnessing her time at the monastery. It was just the “before” part. Plus, the writing is very to the point. It does not embellish. I can like this writing, but the plot needs to be strong. Part 1 wasn’t strong enough. It had important moments, but I kept thinking, ‘oh no, this book is a drag’.
Thankfully, part 2 onwards changed that for me completely. Once I had finished the entire book, I felt still. You know that feeling when you are processing the story. There is no room for any emotions apart from those given to you by these words. All you can do is sit still and process, occasionally hold your head. It was that kind of finish.
Zhu was ambitious. As a child, you witness her be deemed she will amount to nothing. You immediately feel sorry for her through how she is treated and sees herself. Naturally, this means she is a character you route for. You crave her success and triumph. Despite not loving the start, this was so crucial to how readers see her and her journey. Because even when she does the “bad headlines”, the dark and selfish acts, there is part of me that is so happy, or at least understands it.
“She clung to life because it seemed to have value, even if only to her. But when she thought about it, she had no idea why.”
Zhu really does put her desire before everything. It was such pure, unaltered ambition. This whole novel is about her pursuit of achieving greatness. Seeing her succeed is both satisfying and dangerous. To act without limits… is it freedom or an inevitably morally doomed road? Both?
Another big part is how Zhu can succeed whilst most people fail. Scratch that, whilst most men fail. Zhu sees the world differently because of her relationship with her body and gender. To see different paths to success and benefit from looking where people believe there is nothing. It is always satisfying to see something the world sees as a weakness and see it wielded as a weapon for success.
“If you want a fate other than what Heaven gave you, you have to want that other fate. You have to struggle for it. Suffer for it.”
The exploration of gender in this book is truly masterful, and I won’t be able to do it justice, but here we go. Zhu’s relationship with her gender takes a big, postive journey in this novel. **SLIGHT SPOILER** It feels like unlearning shame and taking ownership. When this moment happened it felt very freeing and right. It was beautiful. **END**
“she saw someone who seemed neither male nor female, but another substance entirely something wholly and powerfully of its own kind.”
The other characters in the book added to discussions on gender. The most obvious one is Ouyang. He was regularly described as the beautiful eunuch general. He became an outcast by not being accepted as a man and because he is Nanren, therefore not Mongol. Ouyang’s relationship with himself has a lot of trauma and shame that he doesn’t know what to do with. It was interesting to see these two characters compare. Both their similarities and differences can leave a lot to discuss.
I especially like their different reactions to femininity. For example, Zhu’s relationship with Ma is used to strengthen Zhu’s character. Ma has typical feminine qualities, and Zhu looks at them and sees intelligence, value and beauty. Whereas Ouyang recoils from femininity and any association with it. He often feels anger towards it, but it is more complex than that. You could add Esen and Wang Baoxiang into these discussions. It is a book you could disect and find so much meaning in it. It is so clever.
Zhu found freedom in discovering her gender identity, but Ouyang poisoned himself because of his lack of freedom and acceptance. A similar point can be made in how each one reacted to their fate and disfigurement. Zhu’s journey felt healthier, but each one showed the influence of how society treats people and what its restrictions can cost.
Whilst Zhu and Ouyang as enemies constantly connected to each other was fascinating to read. Ouyang has his own past and fate, whilst influenced by Zhu, it was entirely his own journey. I loved exploring the heartbreaking emotions and pain. Honestly, it was tragic but I felt every emotion and reasoning with him. His plot handles not letting emotions go and how much power they can have over you. It was agonising to read, but I understood him. The emotions inside him are not one you gentle hold, they are the ones you drown in. Yet, you wish freedom on him all the time. His story felt like a tragedy he wasn’t surviving even when breathing. It was poignant and sad. It transferred the emotions brilliantly which is why I admred it.
“THIS WAS WHY HE HAD WANTED TO BE ANGRY, SO IT COULD WASH AWAY EVERYTHING ELSE HE MIGHT FEEL.”
One final point, this book was inspired by historical events in 14th Century China. It is a reimagining of the rise to power of the Ming Dynasty’s founding emperor. It made for turbulent politics, brutal strategies and poignant significance. I really liked witnessing this interpretation and learning about these historical events through research.
DO I RECOMMEND THIS BOOK?
Absolutely. Whilst this book has a rocky start for me. It has become a memorable novel that delved into discussions around gender, fate and greatness. It is one you can dig your teeth into and digest all the themes it explored. It was dark, complex and emotional. After finishing this book, I genuinely have been in a state of admiration for all it achieved.