Thursday, July 19, 2018

Ash Princess - Laura Sebastian

Title: Ash Princess
Author: Laura Sebastian
Publisher: Delacorte Press, 2018 (Hardcover)
Length: 433 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Fantasy
Started: July 5, 2018
Finished: July 19, 2018

From the inside cover:

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 wear 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 hopes 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.

From the start I was intrigued by this book, but wary at the same time. The cover screams Red Queen, seriously what is it with the recent trend of putting just crowns on YA fantasy books, it's almost as bad as the headless girl trend a few years back. Not only the cover, but the story seems familiar as well: girl who's lost everything is aided by boy, manipulates her way in and out of trouble, etc. But thankfully this book is saved by a few things: decent world building and a likeable heroine.

I give the author credit for the world building here, the Astrean gods and goddess stories interspersed throughout are entertaining and engaging, and the magic system is well executed. I like how the characters even get into philosophical discussions regarding this. Most Astreans believe that one needs to be chosen by the gods to wield the powers of the spirit gems, but most people enslaved in the mines by the Kalovaxians can wield the power simply because it has leeched into their blood by over exposure. Plus, there's the lovely little allegory about the very Germanic, fair Kalovaxians invading and enslaving the dark-haired, olive-skinned Astreans that definitely does not go unnoticed.

Theo is also an intriguing narrator. She doesn't delude herself about anything: her strength or lack of it, her feelings regarding anyone, how dismal her situation really the very least she is honest. So  even though there is a sort-of love triangle, it isn't annoying because Theo doesn't lie to herself thinking she actually loves either boy, at least at this stage. She's smart and brave, yet vulnerable enough to root for since no one is quite sure whether her crazy schemes will actually come to fruition.

Though many elements here have been done before, the world building and Theo herself make this worth the read. This is the first book of a planned trilogy, so I will definitely be picking up the next book in 2019.

Thoughts on the cover:
Again, it screams Red Queen. It's pretty, but not very original.

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