28 Aug 2022

Event Recap: Tasha Suri discussing THE OLEANDER SWORD, with Vaishnavi Patel

I spent my Saturday afternoon attending the Virtual Event for THE OLEANDER SWORD by Tasha Suri. The conversation was led by Vaishnavi Patel, author of KAIKEYI.

The event was hosted by Mysterious Galaxy, an independent bookstore in San Diego that focuses on all things Science Fiction and Fantasy!

It was such an interesting afternoon to learn more about Tasha and her novels. Learn more about the event below!


Spotlight on Tasha Suri and Vaishnavi Patel

This event was a special one as it was during the launch week for Tasha Suri's THE OLEANDER SWORD. 

If you haven't picked up a copy of KAIKEYI, note that the edges are decaled! My favourite type for physical books. Vaishnavi talked about how someone told her that they didn't like decaled edges because it seems like a "misprint" or that the cutter didn't work properly. She didn't want to mention it to them that her book had them, though!

KAIKEYI is a retelling of an ancient Hindu myth of the Ramayana. Kaikeyi is the "evil" stepmother at the beginning of this who exiles the Prince and Patel wanted to provide Kaikeyi's story in her novel.

Tasha started off by talking about The Burning Kingdoms trilogy. THE OLEANDER SWORD is the sequel to THE JASMINE THRONE which is two lesbians working together to burn down a kingdom. THE OLEANDER SWORD is where the burning starts to happen and where things start to get going.

VP: The Jasmine Throne is the origin story with a slow-burn romance. Where it ends, the characters are in very different places than when they first started. Does that affect your writing process and how central the romance is?

TS: Yes. I love a slow-burn romance, it's my favourite thing. In the first book, the characters are in the same space. As much as it's epic, it takes place in a small locale so we can focus on their interactions. The scope of the world opens up in the second book so I can't always focus on the closeness of them. 

I think of this trilogy as something larger than the romance, but the romance is such a focal point that I want to make sure I can bring it all together. I knew I needed to tie their love story with political changes. They are not on opposite sides on the war for the thrones but beholden to different factions.

On a less grand scale, I tried to think about the way lesbians or sapphic women have communicated love in history when they couldn't express their feelings openly or while in the same space. This was typically through love letters, especially coded ones, so I tried to bring these in and yearning through poems. They are sappy but that is because they are worried about not being able to be together!

VP: You talked about how The Jasmine Throne has a particularly sense of space, especially in the temples, but there were hints about how much world was outside of the temple in this one kingdom or nation. In The Oleander Sword, we're starting to see more of that. Was that always your plan?

TS: On a purely practical level, because I had written two books before, I had to say "this is what I wanted to write, could I have some money, please?" I had to give them a summary of books two and three, so I knew some of what was going to happen. I tried to tie that in to how culture works for other people with the dominant culture of other people in The Jasmine Throne.

It's hinted at throughout and I knew I wanted to delve into it more in the second book. I like building cultures and the way they interact, so I was excited to do that in this book since I hadn't before. But writing battle scenes was really difficult because I had to depict these cultures through how they build their armies - cavalry, military, etc. Some of the battles were based on Alexander the Great's military conquests to help me get a sense of direction.

I also hinted at a lot of the little details of culture but there wasn't as much time to get it in around the plot.

VP: A lot of times South Asian fantasy is inspired by one culture, one place, one time, but you don't get the multiculturalism of people that lived in the time. In The Jasmine Throne, I could see this multiculturalism and interplay of tensions. Was that purposeful? Were you drawing on particular historical movements or conflicts?

TS: In my first books, I tried to stick to one culture and region. I loved in Kaikeyi that you pulled on different iterations and retellings rather than just one. In Western fantasy, you see faux Medieval that pulls from different areas of Europe at the same time, but in South Asian fantasy, you don't generally put it all together in the same way.

I was able to do that in The Jasmine Throne, but I didn't want to draw too closely from one culture because of how complex and difficult it is to do so. I don't want to go in and kick over a drama bucket with what I'm writing unless I'm doing that consciously.

A strong amount of influences from Jainism and Buddhism.

VP: In some ways, these traditions were drawing from each other. The religions today are so different from 200 years ago because of this mixing and melding.

TS: Yes, exactly! Our understanding of Hinduism today is so different than the past because it wasn't one religion in the same way we codify religion today.

I drew on different things for each of the different cultures. I had to bring that into the story. I drew from parts of South India, especially the temple structure and architecture. I didn't want it to be a perfect match, though. I wanted it to feel mythic and something familiar but also not. The way that the best fantasy pulls on a cord and feeling, but isn't a perfect match.

VP: I'm so curious about the magic. There are so many different types of magic and we have Priya's magic and the magic of the temple while also having prophecy magic. I loved that there isn't one unifying magic system, and it feels more multicultural and that their cultures are inspiring their magic. Were you inspired by cultures for the magic systems?

TS: Some things come along because you do real intense research in museums or books, but sometimes it is sheer chaos. I could say that I can up with the prophecy magic by thinking about things like the fact that some people had the same first name in their family because they were given it or that stars impact your fate.

The whole magic around water and taking in waters was partly inspired by the veneration for water. I just ran with it!

I was also inspired by the fae and eldrich nature gods who you could make deals with even if it was bad vibes overall. 

VP: Everyone has those stories and it makes me wonder what was going on back then.

TS: It makes me wonder what we were all afraid of - asymmetrical faces.

Obviously with fire magic, I remember around the time I was coming up with The Jasmine Throne, there was a lot of backlash around gender and religion and I brought that to the page.

