The Jasad Heir Strikes a Perfect Balance of Competition, Romance, and Political Intrigue

Books Reviews Sara Hashem
The Jasad Heir Strikes a Perfect Balance of Competition, Romance, and Political Intrigue

It can be difficult to strike a compelling balance when it comes to kicking off a new fantasy series—-after all, there are so excellent options for readers in this space now that it can often seem as though every kind of story has probably been done before. But part of the reason that Sara Hashem’s debut novel The Jasad Heir makes for such compelling reading is that refuses to stick to a single lane.  A compelling fantasy saga that’s one part political treatise, one part slow-burn enemies-to-lovers romance, and one part survival competition, it’s a novel that manages to tell a thoughtful story of self-discovery even as it asks thoughtful, challenging questions about loyalty and belonging, and what we owe to the people and places that claim us.

Essiya is the rightful queen of Jasad. Or she would be, if the kingdom of Jasad existed anymore. In the ten years since it fell, its people have gone into hiding, desperate to keep their identities and magical abilities a secret from those who conquered their homeland. The four remaining kingdoms—who lost their magic long ago—now believe it to be an abomination and to be outed as a Jasadi is essentially a death sentence for any of the surviving members of their tribe who are unlucky enough to be discovered.

Twenty-year-old Essiya, now going by the name of Sylvia and with her powers dampened by a pair of invisible bracelets, barely remembers her former homeland and is primarily concerned with her own survival. A member of an outlawed people and scarred by a youth spent not just learning to fight but forced to watch her cultural traditions co-opted and transformed by the very people who conquered and razed her kingdom, she lives a feral, largely rootless life, with few friends, few items of permanence, and almost no feelings of duty or allegiance toward the realm she once called home. 

But when a young girl Sylvia cares about is deliberately injured as punishment for a small mistake during a public festival, her magical abilities flare…and catch the attention of the dangerous Nizahl Heir Arin, who has made hunting down and imprisoning the last remaining Jasadis living in hiding his life’s work. Yet, despite clear proof of her magical abilities, Arin does not arrest Sylvia, instead choosing to name her as his champion in an upcoming tournament known as the Alcalah which pits fighters from the four surviving nations against one another in the name of honor and a not insubstantial cash reward. 

Despite the fact that she’ll have to compete under the banner of the kingdom that killed her family, Slyvia is as intrigued by the prospect of safety that becoming the tournament’s ultimate winner might offer her as she is leery of the man offering her a chance to claim it. Arin, for his part, only seems to care about using Sylvia to root out the Jasadi rebels who are trying to locate high-ranking members of their court to rally behind. With the Nizhal Heir unaware of Sylvia’s royal roots, Essiya’s determined to never be named as the lost Jasadi queen she is, and several groups pushing various forms of political and cultural unrest, the end result is a steadily increasing festival of angst and anxiety—and that’s before you add in the potentially life or death stakes of the Alcalah tournament or the complicated attraction growing between sworn enemies Sylvia and Arin.

As the tournament rounds grow increasingly dangerous and her relationship with Arin grows ever more fraught, Sylvia begins to learn uncomfortable truths about her family’s hold over the kingdom they once ruled and will ultimately have to decide not only what sort of woman she wants to become but whether to try and keep running from her own past. What does she owe to a legacy that may actually include little more than a history of death and oppression? Can she willingly claim membership in the same family that gave her the bracelets that suppress her magic—but who also freely exploited those around them who didn’t possess the same abilities? What does it mean to be a queen of a land that doesn’t exist anymore? And what do her complicated feelings for her sworn enemy—a man whose family is essentially responsible for the persecution of hers—mean about her understanding of her own identity?

Despite the many moving pieces and sudden twists of the book’s larger story, Hashem never allows The Jasad Heir to wander too far from its true focus—Sylvia’s emotional journey and the way the many events happening around her are shifting her understanding of herself and her place in the world. Surprising, uncomfortable, and triumphant by turns, Sylvia’s growing understanding and reclamation of her own identity is wildly satisfying to watch unfold, and the book’s sprawling worldbuilding is thoughtfully balanced and plotted. 

The romance at the story’s center is almost agonizingly slow at times, but Hashem does a great job balancing their competing goals and motivations in a way that feels both true to who the characters are and provide obvious and necessary roadblocks to their relationship. (It’s so frustrating but in the absolutely best way.) And the book’s simultaneously inevitable yet still emotionally explosive ending will doubtless leave readers clamoring for the sequel—and eager to see where Essiya’s story goes next. A summer fantasy banger.  

Lacy Baugher Milas is the Books Editor at Paste Magazine, but loves nerding out about all sorts of pop culture. You can find her on Twitter @LacyM

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