The story was a little too familiar for me to really love it but this was an enjoyable enough read and a promising start to a new series.
The queen you were meant to be
The land you were meant to save
The throne you were meant to claim
Theodosia was six when her country was invaded and her mother, the Fire Queen, was murdered before her eyes. Ten years later, Theo has learned to survive under the relentless abuse of the Kaiser and his court as the ridiculed Ash Princess.
When the Kaiser forces her to execute her last hope of rescue, Theo can’t ignore her feelings and memories any longer. She vows revenge, throwing herself into a plot to seduce and murder the Kaiser’s warrior son with the help of a group of magically gifted and volatile rebels. But Theo doesn’t expect to develop feelings for the Prinz.
Forced to make impossible choices and unable to trust even those who are on her side, Theo will have to decide how far she’s willing to go to save her people and how much of herself she’s willing to sacrifice to become Queen.
From author Laura Sebastian comes Ash Princess, a nail-biting YA fantasy debut full of daring and vengeance.
I wanted to love this but despite some edge of the seat moments this just never really hooked me. It’s not bad, in fact once I hit the halfway point I found it incredibly difficult to put down, it’s just that there’s nothing particularly new or exciting about it. I felt like this was a story I’d read before, more than once, and those parts that were original I wasn’t sure I wanted.
It’s a common story, a young princess whose kingdom was taken over by an evil tyrant has to fight to free herself and her people. Add in special magical powers, a love triangle involving the princess, her best friend from her childhood (boy next door) and the son of the tyrant and this is essentially the same story we’ve heard a number of times (it reminded me a lot of Red Queen).
There are of course some differences, the author has created an intriguing and well set out magic and belief system and I really liked how the main characters religious beliefs played into her actions. I loved how the ideas of one culture being overtaken by another were reflected. There are elements of eradication (bans on using the language for example) but also cultural appropriation and the impact of this on a “native” of the kingdom were very well presented.
What I wasn’t so keen on however was the level of abuse towards women within the story. I do understand why it’s there (and the author has been open in why she included it) but I’m not sure it was necessary to have main character Theodosia (Theo/Thora) being beaten regularly and subjected to mental torture from the age of 6. I generally don’t mind a bit of violence in books but this felt too much to me and while it did bring an edge to the story it was uncomfortable to read (even though very little occurs on the page).
I also think it raised questions over how believable Theo was as a character. I thankfully haven’t had her experiences but her general attitude, actions and responses just didn’t feel right considering the level of abuse she’s been subjected too. As a character there were aspect of her I liked, how she tried to hang on to her memories and beliefs, how she manages to survive and the insecurities she has but there was a lot about her that frustrated me. She’s too hesitant and too trusting and loyal and I just wanted her to act.
As I alluded to there is quite a bit of romance in this and yet another of those dreaded love triangles with one love interest the boy she was best friends with as a child and the other the son of her enemy. I don’t really mind a love triangle and this one is pretty inoffensive. There are some very sweet moments and I particularly loved the relationship between Theo and the Prinz with all of the questions over how much is real and the conflict between love and duty.
What I found especially intriguing romance wise in this book was Theo’s mothers life. She was romantically involved with a number of different men (leading to the question over who Theo’s father was) but committed to no one. It did make me wonder about her kingdom’s attitudes to love and romance and I would have loved for this to be developed further.
As far as the other characters go some were a little cliched but for the most part they were inoffensive. I didn’t really have strong feelings towards any of them with the possible exception of best friend Cress. She was just terrible and honestly I don’t know how Theo couldn’t see it (this was maybe my biggest frustration in this story). The characters I did find intriguing (the Kaiser’s wife for example) didn’t get enough time and I would have liked to see more from the women in the palace.
Story wise I did find this a little slow in the beginning but it does really pick up around the halfway point and from that point on I did find it difficult to put down. There aren’t a lot of surprises, a lot of it has been done before so you kind of know what to expect but I did still enjoy it.
The writing is pretty good and while there is a little bit of info dumping at the start as the author develops the world, the magic system and the religion, there is some real emotion conveyed. I found myself on the edge of my seat at times with the tension created, horrified with the violence and on one occasion I may have shed a tear.
Overall therefore I’d rate it as good but not great. It’s just lacking that little spark and bit of originality to make it something special. I will however no doubt read the sequel when it’s released as now the world building is largely out of the way I think it could really take off.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an advance copy. This has in no way influenced my review.