by Laura Sebastian
Series: Ash Princess #1
Published on April 24, 2018 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Theodosia was six when her country was invaded and her mother, the Queen of Flame and Fury, 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.” Pretending to be empty-headed and naive when she's not enduring brutal whippings, she pushes down all other thoughts but one: Keep the Kaiser happy and he will keep you safe.
When the Kaiser forces her to execute her last hope of rescue, Theo can't keep her feelings and memories pushed down 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. Or for her rebel allies to challenge her friendship with the one person who's been kind to her throughout the last hopeless decade: her heart's sister, Cress.
Cornered into 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.
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I’m at a bit of a loss with Ash Princess. On the one hand, I read it in almost one sitting (work got in the way of a single binge-read unfortunately). Yet at the same time, I found it. . . not boring, exactly, just not really present (if that makes any sense).
The story was fairly predictable. Princess of a destroyed country is raised by her enemies as a “well-treated” captive, only to fight back and become the face of her people’s rebellion. In that regard, I wasn’t really impressed by the book nor does it stand out on the shelf from the multitude of other YA fantasies I’ve read over the years. That said, I still enjoyed parts of it.
We get a heroine who can’t just pick up a sword and fight her way to freedom. Instead, Theodosia/Thora must be strategic, using her brain to survive beneath the thumb of her captor, the Kaiser, who destroyed her home and took it for himself. I liked Theo in that she wasn’t one to sit by and let everything happen around her. Where I lost my connection with her was the back-and-forth of who she was — Theo or Thora (the identity the Kaiser gave her). Because it’s never defined who she is until near the end, I never got a good sense of Theo/Thora. She existed as a name on the page and nothing more.
And then, this wonderful smart princess who could have been SO amazing. . . falls into a love triangle. This book has already taken on a familiar enough plot to be barely memorable, and now we get tropes? One love interest is a prince, the other a childhood friend. Who will she choose?! Considering one was pretty insta-lovey in the bad way (yes, there’s a good way, and this wasn’t it), and the other leaned heavily on ALL THESE EVENTS that happened in her childhood and are simply told to us, I can’t say I care for either boy. Then there’s a moment where I think Theo will change my mind about this whole love triangle business (well, no, I hope because I had a good idea it wouldn’t end up happening), a decision that would make the whole romance subplot worth it.
She failed. Unfortunately for me (and maybe you), the reader.
Now the writing in Ash Princess wasn’t bad. Nothing extra exciting. Slow at times, skim-worthy slow. Then a bunch of stuff happens at the end because consistent pacing doesn’t exist and BAM, end novel. Yet quite a bit happened in the span of those 400+ pages, but it wasn’t much action, more scheming, and quite confusing at times. I never understood some of the decisions made and then the characters would jump to something else and I figured it went along plot holes filling the world-building.
Though there were holes, I liked the elements of the world mentioned, such as the deities and how they relate to the Astrea queens. Then there’s the Spiritgems used for power. Stones and magic aren’t particularly new but it had a slight twist with the “madness” that accompanies mining for them. And the smaller details, like the Kaiser making Theo wear a crown of ash to any formal event as a reminder to her and his court. Those little details were nice. Not enough to counter the other larger issues but I appreciated the thought that went into smaller parts of the world.
Somehow, despite all this, I finished the book in record time. Granted, I promptly forgot quite a bit of it right after but what can you do? To be honest, I had my issues with Ash Princess but it’s not a bad book. I think if I hadn’t read this story over and over in various forms I’d have enjoyed it more but fantasy’s my go-to as is. I can definitely see this appealing to YA fantasy fans seeking a bit of magic and rebellion in their lives!