THE JASAD HEIR by Sara Hashem (BOOK REVIEW)
“Your soldiers cannot take me to your kingdom and put me before a court, because I do not exist. According to your history texts, I died almost eleven years ago. I burned to death alongside my grandparents and a dozen others. I believe my crown was taken for display in a war monument. Tell me, how can the dead stand trial for the living?”
A kingdom in ruin, the royalty massacred, a race hunted and persecuted, magic outlawed. Welcome to The Jasad Heir, the stunningly fiery debut by Sara Hashem.
Jasad was once a powerful kingdom, rich with culture, prosperity and magic. Jasadi’s thrived and lived freely until the fateful events which lead the Nizahl armies to burn their lands, kill their people, prohibit magic and annihilate every last royal. Or so they thought. Sylvia is the Jasad Heir, the sole survivor after her entire ruling family were brutally murdered at the Blood Summit. In the aftermath across the four kingdoms of Omal, Lukub, Orban and Nizahl, formerly known as Jasad, the Jasadi race are hunted by Nizahl soldiers and put to trial for any illegal use of magic. No Jasadi can live openly and no Jasadi is shown mercy by Supreme Rawain. Sylvia, now living in a quiet village in Omal spending her days apprenticed to a chemist, has mastered the art of concealing her true identity and has little desire to be found. Yet underneath her magic burns with rage. When the Nizahl Heir, Arin, visits the village of Mahair in Omal for the traditional Waleema celebration, Sylvia unwittingly captures her most feared enemy’s attention. What follows from then is a game of high stakes, for Sylvia must become the Nizahl Champion in the Alcahal, a game of three deadly trials where the winner receives much wealth and ultimate freedom, and she must also enter a bargain with Arin and aid him in the capture of two Jasadi rebel factions. As the chains that bind Sylvia tighten from all sides she must choose whether to seek freedom for herself or to free her people.
In the opening chapters we learn a great deal about the four kingdoms as Sylvia reluctantly remembers her past. This did take some time for me to fully comprehend and to visualise where all these places were in relation to one another. My ARC didn’t include a map and so I was struggling, but fortunately I was able to message the author and Hashem was kind enough to send me a digital copy. Immediately the detailed map clarified everything and I was able to immerse myself into the story, which kicks events into action rather rapidly. Readers are delved into a world that is filled with much political strife dating back many centuries ago before the Nizahl armies were even formed. Here is where Hashem seamlessly blends together history, politics and mythology. The roots to the downfall and suppression of Jasad began when the Jasad Awal, a godlike figure of pure magic, lost control and burnt his own followers. From then each kingdom’s Awal began their slumber and as a result each kingdom began to lose their magic—except Jasad which still thrived and thus remained powerful. We all know power breeds corruption but it also breeds jealousy. As the novel progresses we discover how far the Nizahl strayed from their original purpose, how much was lost and the blood that had been spilt, and how history became distorted. Buried or suppressed truths is a key theme throughout, it is a concept we are familiar with even today, and I feel Hashem explores this superbly as she shows that all political sides of this war, in various ways, are at fault. No one’s hands are entirely clean.
“There is much you don’t know about me, but understand this: I will fight for my freedom until my last breath. You took it away, and you cannot fault how ardently I choose to take it back. Until you have felt hunted, less than human, rejected from the moment you were born for something you did not ask for and cannot control—until then, do not speak to me of martyrs and mercenaries.”
Speaking of dirty hands, this leads me to discuss our cast of wilful characters. My favourite kind of characters are those that are morally grey, that have goodness and darkness within them, that have a complicated, often traumatic backstory. Well Sylvia and Arin fulfilled all of this. Sylvia’s questionable actions throughout show she holds many dark secrets—she does not shy away from violence, her mind is always two steps ahead predicting the outcome of a situation before it happens and it is clear she has been shaped to think this way. Sylvia has been trained to survive knowing exactly when to fight and when to be submissive, to bide her time and plan her escape. Yet for all her strong, practical demeanour she has also faced much trauma and abuse in her life, which have inevitably left scars. She cannot tolerate anyone to physically touch her, she cannot accept kindness, friendship or love. Hashem uses Sylvia’s first person narration to reveal her true thoughts, her true intentions and though we build a picture of Sylvia being quite selfish in her self preservation, we do come to understand why. In turn I came to love her character all the more for this understanding. Fear, grief and rage consume Sylvia but her character grows slowly, naturally, and by the end she leaves us in awe.
