Ash Princess by Laura Sebastian Book Review

I always love a good dystopia. Especially in today’s times, I feel I need someone to look up to who will take on the power-mad monsters and be out for blood.

This fantastical world has two different nations; Astrea and Kalovaxia, and the people there call themselves Astreans and Kalovaxians. Straightforward, right? Yes. But ten years ago the Kalovaxians raided Astrea and killed the Fire Queen, who was the mother of the young Ash Princess, Theodosia Houzzara, or Theo for short. Was she executed too? No. I guess even though the Kalovaxians murdered and imprisoned tens of thousands of Theo’s people, keeping her as a slave might quench the thought of outside rebellions because she’s expected to lead her people to freedom, and one spark would have their future secret weapon beheaded. Anyway, the past is so painful that she prefers to call herself Thora. Different from her identity as the supposed future queen of a nation that has no chance of ever escaping from under their oppressors’ thumbs.

Well, it’s starting to not work that way completely. There are some attacks out at sea, and Theo has friends on the inside, not working in the kitchens or anything but her mystical shadows, whenever they can be. You’d have to read the book to know how that works. One of her shadows insists they escape and take a boat, and Theo is open to it but wants to see what she can learn, what she can implement, what she can break on the inside. But she’ll have to be careful, for obvious reasons. Not to mention a potentially arranged marriage to a man whose wives never last long.

I can easily get into a fantasy dystopian world, but Ash Princess took a bit of effort to warm up to. One, the book’s opening seems more interested in establishing geography before establishing grief, and as a result I didn’t feel the brutality as much as Theo must have. While the world is still being set up for us, Theo is forced into a heart-wrenching act, but it wasn’t really delivering on the sadness. Two, it wasn’t displaying any tricks to stand on its own from better books with this format like The Black Witch, Red Queen, Cinder, Serpent & Dove, etc. Three, I didn’t find much special about the writing. Four, the gems and the powers they give? Felt just in the background and pasted here and there whenever something fantastical had to be mentioned. Ouch, right? Where did my soul run off to? How could I publish words so cold?

But then as the book goes on, I warmed up to it more, no pun intended. A love triangle forms, but it is a legitimate and mature one that does not get swept up in itself. Blaise and Soren are both empathic young people who recognize the poisonous hierarchy. Blaise believes the Astreans should execute each and every Kalovaxian if they regain power and Soren is a Kalovaxian himself who believes maybe history can repeat itself and the two nations can live together in equitable peace. I’m more on Blaise’s side, after everything. There are also side characters that got me to really care about them, especially the innocent and productive Heron and the young, brave Elpis. But a standout that actually brings some edge is Theo’s clueless childhood Kalovaxian friend Cress, or Cresentia. She’s always been close and friendly to Theo but has never believed the actions of her people were wrong, nor does she believe the Astreans getting their land back would be a good thing. Which makes her sound like a monster but according to Theo cares more about the next book to read or the next guy to date and whatever fun event the two of them can go to rather than anything political or war-mongering. Do you have a friend like that who you’ve grown up around but has bad values you desperately want to give them a rude awakening on? Have you lost friends that way? Or did you realize they weren’t the great people you were led to believe?

The closer it gets to finishing up, the more everything threatens to explode, the better it gets. Still, it’s not very original and I’ve read much better dystopias. It’s an adequate but bumpy series starter and I would somewhat recommend it to other fans of the genre. I’m open to picking up Lady Smoke. Hopefully from there it finds its footing.

If you like this, I’d try Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, The Black Witch by Laurie Forest, and Serpent & Dove by Shelby Mahurin

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