24 July, 2018

[Review] Ash Princess by Laura Sebastian

Series: Ash Princess #1
Release Date: 24 April, 2018
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Genre: Young Adult/Epic Fantasy/Princesses/Political Fantasy/Prisoners/Romance
ISBN: 9781524767068
Edition: Audiobook, Hardback
Rating: ★★★★★
Review Written: 14 July, 2018
Summary: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.

See more by Laura Sebastian at her Website.

Ash Princess intrigued me when I first read the description. It felt like a new spin on the normal teenage romances and epic fantasies that have flooded the YA market in recent years. Theodosia was six when her mother was killed and she’s been held prisoner by the Kaiser, the ruler of the Kalovaxians, ever since. Trapped in a life where she’s punished for every slight against the Kaiser by rebel Astreans, Theodosia lives by a simple rule: keep her head down and stay in line, and the Kaiser will keep her alive. Though in her earlier years Theo daydreamed of leaving her life behind and escaping with any of the remaining Guardians (elemental guards and advisors to her ill-fated mother and previous queens, and seemingly priests of her people), at sixteen she’s come to acknowledge the simple truth. No one is coming to save her.

Her last hope of rescue is dashed by the capture of Ampelio, the last of the free Guardians that Theodosia knows to be still living. Forced to translate between him and the Kaiser, Theo is placed into a difficult position as she realizes a horrible truth, Ampelio is her father and she’s going to be the one to kill him. At this one simple act of brutality forced upon her, something inside of Theodosia breaks, and she cannot simply be Lady Thora, a Princess of Ashes like the Kaiser has trained her to be. With the appearance of Blaise, her childhood friend whom Theo hasn’t seen since before the siege of her country; Theo steps into a role she’s never anticipated taking, becoming the Queen of Astrea.

Sebastian’s worldbuilding is excellent, and the hardback copy includes maps of the countries so you can get a feel for where things are. Given that Astrea is an island nation, the amount of nautical information provided in the book was fantastic. Ash Princess expands slowly, giving readers an overview and history lesson; granted vaguely flawed through Theo’s point of view and can be unreliable. Throughout the book, Theo works with Blaise and two other rebels who have replaced her “shadow” Guards to begin plotting a way to free Astrea and work on freeing the people in the mines. Though she longs to hang onto her friend Crescentia, she grows to realize that Cress has seen her more as a pet or a living doll than an actual living person. The realization, that comes after Crescentia admits that marrying the Kaiser is the best thing for Thora/Theodosia, finally pushes Theo into going forwards with the plan to poison Crescentia and her father the Theyn.

With twists and turns, Ash Princess leaves readers with a growing sense of dread and curiosity to see what will happen next. Will Theo escape with Blaise and meet the famous pirate Dragonsbane? Will her plot to murder Crescentia and the Theyn actually succeed? Will she be able to remove Elpis from the palace too after the murder? Readers will find the answers they seek within the pages of Ash Princess though perhaps not the ones they’re hoping for. As with every book that holds a love triangle, I’ll admit I rolled my eyes a bit at Theo’s growing feelings for Søren, especially when she spends a fair amount of the book trying to seduce him for the purpose of getting close enough to kill him. It was inevitable that she start feeling things for the Prinz of Kalovaxia. It was almost as predictable as Blaise being a long lost childhood sweetheart. Thankfully, beyond a few scenes in the book where Theodosia goes on a date or two with Søren and a kiss with Blaise, romance is not at the forefront of the book.

Despite the light airiness of the romance and initial chapters with Crescentia in them, this book is not for the faint of heart. It mentions and depicts several graphic scenes, including Ampelio’s death at the beginning of the book and Thor’s whipping later on. It mentions rape on several occasions, including the rape of Theo’s maid Hoa which resulted in a half-blooded bastard of the king. If you have triggers with violence, rape, or other dark themes; I recommend reading with caution.

Sebastian’s world is a captivating one, and I can’t wait to see where it goes next as Theo steps in to her role as Queen and tries to figure out exactly how to save what’s left of her nation.

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