As headstrong as Sylvia is, so too is our Nizahl Heir, Arin. On first appearances Arin seems to live up to his feared reputation as the tyrant Heir, but as we read on we discover that his character is far from what he seems. Piece by piece Arin’s acts of mercy, his code of honour shines through. For example in the poorer regions of Nizahl, Arin’s newly installed laws help those in need, restricting the age of those who could be conscripted into the Nizahl army and ensuring the families of those who are conscripted are provided for. We cannot mistake his character as any less dangerous though, as shown when those around him betray or cross his path, but Arin is certainly not a character prone to unnecessary acts of cruelty. What I loved most was his fiery connection towards Sylvia. The fantasy genre has seen a resurgence of the enemies to lovers trope, and whilst I’ve read a few of these myself recently, none have been as subtlety developed as Hashem does here. Sylvia has the ability to get under Arin’s skin, to rile him up, to make him blush. As he so eloquently puts it, Sylvia has the temperament of a “deranged goose” and he’s not wrong! Yet slowly she breaks through Arin’s hard exterior and they begin to understand one another. Their relationship maturely blossoms yet also retains its element of fun with their witty banter!
Romance, however, is not at the forefront of this novel, I believe the friendships hold a much more prominent part. Once again, Hashem shows herself to be the master of slow-burn, mature relationships. Marek and Sefa were two characters I adored right from the onset, they both show their love for Sylvia in the most tender ways given that Sylvia is a somewhat difficult person to become close to. Then again, once you find friends that will help you dispose of a dead body with no questions asked, you should never let those people go and this is something that Sylvia comes to realise! However what impressed me was the way, given Sylvia’s aversion to affection, they both respect her wishes and keep their physical contact minimal showing affection in other ways by gifting her favourite sesame seed candies or by caring for her plants or even, later on, by plotting to rescue even when it risks their own lives. They love her even though she tells them she doesn’t deserve it, they often do what she would not in return. In my eyes, that is true friendship.
“You entered a world where magic is corrosive and Jasadis are inherently evil. I entered one where turning a shoe into a dove made my mother laugh. Have you considered, in that infinite mind of yours, that the truly brilliant people are the ones who understand the realities we build were already built for us?”
Hashem often takes many fantasy tropes and portrays them in impressive ways. The most significant ones being the lost heir and the reluctant hero which is at the heart of this novel. However, I’ve always loved the forbidden magic trope and Hashem explores this fantastically too. Though magic has been outlawed there are remnants of its existence throughout the world. Certain monsters, inspired from Egyptian mythology, still persist and are drawn by magic, and the Jasadi rebels, the Mufsids and the Urabi, use it in their uprising. During these scenes I loved visualising the powers that the world once inhabited. Nevertheless in order for Sylvia’s identity to remain hidden she must keep her magic concealed, not that she can use it much anyway, but also entering a Champions game where her biggest advantage to win is her magic, proves somewhat difficult. Following Sylvia overcoming all the obstacles of her forbidden magic throws at her was deliciously entertaining, particularly in those last few explosive chapters.
Hashem has well and truly grabbed my attention—this first instalment of The Scorched Throne duology absolutely triumphs. The Jasad Heir blazes with rich worldbuilding, compelling characters and magic that will leave you singed.
“One day, I would stand trial before the spirits of my dead. One day, the bodies I never buried would call upon me to answer for my sins. One day, but not today.”
ARC provided by Nazia at Orbit Books in exchange for an honest review. Thank you for the copy! All quotes used are taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.
The Jasad Heir is out 20th July 2023 but you can pre-order HERE