19 March, 2019

[Review] Lady Smoke by Laura Sebastian

40702154 Cover image from the goodreads website.

Series: Ash Princess Trilogy
Release Date: 5 February, 2019
Publisher: Delacorte Press/Listening Library
Genre: Young Adult Fiction/Epic Fantasy/Girls & Women Fiction/Fantasy Romance
ISBN: 9781524767105
Edition: Audiobook (also available in Kindle, Hardback, and Paperback)
Rating: ★★★★
Review Written: 18 March, 2019
Summary: 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 defenseless. 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.

See more by Laura Sebastian at her Website.
The stunning sequel to 2018's _Ash Princess_, Sebastian brings the readers back into the world of Theodosia and picks up almost immediately where the first book left off. Readers rejoin Theo and crew almost a week into their journey to a new country called Sta'crivero. The Emperor of Sta'crivero has promised to help Theodosia reach the strength she needs to overthrow the Kalvaxians...provided she breaks the traditions and marries to gain her army.

Theo is torn by this realization that she'll have to marry, betraying everything her crown and country holds as a tradition. Though she dearly does not want to do it, she agrees to Dragonbane's plan to get Sorin released from the brig of her ship. Much of the story revolves around Theodosia's time in Sta'crivero, trying to figure out who can be trusted, who is knocking off suitors she shows interest in, and how to free her people who sought refuge in the country only to be turned into not-quite slave labor.

Throughout the book, Theo seems to be completely ignorant of a majority of what's going on around her. Some of this isn't her fault, it's hard to know what's going on when people keep you out of the loop, but some of it felt like information she should have pieced together from the start. For example with the refugee camp, Theo should have been tipped off that something was amiss when the Emperor almost threw a fit that she'd even dare ask about visiting. A similar situation arises when her suitors begin to drop dead around her like flies. Theo is dumbfounded and struggles with trying to figure out who the killer is, when there were a few red-flags standing up about the Oriana suitor and his sister that Theo should have picked up on. Though the book waivers between a lot of romance, readers will ultimately feel a small sense of pleasure seeing the Kaiser get what's coming to him and the return of Crescentia who has been named Kaiserin.

Though places in the book felt slow and dragging, my feelings towards Lady Smoke are mostly positive. Sebastian's use of character development, watching Theodosia grow into her role as queen, and a few surprise twists at the end of the book will be sure to keep readers on the edge of their seats. I, for one, cannot wait to see the conclusion of the trilogy in Ember Queen*.

*Please note that Ember Queen is the title listed on Goodreads but has not been confirmed in any press releases at this time. Title could potentially change between now and the 2020 publication date.

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