Genre: Fantasy Age Range: YA Star Rating: 4/5 stars Series: Yes - first in trilogy
Theo’s kingdom fell when she was six and her mother’s throat was slit before her eyes. Her people are enslaved, toiling until death in the mines for the gems that once granted her people magical strength, but now provide warmth and beauty for the invaders.
Ten years on, Theo’s a prisoner of the sadistic and power-hungry Kaiser, surviving by keeping her head down and playing the broken trophy . Denied her true name, Queen Theodosia, she’s ridiculed as Lady Thora, the Ash Princess.
When her father and last hope is killed, Theo vows revenge. No longer will she be the submissive, broken Thora. It’s time to fight back, rise as Queen Theodosia – but can Theo make the sacrifices needed to win back her crown.
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The Ash Princess is a promising start to a new trilogy, full of action, suspense and romance. I’m certainly going to read the next book.
It might sound like your typical YA book – a ‘strong’, kick-ass Princess must reclaim her throne. However, Theo doesn’t have crazy fighting skills and there’s no attempt made to hide her weaknesses – fear, doubt and how sheltered she is. She feels so much more human for it, and much stronger for it. She’s resilient, and learns how emotionally strong she can be throughout the book. I wish more YA heroines were like this.
I adore world building done well, in such a way that you don’t notice it but are still able to appreciate the scope and depth of the world created. Though this book doesn’t really leave the palace, the world felt fleshed out, and I look forwards to discovering the rest of the world in later instalments.
In particular, I loved the magic system. It’s some where between ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ magic, with clear consequences and cost to exposure. I’m not quite sure what each gift/type of magic does, but magic isn’t pivotal, so it didn’t matter so much. The magic doesn’t feel like a cure-all solve-all crutch. I think/hope the later books will explore it more, and that’s exciting. And, breaking from tradition, Theo doesn’t have magic! It makes her achievements feel bigger as she’s done it without assistance from the ‘magical-ether’.
I liked that she stayed at court, rather than escaping early on and having an ‘outside’ rebellion. The court dynamics were creepy and so wrong that I was always nervous about what would happen next.
The two main female-female friendships were well portrayed (Theo and Cress/Artemisia). I particularly loved watching Theo work out what each offered and deciding what they were worth. The journey of her friendship with Cress deserves a shout-out for how brilliantly it’s executed and should speak to lots of teenagers dealing with friendships that don’t feel as good as they look.
My biggest critique is the romance. Yes, I’ve praised it in the first line of this review, and I do love a good romance done right. At different times, I really liked both love-interests (and yay, one isn’t outright treated like a love-interest).
However, this book does play into the typical YA heroine-has-feelings-for-two-boys. And yes, one is the enemy Prince and the other is safe friend. And she will have to choose between her country and the boy. This said, the way Theo’s relationship with the Prince is resolved was better than I’d hoped.
Wow, longer review than normal and longer than I was expecting! This book took me longer to read than I was expecting (mainly because of a busy life), so I’ve had more time to process it.
End note: I’ve noticed a trend in recent books to forgo chapter numbers, and simply have titles. This book follows that, and it was slightly infuriating. I tend to read in chunks of five or ten chapters, but couldn’t. It’s a ridiculously small thing, but it made it slowed my reading down as I read in fifty-page chunks instead. Does anyone else find this trend irritating? Do you like it?
Read my reviews of other books by Laura Sebastian
Ash Princess (this series):
Castles in Their Bones: