Nathan’s Review of The Jasad Heir by Sara Ahmed, a book with some fascinating ideas that is tied down by its adherence to the tropes.
In this Egyptian-inspired debut fantasy, a fugitive queen strikes a deadly bargain with her greatest enemy and finds herself embroiled in a complex game that could resurrect her scorched kingdom or leave it in ashes forever.
Ten years ago, the kingdom of Jasad burned. Its magic outlawed; its royal family murdered down to the last child. At least, that’s what Sylvia wants people to believe.
The lost Heir of Jasad, Sylvia never wants to be found. She can’t think about how Nizahl’s armies laid waste to her kingdom and continue to hunt its people—not if she wants to stay alive. But when Arin, the Nizahl Heir, tracks a group of Jasadi rebels to her village, staying one step ahead of death gets trickier.
In a moment of anger Sylvia’s magic is exposed, capturing Arin’s attention. Now, to save her life, Sylvia will have to make a deal with her greatest enemy. If she helps him lure the rebels, she’ll escape persecution.
A deadly game begins. Sylvia can’t let Arin discover her identity even as hatred shifts into something more. Soon, Sylvia will have to choose between the life she wants and the one she left behind. The scorched kingdom is rising, and it needs a queen.
Review of The Jasad Heir
The most disappointing reads are the ones that you highly anticipate, with an alluring blurb, and a big marketing push from the publishers….and then it just falls flat. This is what happened to me with The Jasad Heir. The Jasad Heir was one of my most anticipated books of the summer; Orbit Books was hyping three huge debuts from diverse women, and I have had my eye on all three. This was the first of the three I picked up and I eagerly started tearing into it the day that I received it. The blurb sounded like everything I wanted in an epic fantasy – destroyed nations, secret identities, and a vengeful princess/queen looking to reclaim her throne. Unfortunately, The Jasad Heir ends up so mired in genre tropes that Hashem seems to get in her own way. A bold and exciting book is wrapped in a less-than-exciting package, which is unfortunate.
Before I get into some of the shortcomings, I want to emphasize that The Jasad Heir is in no way a bad book. I read the whole thing, and I don’t regret my time with it. Hashem has crafted an exciting new fantasy world inspired by Egyptian history and culture. I really appreciated that Hashem easily conveys a massive scope and scale to her world while the story still feels intimate, personal, and contained. Some epic fantasies make it seem like there are only, say, two nations in the entire world of any importance and forget to give the sense that there is a larger world out there. Hashem fills her world with several different nations and political factions that contribute to several plot maneuverings that keep you turning the pages.
The Jasad Heir is told (mostly) through first person narration of its central character, Sylvia, and luckily she is a strong anchor for the rest of the book. Sylvia is a powerful character who is smart and strong, while also believably navigating a complicated world. Sylvia exists in a complicated position; she knows that she should be a ruling Princess/Queen, and yet doesn’t quite have the knowledge to truly understand the global political situation that she is walking into. Sylvia is not an “expert” at her job; her country fell before she could really learn how to be a ruler, and yet she is smart enough to navigate trickly political waters with, if not ease, then with the intelligence to do what is best with the information she has. This was really refreshing to see; at no point in the narrative did Hashem have Sylvia do something out of character, including acting dumb, just to propel the plot along.
Depending on what you look for in a book, the only slightly irritating thing Sylvia does is pick a terrible love interest. Arin, the heir to the throne of the “big bad” Nizahl is a wonderful character who is also battling the tension between his own personal wants and the needs of his kingdom that entirely transcend him. He’s a terrible love interest because the entire book you look at Sylvia and want to yell at her to pick anyone, literally anyone, else to fall in love with. Fans of slow burn romance will be really into this part of the plot, while it exists enough on the margins of the book to not really annoy non-romance epic fantasy readers.
The thing that most disappointed me in the book was its strict adherence to certain tropes, genre conventions, and current publishing trends that felt shoved into the narrative. Nothing felt more egregious than the inclusion of “deadly trials” in the last 1/3 of the book that had no real purpose other than being able to market the book as having “death games”. Sylvia is selected as a “Champion” for one of the powerful nations responsible for the destruction of her nation and family, and in doing so she gets embroiled in a political plot. Recent epic fantasies like The Will of the Many by James Islington and The Final Strife by Saara El-Arifi also included these elements, but to much greater effect. The trials in The Jasad Heir just don’t feel fully integrated to the story or to Sylvia’s character arc; they come late in the narrative and, despite lasting only a few pages, feel like they derail any kind of flow and momentum that Hashem had built up in the first half of the book.
And speaking of flow, the pacing of the book is quite slow. I didn’t mind the slow burn romance (although there were some real power relations things going on I wasn’t the biggest fan of), but everything else seemed to take way longer than it needed to. Characters would talk about things more than actually do things in a way that felt more like I was listening to a friend tell a story about their day than actually living and breathing the story with the characters. The blurb for the book and its back cover promise an exciting and propulsive story about a deposed queen and her rise to power, and the book is actually much slower and less exciting than that in its execution. While there was never a period where I seriously considered giving up on the book, I was admittedly a bit bored for certain stretches of the book that could have used a bit more “oomph” to it.
Earlier I praised Hashem’s expansive world, with at least four (remaining) nations competing and jockeying for power and control. While the world feels large in a horizontal way, I wish that Hashem had given her world more vertical depth. There were many elements that felt particularly shallow, with all of the nations (with maybe the exception of the central nation) all feeling pretty much the same. I couldn’t tell you what was actually different about them, and I was disoriented as Sylvia was whisked from one nation to the next because none of the countries had a distinct, lived in identity. The different countries only existed to propel the narrative along, but this turned them to names on the maps rather than actualized placed where people lived and breathed.
The Jasad Heir ended up being an enjoyable read, but one that didn’t stand out amongst all of the other epic fantasy books that are published each year. The ending of this book had some fun twists that will hopefully shoot off the rest of the series in some fun directions, but The Jasad Heir itself was too restricted by its own adherence to tropes to really feel like its own thing. There are better version of this book out there (namely The Final Strife), but if you are looking for something along that vein, The Jasad Heir is not a bad way to spend a couple of afternoons.
Concluding Thoughts: Anchored by a strong lead character and intriguing premise, The Jasad Heir is ultimately a bit disappointing because the execution didn’t quite match the marketing. I highly anticipated this book, and while it is readable and fun it is ultimately a book that spends too much time trying to adhere to tropes and trends when it is screaming to be its own thing. The end sets up for what will hopefully become a more original and exciting series. Recommended if you like slow burn romances in your fantasy, but otherwise you might want to look elsewhere.