VP: Religion and gender are equally complicated which makes mainstream religion tough for some people. There is a patriarchal version of some religions. Hinduism, which I grew up in, doesn't have the same type of elements of Western Religion - there are personal stories, personal gods, and that gives me space to talk about gender and equality.

TS: I feel similarly. You can put a story or book out and think about how you feel complicated about the topics you're discussing and letting people come up with their own ideas. It's complicated when your religion isn't the majority faith in the area you live in. But with story, you can explore that and let people see the confusion and growth the way you do.

VP: Something I was thinking about a lot when I was reading The Jasmine Throne is that people felt disempowered by a different multitude of items. But they have power and strengths that they don't necessarily see that way because it isn't around the typical "warrior." Were you trying to talk about power and strength that way?

TS: It was intentional. I read a book a very long time ago about how a woman was conniving and manipulative but what else was she supposed to do? She was not allowed to lead outwardly because she had to be veiled. It's an example of women's power in the past being either denigrated and criticized or eliminated and not seen.

Some people assume that the way I write women means I think they are "right" but mostly I'm showing different ways that women can hold power and display power. Too often in fantasy, you see women on the side - a wife of an important man who is pregnant and doesn't do much, or a princess stuck in a tower that needs to be saved. So I wanted to write from their perspective.

VP: Men stabbing each other is in the background, which I loved to see.

We then opened up to questions from the chat!

1. Which character in the Burning Kingdoms trilogy was the hardest or easiest to write for?

TS: I get amnesia whenever I finish a book. I find Rook really hard to write because he is a child and I find him hard to get right in the narrative.

2. How did you get the idea for The Burning Kingdoms trilogy?

TS: I thought I'd write in the same world as Empire as Sands and just focus on other characters. I focused on Priya and then it quickly got out of control. I sent the idea to my editor who pointed out that it was very different from the first books and that it could be its own story, so I went with that.

3. What's a book you consider formative for your writing style?

TS: It's kind of a toss-up. In the Company of the Courtesan by Sarah Dunant, which I shouldn't have been reading at the age I was. 

VP: I don't know what I would call my literary influences. A book that blew my mind was A STAR TOUCHED QUEEN by Roshani Chokshi because it was a mythology for South Asians. I think about that book a lot because it was the first Indian books I read. I wasn't reading cultural fantasy - just Star Wars dramatizations.

TS: I love that book as well. I love how lyrical and beautiful her writing is. She was made to write gothic novels.

4. What Indian epic tale deserves to have its own retelling in book format?

VP: I feel there are so many stories I would want to see rewritten. I think even within the mahapo. I would love to see so many from them, but one that I would die for is Krishna Radha - I just don't know if that's an okay one to ask for. I'm not equipped to write it, so someone please write it.

TS: We would be the audience for that for sure.

5. Favourite or comfort Bollywood movie?

VP: This might be a weird answer: Lagaan. My family did a dance to it at my wedding. I think I saw it at a formative age so I had only seen 3 or 4 by that point and the "stick it to the British" stuck with me.

TS: My dad worked in Bollywood so I had a different experience with it because he would show me movies that I wasn't really interested in. But I loved Meena Kumari's last film before she died.



Author: Tasha Suri
Series: The Burning Kingdoms #2
Publisher: Orbit
Publication Date: August 16, 2022

The prophecy of the nameless god—the words that declared Malini the rightful empress of Parijatdvipa—has proven a blessing and curse. She is determined to claim the throne that fate offered her. But even with the strength of the rage in her heart and the army of loyal men by her side, deposing her brother is going to be a brutal and bloody fight.

The power of the deathless waters flows through Priya’s blood. Thrice born priestess, Elder of Ahiranya, Priya’s dream is to see her country rid of the rot that plagues it: both Parijatdvipa's poisonous rule, and the blooming sickness that is slowly spreading through all living things. But she doesn’t yet understand the truth of the magic she carries.

Their chosen paths once pulled them apart. But Malini and Priya's souls remain as entwined as their destinies. And they soon realize that coming together is the only way to save their kingdom from those who would rather see it burn—even if it will cost them.
Amazon | Chapters | TBD



Author: Vaishnavi Patel
Series: N/A
Publisher: Redhook
Publication Date: April 26, 2022

“I was born on the full moon under an auspicious constellation, the holiest of positions — much good it did me.”

So begins Kaikeyi’s story. The only daughter of the kingdom of Kekaya, she is raised on tales about the might and benevolence of the gods: how they churned the vast ocean to obtain the nectar of immortality, how they vanquish evil and ensure the land of Bharat prospers, and how they offer powerful boons to the devout and the wise. Yet she watches as her father unceremoniously banishes her mother, listens as her own worth is reduced to how great a marriage alliance she can secure. And when she calls upon the gods for help, they never seem to hear.

Desperate for some measure of independence, she turns to the texts she once read with her mother and discovers a magic that is hers alone. With this power, Kaikeyi transforms herself from an overlooked princess into a warrior, diplomat, and most favored queen, determined to carve a better world for herself and the women around her.

But as the evil from her childhood stories threatens the cosmic order, the path she has forged clashes with the destiny the gods have chosen for her family. And Kaikeyi must decide if resistance is worth the destruction it will wreak — and what legacy she intends to leave behind.

A stunning debut from a powerful new voice, Kaikeyi is a tale of fate, family, courage, and heartbreak—of an extraordinary woman determined to leave her mark in a world where gods and men dictate the shape of things to come.

Are you excited to read this book?

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