Review: Ash Princess by Laura Sebastian

Review: Ash Princess by Laura SebastianAsh Princess by Laura Sebastian
Amazon|The Book Depository
Pages: 432
Series: Ash Princess Trilogy, #1
Published by Delacorte Books for Young Readers on April 24, 2018
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult, Romance

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.

This post contains spoilers. Highlight passages to read spoilers.

Hurricane Isaias caused havoc on my Tuesday night plans of Paper Mario: Origami King and leftover spaghetti and meatballs. With nothing to do and (thankfully) a fully charged iPad, I settled into read. I did not expect to finish Ash Princess in a twenty-four hour period, but man did I devour this book.

For those playing YA-Fantasy Romance bingo, Ash Princess will most certainly get you a prize. That being said, I was pleasantly surprised at how these recycled plots and characters played out.  Ash Princess tells the story of Theodosia, a captive princess who is tortured and abused by the man responsible for taking her country, her mother, and her name. Ten years later, she’s carefully constructed walls around herself to withstand the abuse until she’s forced to murder a former member of her mother’s court to prove her continued loyalty to the Kaiser. As the Astrean resistance mounts, Theo waits for her opportunity to free herself and her country and get revenge on the ones who killed her family.

The action was well plotted and paced. It was clear from the first few chapters that Sebastian carefully planned the trajectory of information throughout the story, giving us just enough to keep us interested but also hiding her trick cards. I do think the character development suffered a bit from the pacing and action. There is more of a focus on the abuse, torture and misery of the characters than a more emotional, growing journey. Theo is renamed Thora and forced to keep up this charade of loyalty. I would have liked to see more of her internal struggle between these two persona’s and the mental impact of trying to be two people at once.

This paragraph contains major spoilers if you have not read Ash Princess. Proceed at your own risk! Cress was the most developed character, and eventual villain for the series. I sort of saw this coming, or at least the disintegration of Theo and Cress’ relationship. I’m glad there was type to build up this one-sided friendship between the two girls. It was also clear that Cress wanted power. she wanted to be a princess and future Kaiserin and less wanted Søren for who he was. Excited to see how her character plays out as a villain!

The magic system was a bit unclear. I spent most of my time trying to figure out how it worked. Do people in this world have a predisposition to magic? Are they only able to use magic with the assistance of a fire/water/air/earth gem? What is with prolonged exposure in the mines? What about Cress ingesting the fire water and showing signs of fire magic? I’m hoping that point will be explained later in the series. As you can see, I have a lot of questions. I’m usually not okay with such ambivalent descriptions of magic systems in fantasy works. So why am I okay with this? It’s actually quite cleverly hidden in the world building and allows Sebastian more time to work out the kinks in time with the unfolding trilogy plot.

Also, lots of social, racial and imperialism themes! The use of Kaiser and descriptions of Kalovaxian’s (light hair, eyes and skin) compared to those from the slaves of “conquered” Astrea (darker skin, hair and eyes). I enjoy a good use of historical context to assist with creating a fantasy world. Sebastian did a good job at weaving these into the story.

Overall, I really enjoyed this first book. I want to know more about the world and the political climate. The characters are all ranked about equal for me and I’m excited to continue with Lady Smoke and learn more about each of them.

Settled on a 3.5 star rating (for now) and may eventually bump this up to 4. Since the trilogy is released I’ll wait until I’ve finished with it before I adjust the rating of the first book. Recommend to those that love YA Fantasy Romance that breaks the typical patterns held by that genre. I’m looking forward to my internet returning so that I can borrow the second book from my library.

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