Hello Humans! It feels like an age ago that I read the first book in Laura Sebastian’s Ash Princess trilogy, so long that – I’ll confess – I had forgotten most of what happened when I started on book two, Lady Smoke. Thankfully I have a lot of experience reading sequels with little to no memory of the previous book so I was ready to be reminded of what happened through the read. This series is very YA but in the best way and I’m excited to have been able to read it before the release date.
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 defenceless. 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.
One of the things I really liked about the first book was the way that Theodosia doesn’t use her powers, the reasoning behind it and the…not necessarily religious but more spiritual connection she has to them was really powerful. I thought that this book did less with that idea, though it comes in towards the end. This book is far more about politics, alliances and that fabled choice between your country and your heart – which is perfectly fine but I was missing that element from book one.
This isn’t necessarily a critique, it’s more something that made me laugh, because there was at least one point in this book where it felt like every character you came across was instantly falling for Theodosia, now I’m sure the girl is very lovely to look at but it definitely felt like she couldn’t possibly be everyone’s cup of tea. I’m sure the intention was to show that people were desperate to get hold of her power and her clout but it didn’t quite hit home for me. It didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the book but I thought it was amusing to note.
If you enjoy the kind of ‘who will she choose to marry when everyone has a hidden agenda’ kind of story I think you’ll really enjoy this? I’m a sucker for suitors (I blame Shakespeare and fairytales) and that was definitely my favourite plot thread to follow. I was surprised at how much of the book was taken up with those decisions, I suppose because Ash Princess was so isolated in comparison, it was necessary to introduce the rest of the world in book two. It won’t be to everyone’s liking but I personally enjoyed the plot of this book.
I’m still a little on the fence with how this book is clearly writing a ‘take back your land and culture from invaders’ narrative…and the author is (as far as I can tell) a white woman. I’m obviously writing as a white woman, but I didn’t feel as though she said anything damaging – but I do think we ought to be questioning who is allowed to write these kinds of stories, would this kind of publishing opportunity be afforded to a woman of colour for whom the narrative would be more personal? – I’ll be looking for reviews from reviewers of colour to find out their perspective.
Overall I thought that this was a solid fantasy book that draws from a lot of YA tropes. I personally love a trope-y YA novel and this one does go against the grain in enough ways that it falls more into ‘comfortably nostalgic’ rather than ‘disastrously cliché’. I have some qualms about some of the themes explored but overall I did enjoy reading this.
My rating: 4/5 stars
I received a free digital advanced review copy of this book from the publisher. All opinions are my own.
Lady Smoke is out tomorrow!
What say you? What are your thoughts on this series? Let me know in the comments below!