Ash Princess by Laura Sebastian is quite the dark political fantasy, with a bit o’ stabbing on the side.
Also need to take a moment for THAT COVER and the fact that it is a gorgeous dream ahhh. Ahem. But the insides! The insides are good too! I actually confess I thought it was going to be darker, but I felt it alluded to the darkness rather than actually put the reader through it. Anyway! The beginning was FANTASTIC and I loved the powerful world building and intriguing magic system.
The awkward love triangle? Umm…not so much.
✓ Seriously tho: world building!
It takes time to show us languages and cultures! There were a lot of “fantasy” words flying about, but I didn’t get confused. (A freaking miracle since I get confused about which order the days of the week come in so like kudos to me, this book, and the alphabet.) I felt really drawn into this lush world of viciousness contrasted with rich frivolity. Details get an A+ from me.
✓ It contrasts “prettiness” with the horror of the conquerors’ rule.
Theo’s country has been absolutely smashed by invaders. All her people are enslaved and murdered and forced to work in magic gem mines (where they die, basically) and she’s a “trophy” at court. Basically alive to be whipped if her people step out of line. Plus she’s humiliated and tortured at every opportunity — and the book starts with her having to murder her father-figure in front of the conqueror king to show she’s loyal to her new nation.
But at the same time she’s lavished in pretty dresses, there are banquets and balls to go to, and her BFF is all pretty and light and says they’re “like sisters”. And in the background you have her people being murdered and tortured and Theo gets brutalised. It’s a shocking contrast and done SO WELL. (But actually not super gruesomely or anything.)
✓ Behold: MAGIC.
I’m half-and-half about the magic. Like, I looove magic and this had some interesting twists, but it’s also elemental magic. STILL. AGAIN. ALWAYS. I’m so tiiiired haha. Surely there are other magic systems out there and I will read a YA book with them and fall into my tea and sandwiches in shock.
which actually brings me to…
✗ If you read a lot of fantasy…this was predictable.
It so so felt like The Winner’s Curse redone, which I loved. So I don’t want a repeat?! Plus The Winner’s Curse featured schemes and plot twists, whereas this JUST DID NOT. Nothing stood out about the plot, so by the end I was getting a little bored.
✗ My opinion on the love triangle is: Y THO.
I did not come here to be hit with a triangle (unless it’s pizza?? I love those triangles). It was just such an irritating triangle because Theo is like BEING TORTURED AND ABUSED and yet somehow has space to “have feelings” for multiple boys? I think the heck not. Theo likes her childhood friend, Blaise, and also the Prinz of the enemy, Søren. Both boys were about as dynamic as an undercooked noodle. I can’t even pick a side because both boys were so bland??!
Søren: “I’m a misunderstood chivlrous prince who also kills a lot of people becuase dad says so.”
Blaise: “I am the angry tortured rebel boy prove yourself to me oh but we can kiss too.”
Theo: “Oh n o I have feelings for both.”
Me: gREAT BECAUSE I GOT FEELINGS FOR NONE.
DID YOU KNOW IT’S POSSIBLE TO HAVE A MALE AND FEMALE IN THE SAME ROOM WITHOUT MAKING THEM FALL IN LOVE. WILD.
✗ Theo’s personality was a little flat too.
I was looking forward to the book exploring her PTSD and trauma, but it sort of just said they were there without going into it at all. (Maybe this is my fault?! I just LONG for fantasy that properly tackles mental illness and this just…didn’t.) Plus Theo was just GOOD. She was nice and pure™ and I just??? I’m a Slytherin who chaffs reading too many Gryffindors. I wanted to see and feel her anger and determination…but I just felt I got TOLD it.
✗ And oops I thought it’d be darker.
It references darkness that has happened, but it’s not happening on page. Which is probably just fine and would suit a much wider audience so I DON’T KNOW I SHOULD SHUT UP. It almost felt like sanitised darkness. (Plus it felt inconsistent how at the beginning she couldn’t even breathe without possible punishment, but by the end she’s going on midnight sailing frolics with Prinz Søren?!?!) The world was brutal, the plot was absolutely not.
✗ I basically wanted more from the whole book??
It’s also really really long for a book that’s 80% set in the same castle rooms and has SO many chapters reflecting on events instEAD OF ACTUALLY DOING THINGS. I wanted risks and schemes, instead of a rebellion sparking in a way that seemed so easy?! (Why did they not do this earlier since it was so easy?!) I didn’t feel threatened or scared for the characters AND I WANTED TO FEEL SCARED. Theo falling in love with the Prinz she should kill just felt very tired with no twists to that old trope. I know. I am a demanding fish.
Ash Princess is a good story set against a brutal backdrop of slavery while the conquerors party glamourously. The world building captivated me and the ending had me standing on tiptoes saying, “YES I WILL HAVE THE SEQUEL THANK YOU, SIR.” But I felt the whole book could’ve been mooooore. And I wanted to be scared and on edge and I just wasn’t.
THANK YOU TO PAN MACMILLAN FOR THE REVIEW-COPY. Ash Princess (#1) by Laura Sebastian was published April 2018.
Theodosia was six when her country was invaded and her mother, the Fire Queen, was murdered before her eyes. On that day, the Kaiser took Theodosia’s family, her land, and her name. Theo was crowned Ash Princess–a title of shame to bear in her new life as a prisoner.
For ten years Theo has been a captive in her own palace. She’s endured the relentless abuse and ridicule of the Kaiser and his court. She is powerless, surviving in her new world only by burying the girl she was deep inside.
Then, one night, the Kaiser forces her to do the unthinkable. With blood on her hands and all hope of reclaiming her throne lost, she realizes that surviving is no longer enough. But she does have a weapon: her mind is sharper than any sword. And power isn’t always won on the battlefield.
For ten years, the Ash Princess has seen her land pillaged and her people enslaved. That all ends here.