Hello humans! Another hugely anticipated read takes centre stage today as I am reviewing Ash Princess by Laura Sebastian. This is one of those YA books that I have a feeling everyone will be talking about (for better or worse). I don’t think you can ignore the cover’s similarity to those of the Red Queen series. While this is a more historical book as opposed to Red Queen which leans more towards science fiction at times, it’s hard not to see people rushing in to fill the gap in the market that will be left post War Storm. But reviewing one book through the lens of another is never hugely helpful so what we’re going to do is to recognise the similarity and then move on and review this book in its own right!
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.
Content warning: rape, domestic abuse
Starting off with the most obvious observation. This is a very classic YA novel in many ways. It has pretty much all the tropes that are associated with this genre. With that in mind, if you’re on the fence about this title I would consider how you feel about these things. Personally, I don’t mind them, I think that they are tropes for a reason, but you should make up your own mind. There is a bit of a love triangle which made me a little sad since that’s one of the few tropes that does feel overplayed to me but overall this is an enjoyable plot even with the romance.
I thought the way that this book toyed with the idea of conquest and appropriation was interesting. Laura Sebastian, to my knowledge, is a white author so I don’t want to read too much into the idea of appropriation, but I think it was a good example of how fantasy books can deal with real-world issues. In this case the appropriation is the wealthy conquerors wearing the gems of power that have a certain ‘religious’ (inverted commas because the word ‘religion’ comes with a lot of real-world – and western- connotations that don’t necessarily apply here) significance as symbols of wealth and extravagance, ignoring the rituals and responsibility associated with them. It certainly speaks to certain practices in the world today.
One of the things this book does differently is that, as opposed to having a YA heroine who has special powers that she must learn to wield, our heroine instead resists using her powers because she has not yet earned them. It adds an interesting dynamic to that classic storyline that I wasn’t expecting.
I think this is a good start to a trilogy and that there are some great ideas within this book. The crown of ashes itself (though I still can’t quite work out how that would be fashioned) is a beautiful and also hugely powerful moment that is one of the most evocative pieces of writing I’ve found in a book such as this in a long time. There are some moments that fall a bit flat within the narrative, but I think this could easily be different in later books in the trilogy, where there is more space to explore that which has already been set up.
This book is certainly one that improves as you go along. As Theo develops throughout the story so it becomes more enjoyable to read. The plot thickens, as they say, and by the end of the book, I was totally hooked and ready for a sequel. Maybe that’s because this is exactly the kind of YA novel I fell in love with when I first encountered the genre if so I can’t say I mind.
One major criticism I have…fridging your queers. By which I mean, one of the characters is queer, but the only mention of that aspect of their personality is that their partner has been killed. I appreciate the representation of queer people within this land, but it felt quite gratuitous and I’d like to see that brought more to the forefront later in this story. We shall see.
Should you read this? If this is the kind of story you enjoy then I would say it is a great example and yes, you probably should. I certainly had a good time.
My rating: 4/5 stars
I received a digital advanced review copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
What say you? What other books like this can you think of? Let me know in the comments below!