well, my expectations were destroyed so i guess i got what i wanted 🤡
The second book syndrome was strong in this one.
If you’ve read my review for The Jasmine Throne you know how much I loved that book (i think i described it as one of the best fantasy novels out there)…sadly I cannot say the same for The Oleander Sword. If you are hyped (like i was) for this release, I must beseech you to check out more positive reviews as my one will have no positives (besides praise for that cover). It seems I have a notoriously bad relationship with sequels & follows up. I often lose interest in a series and don’t even bother reading them, or I put them to the side after reading a few chapters (either because i remember too little from the previous books or because i just can’t get into them), or will myself to push through them and in addition to finding them disappointing they also end up changing my perception of the previous instalment(s)…which is what happened here. I was enthused by the writing and characters that I started questioning my appreciation for The Jasmine Throne. I knew that this being a sh*tty reading year for me (most of my most anticipated releases were disappointments) there was the potential of my not liking this…so I made sure to be prepared: i re-read The Jasmine Throne a couple of weeks before reading The Oleander Sword (once again i was really into it, even if i did lower my rating from a 5 to 4 stars) just so I had the characters, the world-building, the various plot-lines all fresh in my mind…and I am sorry to report that it did not make a difference.
Where to start…in The Oleander Sword I found the characters, Malini especially, annoying and one-dimensional. The narrative doesn’t allow for ambiguity, or if it does it has to make a big deal about it. Rather than having the characters be things like clever, artful, and conniving, we are told time and again that they are those things or that what they are saying or doing falls under those things. Interactions that should have been tense and charged with a sense of unease or potential danger, simply lack that oomph, as more often than not the characters’ motivations and intentions are explained to us in a very exposition-heavy kind of way. Malini is presented to us as the classic morally gray heroine who just has to do bad stuff to stop the Big Bad (aka her brother). Yet, she had this girlbossing energy that was really off-putting here. Time and again we are reminded of what’s at stake, why she has to prove herself to her newfound allies, why she has to go all ‘Elsa’ (conceal don’t feel)…and yet I found her far from an intimidating or potentially ambivalent character. It frustrated me that a lot of the time when she is being assertive she speaks ‘sharply’ and ‘tightly’…as if a woman in power cannot modulate her voice and she has to be made to appear ‘strident’. She was not a fascinating character, nor was I really rooting for her which is exactly the opposite of how I felt about her in The Jasmine Throne. In The Jasmine Throne, we see her at her worst and having to find a way to escape her confinement. Here she is meant to be a leader, the rightful empress, the girlboss par excellence…but when it comes to it, she has a weak personality that very much hinges on her position. Her allies were bland, and I often forgot who they were, so I did not feel intrigued by all the in-fighting. While Malini gets to become this (annoying) girlboss, Priya regresses in many ways. The story seemed to sideline her, and for much of the narrative, her pining after and subservience towards Malini were rather out-of-character.
I could go on listing things I didn’t like about The Oleander Sword: the plot is meandering, a lot of stuff is related to us (as opposed to having that scene be included in the narrative), and the characters are far more one-note and uninteresting than they were in The Oleander Sword, and consequently, the romance between Malini and Priya, that had me feeling all of the feels in The Jasmine Throne, was very much a dud in my books. The writing too felt flowery and trying hard to go for that “girls are like daggers” type of style that is ubiquitous in the young adult fantasy genre.
As much as it pains me, I fell out of love with the story, the world-building, and the characters that I had grown to care for in the first book. Suffice to say that I will no longer continue reading this series…however, this does not mean you should follow my lead. Chances are most fans of The Jasmine Throne will actually love The Oleander Sword, it just happens that I am a contrarian so this sequel and I did not hit it off.
My rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
❀ goodreads ❀ thestorygraph ❀ letterboxd ❀ tumblr ❀ ko-fi ❀