Genre: Fantasy Age Range: YA Star Rating: 4/5 stars Series: Yes - book 2
*SPOILER ALERT: contains SPOILERS for ASH PRINCESS*
The Kaiser murdered Theodosia’s mother, the Fire Queen, when Theo was only six. He took Theo’s country and kept her prisoner, crowning her Ash Princess–a pet to toy with and humiliate for ten long years. That era has ended. The Kaiser thought his prisoner weak and defenseless. He didn’t realize that a sharp mind is the deadliest weapon.
Theo no longer wears a crown of ashes. She has taken back her rightful title, and a hostage–Prinz Soren. But her people remain enslaved under the Kaiser’s rule, and now she is thousands of miles away from them and her throne.
To get them back, she will need an army. Only, securing an army means she must trust her aunt, the dreaded pirate Dragonsbane. And according to Dragonsbane, an army can only be produced if Theo takes a husband. Something an Astrean Queen has never done.
Theo knows that freedom comes at a price, but she is determined to find a way to save her country without losing herself.
Synopsis taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.
I feel like I’ve been reading this book for ages, which is ridiculous considering I Goodreads shows it’s only been 3 days – three very tired days to be sure, which is probably why. Reading a book while very tired in the evenings is never helpful. Did this impact my reading of it? I don’t know. I certainly loved this book, but would I have loved it even more if I’d been been more awake? I’ll have to re-read in a few months’ time to know the answer to that.
This book has a far greater political fantasy slant than the first book, which I loved. Rather than being primarily about survival and escape, Theo is striving for alliances to free her country. But the asking price is her hand in marriage, something no Queen has done before.
At first, this felt like it wasn’t explored beyond the change in tradition and that she didn’t like the idea of marrying a stranger. However, slowly the full implications of a political marriage to bring in armies was explored (namely the control it would give the other country over Astrea, hence all the Kings/Princes etc after her marriage).
I really liked how it was handled, and the tug-of-war between not wanting to exchange the Kaiser for another ruler, albeit a less harsh one, and leaving the country under the Kaiser’s rule. The way Theo resolves this issue felt a tad like a cop-out to me – idealistic at worst, but it was fun and felt like the best option from a mix of terrible ones. It was also semi-predictable from about midway the shape of what she was going to do (just not the details).
There’s a really nice misdirection subplot though about the suitors and the Kaiser. I probably should have seen coming until the beginning of the reveal chapter.
Cress is kept very central to the story, despite being in a different country. I thought this was done really well – very naturally and not forced which would have been so easy for 1st POV. Having been such a central character in ASH PRINCESS, it would have been strange for her to drop away entirely. Instead, she bubbles away in the back of the reader’s awareness and the focus is on Heron, Art, Blaise and Søren (ugh, going to have to copy and paste that every time I want to say his name).
Heron and Artemisia felt rather peripheral last book, but this book gives them the time to shine. They feel far more fleshed out now.
Heron’s the quieter character of the two, a solid pillar of friendship and loyalty. He won’t be the one to (overtly) challenge Theo, but after ASH PRINCESS, it’s lovely to see her with someone who she can just trust.
Art is almost the polar opposite of Cress – more than willing to push Theo to be more, be better (at least according to her definition). It’s a far healthier relationship than with Cress, and Art is your typical YA ‘badass’ female character: strong, great fighter and with a bit of a temper. It’s a nice foil for the quieter strength Theo has – brains and resilience.
Blaise and Søren are the two love interests, but nicely it never feels like a triangle. They didn’t feel in opposition to each other (except initially when Blaise was suspicious). I didn’t like Blaise so much. He’s grumpy, overbearing and stubborn. He’s determined to keep going despite clearly being ill – and resentful when Theo tries to pull him back from making it worse.
Søren, on the other hand gives his advice and aid when it’s asked without trying to hold Theo back. yes, he’s done nasty things, but he’s remorseful and is trying to help. And the remorse is the most important thing. To be truly sorry, you have to regret what you did and want to make amends. And Søren isn’t trying to be better for Theo; his character arc isn’t about impressing her, it’s self-led.
There isn’t much I can say about the climax without being super spoilery, so I’ll say that I loved it and particularly what it means for the next book. A year until the final book EMBER QUEEN! I’m very excited to see how it all ends.
Read my reviews of other books by Laura Sebastian
Ash Princess (this series):
Castles in Their Bones: