Ash Princess by Laura Sebastian
One day, I will watch them all burn.
Princess Theodosia will never forget the day the kingdom of Astrea was invaded, and her mother, the Queen of Flame and Fury, was murdered before her eyes. For ten years, she has survived, whipped for every futile rebellion and constantly humiliated by the Kaiser who conquered her beloved country. She is paraded around as the Ash Princess, a constant reminder to all of everything she’s lost. Meanwhile her people are enslaved, forced to work in the mines until there are no Astreans left alive.
When the Kaiser forces Theo to execute her last hope of rescue, she vows revenge. But Theo doesn’t know who to trust, and even those who pledge their loyalty to her are not always what they seem. One wrong move will destroy their last hope of rebellion. Under pressure from all sides, Theo must decide how far she is willing to go to save her people, and what she is willing to sacrifice to win back her kingdom.
Thanks so much to Panmacmillan for sending me this book in exchange for an honest review.
There’s been so much hype about this book. I’ve seen it everywhere; on facebook, twitter, instagram. Every book blogger in the world seems to own an ARC of this book, and many of the reviews have been singing their praises for Ash Princess. I was sold by this, and the prospect of a debut novel which appealed to fans of Sarah J Maas and Melinda Salisbury. This kind of book is totally up my street, so I was delighted to get a copy in the post.
When I started it, I wasn’t immediately captivated. For some reason, I struggled to get into it. I shouldn’t have– the pace is pretty steady and the stakes keep rising with every page. The plot twists keep popping up, and most of them came so out of the blue that I actually gasped at them, but I think maybe I read a few too many fantasy books recently and it has wrung me out a bit.
At least, until about a hundred pages in, when things really began to pick up for me. I think what helps is how strong Sebastian’s character-building is. Theo is clearly dealing with a lot, and I love how the book doesn’t shy away from that. Rather, it picks and plucks at Theo’s complex feelings, and you can’t help but fall a little bit in love with her character because of it. It’s done with an amazingly subtle touch, so deft you sometimes don’t even notice it, but I found so much to think about when I put this book down at night that I had some trouble sleeping. There’s definitely no hold’s barred on the darkness of this book either, there’s some very creepy vibes from the Kaiser, and several other characters totally come into their own in scary ways too. I won’t go into spoilers, since the book has yet to be released, but I will say that I was totally thrilled with some of the character development towards the end of the book, and I think we’re going to be seeing some thrilling villains making an appearance in book two when it comes out.
‘Something in me is waking up. This is not my home. I am not their prize. I am not content with the life they have so kindly spared […] I have to figure out how to save myself.’
For me, my favourite thing was seeing how Theo struggles with her identity and a kind of low-key Stockholm Syndrome. There are some Kalovaxians who don’t seem like total assholes, and when they treat her with kindness, it’s interesting to see how she reacts. The thing with her name was a stroke of genuine genius. She’s obviously very emotionally complex, and this is, for me, the shining gem in Laura Sebastian’s crown here. She really knows how to craft characters. Others shone out too; Blaise was interesting and captivating, Cress is wonderful, and even Soren [sorry I can’t do the proper ‘o’ with the line through it like in the book] becomes this amazing three-dimensional character who you can’t help but want to find out more about. I’m struggling to think of a single character in Ash Princess who didn’t practically leap out of the page.
The plot is also woven very well. It is intricate and shocking in places, perfect perhaps for those who have been missing those Game of Thrones style politics on their TVs and bookshelves recently [side note: GRRM WHERE IS THE NEXT BOOK? COME ON]. I love how surprising some of those twists were, and though the novel ends on an incredibly frustrating cliff-hanger I am already desperate to learn more.
The world-building wasn’t the best I’ve seen, but it wasn’t the worst either. Part of my problem was down to my copy not having a map yet; it made it hard to know about certain locations because I like to go back and check the map whenever places are mentioned. I liked the idea of the gems and the gods, and I have an inkling we haven’t seen the best of this plot element yet, but so far I’m wondering how big a role they’re going to play. It was quite nice that due to the some elements of this book, magic was somewhat restricted, making power plays and deceptiveness the dish of the day. I’m hoping there are similar limitations going into book two.
Overall, I’m giving Ash Princess 8/10 stars. Although it didn’t hook me immediately, I can’t imagine many other people having the same problem as the stakes just keep getting higher. I love the emotional complexity of this story, and the characters really gleam, but the worldbuilding could have been a little tighter for me personally. All in all though, Ash Princess is a stunning fantasy debut novel which is guaranteed to break a lot of hearts.
Has anyone already read this novel? What did y’all think of it? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below, and please bare in mind that this book hasn’t yet been released, so please keep the spoilers to a minimum!