Sara Hashem‘s debut fantasy, THE JASAD HEIR is a a story that feels a blend of story elements that each feel familiar by themselves but when combined and placed into a unique setting creates something compelling. On one hand, this is a book that lends itself to the current-marketing-zeitgeist of making funny faces while moving a book across a phone screen for thirty seconds while listing tropes and emojis, but that would do it a terrible disservice.
Essiya–the sole surviving heir to the royal family of Jasad–fled from the massacre that accompanied the destruction of her kingdom. She took the name Sylvia and found an existence in anonymity on the margins of society. By virtue of her bloodline as a Jasadi, she can use magic. At least, she ought to be able to use magic, except mystical handcuffs restrict her from doing so. This restriction, however, is convenient, because just being a Jasadi–to say nothing of actually using magic–is enough to warrant a death sentence at the hands of the kingdom of Nizahl which was busy finishing the job it started when it massacred her family and destroyed her kingdom.
When she found herself suspected of being a Jasadi by none other than the heir of Nizahl it’s only the intervention of a mixture of fate, bad luck, and her concern for another young orphan that combined to force the Nizahl heir to name her as his champion in an annual contest waged between the royal houses. From there she is forced to work with the scion of her world’s destruction as she learns more about her magic, her past, and discovers there’s far more to everything than she realized.
You can see all of tikstantgramable details lurking beneath the surface. A MAGIC TOURNAMENT! AN ORPHAN WITH A MAGIC SECRET! A MYSTERIOUS PAST! CONSPIRACIES AND SCHEMES! ENEMIES TO… LOVERS?! But reducing the book to those tropes might drive engagement on social media platforms I do not participate in, but it really avoids doing anything to shed light on the soul of the book. THE JASAD HEIR is about a survivor’s guilt, their shame, their trauma, their journey to liberate themselves of the harms the world perpetuated upon them. It’s about loyalty and duty and how those are often chosen for us, not by us. It’s about learning to love in spite of everything conspiring to encourage hate. And that’s all a bit more than a list of tropes… no?
I struggled with how to write this review in part because I had a nagging sense while reading it that I was missing something. The world that Sylvia exists within was hard to sort out in my mind. Perhaps this is because the ARC I read did not have a map. But I was getting the sense that people traveled among the kingdoms too quickly, or that their environment changed too much, or… something I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Action sequences seemed fuzzy around the edges. Then a action scene involved a character being stabbed in the chest only to carry on a conversation, and I started to grow more skeptical. It was only when another huge set piece involving massive, almost godlike, magic reforging the very landscape it was being fought on that I had a realization:
THE JASAD HEIR does not care about that tight hyper-reality. It is not that book. Just like STAR WARS is not hard sf and doesn’t pretend to be as it celebrates the fantastic elements it incorporates, THE JASAD HEIR revels in being a fantasy. And that realization unlocked the whole experience. Not to cast any aspersions on authors who go into exhaustive details in the attempt to achieve a near-facsimile of reality in their fiction, but not all stories benefit from that.
THE JASAD HEIR comes out on July 18, 2023, and is absolutely worth your time.
Preorder it from your local indie bookseller, or bookshop.org or Seattle if you must.